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John Bell left positive footprints in Wichita

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, March 27, 2010, at 12:04 a.m.
  • Updated Saturday, March 27, 2010, at 1:28 a.m.

John Bell, a prolific and popular community leader, mayoral candidate and former co-owner of the Security Abstract & Title Co., died Thursday in Wichita, family members said.

He was 79.

Bell worked extensively for the community, leading charity efforts for the arts and helping found the Kansas Food Bank. In 1989 he narrowly lost the election for mayor to Bob Knight.

On Friday, Knight said he has always admired Bell's extensive record of service to charities, business and culture.

"He has shaped this community in so many ways for the good," Knight said. "He truly loved this community and added to it enormously, through his businesses, through his personal associations. It's hard to find anybody who didn't like him, and I liked him."

In 1974, Mr. Bell was the first Admiral Windwagon Smith for the Wichita River Festival.

In 1994, he was given the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce's Uncommon Citizen Award for his community involvement. He served as the chamber's chairman in 1972 and 1973, the only person in the chamber's history to serve two terms.

The Eagle, in a 1989 editorial, said

Bell "understands, perhaps better than any other major community leader, the importance of arts in the life of a city."

That was the year Bell ran for mayor against Knight, and for a few weeks, after Bell defeated Knight by 4,000 votes in the primary election, it looked like Bell would win.

But Knight attacked him vigorously as an alleged elitist, "who wears a full length fur coat and drives a Jaguar."

"It was personal, and it was politics," Knight said on Friday. "I really don't like hurting people, and I didn't mean to hurt him. But John wasn't running to lose, and I wasn't running to lose.

"The fact is, he left a lot of footprints around this area, and just about all of them are positive."

A few years later, Bell made light of it, after he became manager of Plaza Furs.

"I may as well play on previous publicity," Bell said.

Bell's resume for service to his community is probably longer than most, Knight said.

Any list of his leadership titles would include, for example, that he was a past president of:

* The Wichita/Sedgwick County Regional Prevention Center

* Wichita Executives Association

* Kansas Land Title Association

* Downtown Kiwanis Club

* Historic Wichita/Old Cowtown Museum

* Wichita Symphony (four terms)

* Wichita Crime Commission

And any listing of the boards of directors he served on would include:

* Goodwill Industries

* Epilepsy Kansas

* Botanica

* Music Theatre of Wichita

* Junior Achievement of Wichita

There was much more.

"I think he was just driven to serve," said his stepdaughter, Jennifer White.

Bell went to high school in Boonville, Mo. He earned a degree in business administration from the University of Missouri. He served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force.

Bell is survived by his children, J. Mitchell Bell, Holly Bell, Jeffrey Bell and White.

Services are pending.

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