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Civic and education leader Dr. J. Ardis Bell dies at 95

Dr. J. Ardis Bell, M.D., one of the founders of Tarrant County College and the first president of its board of trustees. died March 21. He was 95.

No public funeral is planned.

“Dr. Bell was the epitome of dignity, decorum and decision-making. He had a great instinct for what was best for the college and all its stakeholders,” said Louise Appleman, a 30-year-member of the college board and a former president, who recently stepped down.

“At the same time, I cannot remember an issue for which he did not encourage full discussion, input and a final decision to be shared by all. He was a role model for and mentor to all of us fortunate enough to serve with him,” she said.

Dr. Bell was a charter member of the Hurst-Euless-Bedford Rotary Club in 1962 and served as its first president and also became involved with the Haltom-Richland Chamber of Commerce and served vice president and president of the Chamber’s Board of Directors.

That led in 1963 to a project that would change not only his life, but also the face of education in Tarrant County – the creation of Tarrant County Junior College, now Tarrant County College.

Dr. Bell was working with a Chamber task force to explore establishing a junior college in Northeast Tarrant County when the group became aware of a parallel effort in Fort Worth led by attorney Jenkins Garrett.

The two groups formed a steering committee and early in 1965 succeeded in calling an election to establish the college. Dr. Bell was one of the seven candidates put forward by the committee for election to the Board of Trustees.

Conrad C. Heede, president of the TCCD Board of Trustees, knew Dr. Bell for many years through Rotary and Tarrant County College.

“He was a good friend and I always valued his help and advice. In fact, when he was planning to retire, he asked me to run for his seat on the TCC Board, representing Northeast Tarrant County, a position that he so ably served in for so many years,” Heede said.

“I was honored that he even thought I could fill his shoes to some extent and I continually try to live up to his high standards. Ardis was a warm, caring, honorable man with high ethical standards.

“If there is one phrase that to me describes Dr. Bell it would be ‘first class.’ He lived his life to that standard and everything he did was first class – and the results, including his vision, shared with other great leaders, to found Tarrant County College some 55 years ago, demonstrate that. He will be greatly missed by many people,” Heede said.

Dr. Bell was born in Fort Worth on Nov. 21, 1924, to B.B. and Hazel Bell. After graduating from Arlington Heights High School in 1941, he worked briefly for a railroad in Big Spring, Texas, before enlisting in the U.S. Navy in 1942.

He was assigned as to his ship’s sickbay and became keenly interested in medicine. The ship physician encouraged him to attend college and medical school.

Dr. Bell earned a bachelor of science degree from the University of Texas in Austin in 1949 and a M.D. degree from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston in 1955.

Dr. Bell served as an intern at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth in 1955-57 and in 1960 joined the clinic of Drs. David Pillow, Charles Rush and Bruce Jacobson that soon afterward became Glenview Family Clinic (now Family Health Care Associates) in North Richland Hills.

He then helped found the Glenview Extended Care center in 1967. He maintained an active family practice until his retirement in 1998 and in 1990 served as chairman of the Board of Directors for the HCA Northeast Medical Center.

Leading up to the July 31, 1965, election that created Tarrant County Junior College, Dr. Bell, his fellow candidates and others on the steering committee spoke before service clubs, labor organizations and church groups throughout the county to enlist their support.

“I guess the thing I remember most,” he said years later, “is my knees knocking when I had to get up to address someone. But I had a sincere drive and desire, and I guess my fear was one of whether I could get my point across.”

Voters approved creation of the college by a 2-to-1 margin, and Dr. Bell began 43 years of service on the board of trustees. He was elected the board’s vice president in 1972 and in 1976 was elected president, the office he held for 32 years until his retirement from the board in 2008.

He continued to follow events at TCC, and the library on the College’s Northeast Campus bears his name.

Dr. Bell was married to the former Doris Lou Chester in 1948, and the couple had four sons and two daughters. He was also an active member of the North Richland Hills Baptist Church for more than 40 years.

SURVIVORS: Dr. Bell was preceded in death by Doris, his wife of 57 years. He is survived by son Ardis Bell, Jr.; daughter Melody Bell Fowler and husband Larry; daughter Lisa Bell Holman and husband Dixon; son Britt Bell and wife Nancy; son Greg Bell and wife Shelley; son David Bell and wife Elizabeth; grandchildren Madison Bell, Brennan Fowler, Dixon James Holman, Melissa Holman Bruce, Preston Holman, Alicia Bell, Landon Bell, Whitley Bell Boespflug, and Ashtyn Bell; and great-grandchildren Dixon Wade Holman and Everley Rose Boespflug.

Memorials: The J. Ardis Bell Scholarship Fund at the TCC Foundation

– Paul K. Harral

This report includes material from the family’s official obituary.

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