LA GRANDE – Joe Bell was a man who did not have acquaintances, only friends, friends he made quickly and never forgot.
This was apparent to the 300 who attended his celebration-of-life service Thursday at Eastern Oregon University.
Bell, 48, was killed Oct. 9 by a truck on Highway 40 in Colorado while walking across the country to promote an anti-bullying program in remembrance of his son Jadin, a gay La Grande High School sophomore, who died Feb. 3 from injuries after a suicide attempt on Jan 19. Jadin’s family and friends believe he was driven to suicide by bullying.
Joe Bell, who spoke to many groups about the evils of bullying during his walk, touched the lives of many people during his journey.
The list includes Ed Jiovani, of the Denver area, who was so moved by Bell’s anti-bullying efforts that he traveled to La Grande to speak at the service.
Jiovani spoke of Bell’s uncommon ability to make almost instant connections with people.
“After the first time I met him in Colorado (this summer), I felt (that) he was an old college friend,’’ Jiovani said. “I’m so proud to have been one of his friends.”
Jiovani spoke about how he has heard that at the end of one’s life people are given ground to stand on or they are granted the wings of angels.
“Today, my friend, you were granted wings,’’ he said.
Joe Bell’s journey
Bell decided to make his 5,000-mile walk across the United States not long after his son died.
He was six months into his two-year trek when he was struck and killed along a roadside by a tractor-trailer 20 miles outside of Kit Carson.
Bud Hill, a close family friend, recalled how surprised he was when Bell told him of his plans to walk across the U.S.
“My first words were, ‘Joe, you can ride a bike.’”
Bell was not about to change his mind.
“He said, ‘I’m walking,’ Hill said. “Joe could be a little stubborn. He wanted to leave immediately.’’
Hill and his friends were able to get Bell to hold off on leaving until April 18.
In the days before Bell began his journey, Hill recalled that he once heard him scream after seeing a spider.
“Here was someone who was going to be sleeping on the ground (throughout most of his cross-country trek), and he was scared of spiders,’’
On a somber note, Hill said he has been plagued with “what if?’’ thoughts in the wake of the accident. He said any number of things could have prevented Bell from being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
“It tears me up thinking about it,’’ Hill said.
Hill, who helped start Bell’s Faces for Change anti-bullying foundation, realizes now that perhaps nothing could have prevented Bell’s accident.
“I know in my heart it was God’s will,’’ he said.
Hill then had those in attendance at the service hold hands, look up and send Bell off on another journey, saying in unison: “Godspeed, Joe.”