Joe Bell knew how to get his heartfelt message across

By Dick Mason, The Observer October 11, 2013 06:34 am

Joe Bell was a quiet, unassuming man blessed with an ability to connect with people from all walks of life. 

This was evident on April 18 at a benefit-send off breakfast for Bell’s walk across the United States at the Riverside Park pavilion. All morning long the pavilion was filled close to capacity with people of all ages and backgrounds who had come to support Bell. The longtime La Grande resident, who was killed Wednesday when he was hit by a truck while walking in Colorado, had a lot on on his mind with last minute preparations. Still, he took joy in greeting everyone who came and seemed to have a bond with each person.

“He never knew a stranger. He was not afraid to walk up to anyone and start a conversation,” said Paul Price of Haines. “I never met a more warm hearted, friendly person. As soon as you met Joe you instantly liked the guy.”

Price was a good friend of Bell’s, one whom Bell stayed with in his home after the second day of his walk. It was a walk which was a bit paradoxical in nature. Bell would make many new friends and speak to close to a thousand people about his son, Jadin, and the importance of preventing bullying. Still his was a lonely endeavor.

Bud Hill of La Grande, who helped found Bell’s Faces for Change Foundation, told The Observer in August that one of the biggest hurdles his friend faced was loneliness. The best parts of his walk were those where someone accompanied him for several days on his trek.

Bell, who had a self-effacing nature, told The Observer before starting his journey that he was not a polished public speaker. He became one as his walk progressed and made many presentations. Bell found himself in demand as a speaker in places like Salt Lake City, Utah, and Denver, Colo., where he spent more than a month altogether giving presentations and keeping the memory of his son alive.

Giving public presentations, Bell told The Observer in April, was not something he felt at ease doing.

“He was not comfortable in front of large groups. He forced himself to do it for his son and the cause. He became a good speaker,” said Jody Bullock of La Grande, a close friend of Bell’s family. 

Bullock noted that when Bell first began giving presentations about Jadin and his cause he would be so scared that he would be shaking beforehand and nauseous with anxiety.

Still, he persisted, Bullock said, because he believed so strongly in addressing the issue of bullying and keeping the memory of his son alive. 

“He did not want anyone else to experience what his son had,” Bullock said. 

Hill said that Bell believed Jadin was with him throughout his walk.

“He said that all the time. He always felt he was with him,” Hill said.

Bell’s wife, Lola, and their son, Joseph, visited him a number of times during his walk.

Bell had resigned from his job with Boise Cascade to make his walk. He told The Observer in April that the walk would be good for him. 

“I needed a change. I just wish, however, that I was doing this under different circumstances,” he said.

Bell had planned to walk a total of 5,000 miles because he intended not to walk directly across the United States, but instead make a loop through many southern states, including Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana before moving north through Pennsylvania, New York and his destination of the Delaware coastline. 

Bell, who had back and double knee replacement surgery in 2010, was holding up in terms of health despite some swelling of his knees, Hill said.

“He was walking 30 miles some days. I couldn’t do that and I’m 10 years younger,’’ Price said.

In the minds of some, Bell has not stopped walking. Bullock noted that her son, Donald Bullock Jr. of Alabama, believes this.

“He told me ‘He’s still walking mom. He’s still walking for the cause. He is walking with Jadin,’” Bullock said.