Meet Donald Bell! This spry 85-year-old and has been married to his wife Eva for 53 years. Don and Eva Bell are both from Southwest Kentucky but lived most of their lives in Louisiana. He spent 37 years in retail, becoming Vice President of Stores for department store chain, Madison Blanche.
Travel has been a lifelong pursuit for Don. At twenty-two, he took a year off after college and backpacked Europe. After his retail career, Don founded a tour company with Eva that hosted day tours and tours as far away as China. He and Eva moved to Woodstock six years ago to be near three of their four grandchildren and put down roots. Don’s positive outlook and commitment to serving the community has created a lasting impression in Woodstock, and his life experiences make for a rich, insightful interview.
What inspired you or led you to your current career?
I had two careers. The first one was in retailing and as the director of stores for a chain of privately-owned department stores in Louisiana and Florida. When the stores were sold, my wife Eva, son, and I created a tour business that we ran for 21 years called Bell Tours.
We did day tours for hospitals, church groups, and in time our own clientele. Then we got brave and started making trips to Europe which worked, and then we got braver, and we found a company that would take people to China – it was an inexpensive trip. I was too old to make that fifteen-hour flight, so Whitaker, our son, escorted the China trips.
In the meantime, somebody asked us to help with a Louisiana State Commission. They needed somebody to organize, keep the books, plan meetings, build a membership base. The purpose of the commission was to build a bridge across the Mississippi. We stayed with the commission until they built the bridge. It is in operation today. The bridge is called the Zachary Taylor Parkway Bridge named after Zachary Taylor, the only president from Louisiana.
At 78, I thought it was time to retire. I’m from a small town in Kentucky named Elkton. I always enjoyed a small-town atmosphere. Our daughter and family live in this area, and we were able to find a small-town feeling here in Woodstock.
What is your favorite restaurant in Woodstock, and what do you love there?
I’ve eaten at all of them. Century House Tavern is our favorite. Like everything on the regular menu. We are looking forward to Justin’s new restaurants in the Johnson Building. Eva and I love Maple Street Biscuit Company and Blair.
How long have you lived or worked in Woodstock?
Since 2013. When we came here, we looked at the town, and it reminded me of my hometown in Elkton, Kentucky. It was the same kind of feel that Elkton has. In Elkton, there’s a little post office in the drugstore just like here. And there was the same kind of feel that we had in my hometown. And I said to Eva, “this could really be sort of a neat place for us to put down roots.” And so, we rented an apartment in Woodstock West.
Who is the most interesting person you’ve met here? Who would you like to see nominated as a Face of Woodstock?
Do you know Michael Caldwell? Michael is our state representative for the Georgia legislature from here. Michael is just 30. He graduated from Kennesaw State in two and a half years, last year he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with his dad. His dad didn’t make it, but he made it to the top. He has coffee over at Copper Coin on Saturday mornings fairly regularly, and it’s a great way to find out what’s happening in the legislature. I would say he has certainly done a lot for this community.
If you could travel anywhere in the world right now, where would it be? And why?
I’d go back to Louisiana, and I would go back in the holiday season. The weather’s good, and no place celebrates the way they do in South Louisiana. Our son and his eight-year-old daughter live there.
What is your favorite movie OR what is the first movie you remember seeing in a theatre?
I went to see the Wizard of Oz, and I got scared to death, and I started screaming, “I want outta here!” And I can remember my mother pulling me out, and she said about my friend, “Madge Wood is sitting there just enjoying this movie, why aren’t you?”
“I’m scared of that witch!”
That was the first movie I ever saw, and it scared me to death.
What advice would you give a crowd of people?
To recognize that wherever we are, there are people who need to be recognized as human beings. My favorite book is Horton Hears a Who. And the premise behind that is wherever you and I are; there are people who need to be recognized as human beings.
When we lived in Louisiana, we went to a downtown Episcopal church, and we did meals every day for the homeless. We had lots of homeless in Louisiana. I can remember the priest saying to us, “When you hand out the meal, you say, ‘I’m Don. What’s your name?’” Because those people have lost their identity as human beings and just by saying, “Michael, I hope you enjoy this meal, and if you’re hungry tomorrow, come back, would you please?” Because we’re all human beings.
What is something on your bucket list?
You know, I’ve done most of the things that I wanted to do. I wanted to travel which I got to do a lot of it. I wanted to be creative and create things, and we were able to do that with the bridge. And for me it’s the 23rd Psalm, “My cup runneth over “ and mine runs over. I have been so incredibly blessed that I wake up mornings, asking– “why, why are you so blessed?”
What is your favorite music/ 3 bands you would like to see (dead or alive)?
Louisiana music. I love zydeco, and I love New Orleans- type jazz, I love it all.
Most of them are classic old ones. The Neville family are New Orleans icons. Aaron Neville, I knew his sister well. One night, his sister Charmaine and I were having dinner together at a place in New Orleans, and they had a jazz trio. Charmaine started singing back from the table to these people, and we had a whole session right together there in the restaurant with them singing and her singing back and forth. It was wonderful.
Dr. John, who just died in New Orleans, the piano player, Dr. John, a wonderful New Orleans musician.
And I love Louis Armstrong. We got to see him in a performance one night a long time ago. Do you remember pictures of Louis Armstrong, he used to use a handkerchief to dab his sweat? We were close enough to watch him wring it out [laughs].
There are so many fine musicians, especially out of New Orleans.
What current/former local business makes you the most nostalgic about Woodstock?
The Woodstock Pharmacy. Where can you go to get a package wrapped? If you went to the central post office, it’s about being treated like a number, but you go in there – you can Christmas shop, you can do everything from getting your pills or whatever. But again, that is a throwback to the past. I mean, the kindness of the ladies that operate that post office, it blows your mind.
And I think that what has been done with Copper Coin is so needed. Teenagers like to go there and plug in, and this is a place that a person — and they don’t even have to buy any coffee, and a lot of them don’t –they can go in and have that kind of facility available to them. It’s not a Starbucks you have to drive to; it’s a coffee place you can walk to. Lots of my friends who work from their home will actually because they get cabin fever, will go there for an hour or two to get out. It’s an asset that we really need to appreciate.
Choosing anyone alive and a non-relative: with whom would you love to have lunch? Why? Where in Cherokee County would you have lunch?
Andy Stanley. Andy is the most fascinating young person I’ve ever known. And I would have it here at Woodstock West in one of our common rooms. Eating in a restaurant with too many stopping by to speak to Andy would not give enough time to ask him all the questions I would like.
What is your favorite thing or something unique about Woodstock?
One of the things I love about this place is for every national holiday — 9/11, Veterans Day — we honor people. And that just isn’t done all across the country. I know that sometimes things fade, this year the 9/11 was not as well attended, and people start forgetting. I credit Donnie a lot for making sure this happens. What’s more glorious than to walk over to the park, and the Boy Scouts are handing out flags? We celebrate America in Woodstock.
Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years?
My goal is to see my granddaughter Fiona graduate from college. I want to be there to watch her graduate. She’s in the second grade [laughs].
What is something interesting that most people don’t know about you?
I don’t forget anything, which is a detriment sometimes because I remember the good, and I remember the bad. I remember it all.
What three words or phrases come to mind when you think of the word HOME?
Eva, love, and naps
If you were cast into a major motion picture and had your choice of anyone to be your co-star, who would you choose?
June Allison would have made a good Eva Bell.
If you had a full-time staff member that was fully paid for, who would you choose? Chef, Housekeeper, Driver, Coach, Physical Fitness Trainer, or Nanny?
I have neuropathy in my foot, so I can’t drive. I would have a driver for sure.