Poems by Olive are compiled in a book called "Thinkle of a Bell" she has given us permission to publish some of them here.
Valley loses colorful character
By EOWYN LeMAY IVEY-Frontiersman reporter
MAT-SU -- The Valley lost one of its most well-known senior citizens and colorful characters when 88-year-old Olive Bell died last month.
A solo world traveler, journalist, poet and former Wal-Mart greeter, Bell died at Valley Hospital Feb. 24. A celebration of life is slated for May 15 at the Wasilla Area Senior Center.
Jokingly dubbed a Palmer Pioneer Home escapee, Bell became a local hero in the mid-1990s when she left the home after living there for nine years, got a driver's license and set out to have an autonomous life. At the age of 80, she became a Wal-Mart greeter.
Wasilla Area Seniors Executive Director Tim Anderson first met her as she began this second phase of independence.
"She was near and dear to our hearts," Anderson said. "She was just a very helpful person, very positive and energetic. She volunteered here a lot, and always participated in anything we did." He described how Bell would work garage sales and other fund-raising events for the senior group.
In one of her poems, Bell wrote, "Make a pact with life. Meet it day by day," and throughout her life, she seemed to strive to meet each of those days with energy and passion.
Born in Yakima, Wash., in 1915, Bell attended college in California and worked at the U.S. Space Program at Vandenberg Air Force Base. She came to Alaska in 1969 and worked as a newspaper reporter and editor for 15 years.
But Bell wasn't one to get stuck in a rut.
"You can't live on what has gone by," she told a Frontiersman reporter in 2001. "Don't try to do the same things over ... do something different."
And that's what she did. She wrote a book of poetry, "A Thinkle of A Bell," and Gov. Tony Knowles placed her poem "God and Alaska" in the legislative hall in Juneau. In 1996, at the age of 81, she traveled to Australia and five years later to the Netherlands. Wheelchair bound and alone, Bell took in the sights and sounds of the world and, true to form, formed friendships abroad.
In her obituary, friends wrote "She was never at a loss for conversation ... Those of us who knew her carry memories of wonderful gatherings with coffee, elegant surroundings and great conversation."
Wasilla Area Seniors Deputy Director Mary Haley remembers how Bell would invite people to her Wasilla apartment and urge them to step out on her patio, which she had devoted to plants and flowers.
"It was her pride and joy. She'd say 'Go look at my flowers.' And there were tomatoes ... everything," Haley said.
With this in mind, Haley said she had been working with Bell to design "Olive's Garden" in the new assisted living facility being built this year. With Bell gone now, Haley said they will design it with her in mind.
"She'll continue living on in everything we do here," she said. "She touched everybody."
Bell was preceded in death by her husband of 20 years, "Red" Bell, as well as her parents and all her siblings.
She is survived by many friends and acquaintances around the world.
OLIVE JOSLIN BELL
Wasilla resident Olive J. Bell, died Feb. 24, 2003, at Valley Hospital after reaching the end of her path. A celebration of life will be held May 17 at the Wasilla Area Senior Center.
Mrs. Bell was born April 17, 1915, in Yakima, Wash. She graduated from high school in Milford, N.H., attended business college in Pomona, Calif. and Scripts College in Claremont, Calif. She worked for the United States Space Program at Vandenberg, A.F.B. from 1962-1967. She came to Alaska in the fall of 1969. She worked as a reporter and editor for the Alaskana Newspaper from 1969-1973 and as an editor for the Artic Sun from 1973-1984. She also endeavored to get the gas line in place for Alaska OMAR. Mrs. Bell lived in Palmer from 1985-1994, then moved to Wasilla where she worked for Wal-Mart as a greeter from 1995-1997.
She was a member of the Wasilla Area Seniors and the Alaska Womens Writers Assoc. She received many awards and honors. Her latest honor occured when former governor Tony Knowles placed her poem "God and Alaska" in the legislative hall in Juneau. Her hobbies included writing, raising money for senior causes, guest speaking in the elementery schools and traveling. She went to Australia in 1996 and to Holland in 2001 to see the tulips. She couldn't find a traveling partner either time so it was just her and her wheelchair.
Her friends wrote "Olive was incredibly gracious and inclusive to all she met and came to know. She was never at a loss for conversation. She was ever ready to go up until the last few months, she had even made plans to go to Denmark. Those of us who knew her carry memories of wonderful gatherings with coffee, elegent surroundings and great conversation."
She was preceded in death by her husband of 20 years "Red" Bell; her parents Harry and Buelah and all of her siblings. She is survived by many close friends and acquaintances.
Memorial donations may be made to the Wasilla Area Seniors ( WASI), at 1301 Century Circle, Wasilla AK 99654.
Arrangements were made by Kehl's Palmer Mortuary.