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This article originally appeared in the Friday July 19, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.
Gerald “Jerry” Bell’s legacy in the Rio Grande Valley can be found in the metaphorical and physical growth of Peñitas.
The city of Peñitas, along with Bell’s family and friends and local officials held a memorial ceremony that honored the late businessman, who passed away last week on July 10, 2019 at the age of 85. The event took place at the Peñitas Public Library on Wed. July 17.
After growing up in the Rio Grande Valley and graduating from McAllen High School in 1948, Bell found a home in Peñitas. According to a press release from the city, people driving into Peñitas will find it “impossible to miss” hundreds of oak trees that line the expressway Bell Farms (one of Bell’s properties), representing his contribution to the “rich history, current development and promising future” of Peñitas.
Bell was considered a staple in the community for over 65 years, and “embodied the spirit of entrepreneurship, service and community among ongoing generations of Peñitas residents.” During his life, Bell oversaw the planting of over 1,000 oak trees that currently line the Bell Farms property, and his family contributed to charitable causes, educational organizations and groups in order to highlight the beauty in Peñitas.
As his son-in-law John Womack put during the memorial, Bell cared.
“This town was founded by Jerry and a whole bunch of people who came together,” Womack said. “And they didn’t have a lot to start with, and they moved up.”
Bell and his first wife Barbara are regarded as instrumental parts of the team that incorporated the city of Peñitas in the 1990’s, and he and his brother Duane developed parts of their farm into residential neighborhoods which lead to the growth of the city and the creation of necessary infrastructure.
Peñitas Mayor Rigo Lopez thanked Bell’s family for lending him to the city in order to do invaluable works of service. He presented them with a plaque during the memorial.
“The Bell family is synonymous with Peñitas, and we will continue to work on the vision that Mr. Bell brought to the city,” Lopez said. “He’s been a pillar in this community for a long time, and every time people mention Peñitas, just like a lot of founding fathers, the family Bell comes to mind.”
State Representative Oscar Longoria also presented Bell’s family with a certificate of recognition and a United States flag that flew over the capitol in Bell’s honor.
“He was a community patriarch,” Longoria said. “In the state legislature, we always honor valuable and great Texans, and I think Jerry was a great Texan, first and foremost. He was very valuable to his family and the community.”
The loss of Bell, who had been inducted into the Rio Grande Valley Walk of Fame and the Mission Historical Museum Walk of Fame in 2012, reverberated in the library during the event. Several community members filled the space, and the library staff put together a photo memorial of Bell throughout the years that they played.
City Chaplain and Pastor Juan De La Garza prayed for Bell and his family, highlighting Bell’s commitment and dedication to the area.
“We thank you, Father, for his life and his testimony,” De La Garza said. “We also thank you for the love and commitment [he had] to this community.”
De La Garza said that mourning Bell would not be easy for his family, but prayed that God be with them in this time.
“We lost a man with a heart for this community,” De La Garza said. “And we just want to thank you Father as we gather here today, and we want to remember him not only because there’s a sign that says ‘Mr. Bell’ at the entrance of Peñitas, but because he left his heart in this community.”