For many years, Jewel Bell was a staple of King College, a small Christian faculty in Bristol, Tenn. She was a confidante for college students and later a gatekeeper to the president’s workplace.
She was additionally a residing witness to occasions large and small at King and the bigger world: from the desegregation of Bristol and King and the broader civil rights motion to an growth of pupil enrollment and packages at King and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re speaking about an individual who, greater than anybody else, is the thread that runs via the historical past of King for the reason that center of the final century,” President Alexander Whitaker stated. “Then, it blows one’s thoughts much more to assume that her institutional historical past is not only her personal however what she absorbed from individuals who’ve been there many years earlier than. So via Jewel, we’re actually linked with the college effectively into the early twentieth century, which is wonderful.”
Bell retired from the college this month on her seventieth work anniversary and every week earlier than her 93rd birthday. King directors assume she’s one of many longest-serving staff in larger schooling—she’s actually the college’s longest—and Bell’s tenure shocked even her.
“If anybody had informed me I used to be going to spend 70 years on that campus, I might’ve stated, ‘Completely not,’ however the children have been so good to me,” she stated.
Bell, a Bristol native, had by no means visited King’s campus earlier than 1952, when she started working as a brief maid within the girls’s dorm. On the time, she was the college’s solely Black worker, and the campus was nonetheless segregated. Her momentary place finally turned everlasting, and she or he was promoted in 1961 to run the campus phone switchboard and supervise the brand new girls’s residence corridor. She later moved to the president’s workplace, the place she labored as an government assistant. She’s labored beneath 10 totally different presidents throughout her 70 years.
“The truth that anybody works anyplace, however notably at a school, for 70 years is sort of wonderful,” Whitaker stated, including that there are few King alumni alive as we speak who can keep in mind the college with out Bell.
By way of her roles because the switchboard operator and government assistant to the president, Whitaker stated, Bell was the face and voice of King for many years.
“To have that historical past in regards to the folks, establishments and occasions proper outdoors my door was phenomenal,” he stated. “She was additionally a assist to anybody who walked via that workplace. She was the individual you first noticed once you came around and the individual everybody wished to see after they returned.”
Bell’s husband was a veteran of World Struggle II and labored three jobs to handle the household, she stated. However she didn’t need to sit at house all day, so she took a job at King.
“I’m not a typical woman,” she stated.
She initially earned 60 cents an hour—“not sufficient to purchase a scorching canine,” she stated. Her wage elevated throughout her early years at King, and she or he finally earned larger wages.
“Once I received to a greenback and 1 / 4, I believed I died and gone to heaven,” she stated.
Throughout her time at King, the college began accepting Black college students, and her son was one of many first Black college students to attend King.
Whitaker stated integration at King was handled as “not a giant deal,” which he attributes to Bell’s position on the college.
“Her presence on the campus not solely affected that period however continues to have an effect on King’s character as a welcoming place, no matter race,” Whitaker stated. “Jewel was very a lot a central a part of that. Not solely by being there and being so seen but in addition by all she did, completed and the way beloved she was.”
Bell stated she was typically the one Black lady in a gaggle of white college students or staff, however she didn’t expertise harassment and heard the N-word used solely as soon as—and she or he dealt with it.
“In the event that they did say one thing, they might’ve been taken care of by the dean and president,” Bell stated. “They always let folks know that Jewel is a part of the school.”
Pat Flanagan, former chair of the music division at King, met Bell whereas he was a pupil.
“She served as a hostess of the school, particularly the ladies’s dorm,” he recalled.
When he returned to King as a professor, Flanagan stated he would stroll by Bell’s desk each day to speak along with her.
“Jewel represents every little thing that’s good and optimistic about King,” he stated. “I’ve a Ph.D. in musicology. She has a Ph.D. in life … She helped me develop up and change into an grownup. There’s little doubt about it.”
Bell’s time at King has included a myriad of honors, from awards for distinguished service to a campus avenue and scholarship bearing her identify. Former Tennessee governor Invoice Haslem declared her a colonel aide-de-camp in 2017, which acknowledges Tennessee residents for excellent achievement. Final Christmas, she was the grand marshal of Bristol’s Christmas parade.
“The actual legacy she has shouldn’t be going to be avenue names and awards,” Whitaker stated. “It’s actually going to be the truth that 1000’s of scholars that [have] come via our doorways since 1952 have been touched by this exceptional lady.”
Bell, who’s known as the “Queen of King” and referred to as “Mamma Bell” by some college students, stated college students all the time handled her like a mom. When she was working within the dorms, some college students would name her house at night time for assist with emergencies akin to when a peer was drunk and vomiting.
Intoxicated college students risked expulsion, Bell stated. She would provide recommendation over the telephone to college students on the way to handle an intoxicated classmate and clear up the associated mess.
Now that Bell is retired, she stated she has easy plans: to scrub her home and get again concerned with the YWCA of Bristol. She served on the group’s Board of Administrators for a number of years.
“I’m going to overlook this place,” she stated. “It was my second house.”