When Bell came to campus as chairperson of the business management department in 1976, he spent a lot of his time teaching in Johnson Hall 308. The room remains how it was when Bell taught there, with 1970s décor and an echo.
When fundraising is complete, that room will become a state-of-the-art classroom with updated teaching technology, remodeled theater-style seating and Internet connectivity for students, and it will be named in honor of the Bells.
“That is my favorite classroom in Johnson Hall,” Bell said. “I hope, no matter what we do in redesign, there’s an echo in that room. We’re going to keep that echo when we do this.”
College of Business board of trustee members and other invited guests announced the classroom’s pending renovation and dedication at the board’s annual fall celebration, which also served as an opportunity to say goodbye to the man who served as assistant dean, associate dean and dean before becoming TTU president in 2000. Bell is also one of the longest-serving members of the college’s board of trustees.
Among those to share memories of Bell was former student Stephanie Dedmon, who said Bell “has a unique ability to touch whomever he is working with, working for, serving. I think that’s meant the world to all of us in many different ways.”
In Bell’s 24 years in Johnson Hall, he helped the college earn its accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. That first accreditation put TTU in the top 10 percent of accredited programs in the U.S. at the time.
He also helped secure an $800,000 grant from the Tennessee Valley Authority to purchase computers for labs, faculty and distance learning labs, and to set up the BusinessMedia Center.
“The reason I like the school of business is business graduates seem to stay around here,” said Millard Oakley, a former regent of the Tennessee Board of Regents. “That adds a lot to the economy of this area. Tech is the economic engine of this area and Bob Bell is a good driver.”
During his years at the TTU College of Business, Bell remained committed to community interests, particularly through his church, the Putnam County YMCA and Boy Scouts of America.
But Bell’s outreach efforts extended far beyond Cookeville.
He served as a state delegate for the White House conference on the North American Free Trade Agreement, and served on the board of examiners for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award four times. The award, established by Congress in 1987, is the nation’s highest honor for innovation and performance excellence. It is awarded annually in manufacturing, service, small business, education, health care and nonprofits by the president of the United States.
During the meeting, Curt Reimann, former director of the Baldrige program, gave Bell a framed letter of appreciation from the current director. Reimann chairs the W.E. Mayberry Center for Quality and Performance Excellence at TTU.
Though most of those who spoke about Bell at the fall celebration mentioned at least some of the long list of accomplishments and projects he completed during his more than 30 years on the TTU campus, more often, they told stories and shared memories.
Dedmon shared the story about a scholarship he secured for her when she began her graduate studies in the late 1980s.
“It was a vote of confidence that I needed as a student,” she said. “It really set a course for me personally, professionally and certainly gave me the hook to continue to be very involved in this university as an alumna.”
Another former student, Thomas Lynn, shared memories of Bell’s first semester teaching at TTU, after he left the University of Florida.
“I remember thinking we liked Dr. Bell, that he was a very effective instructor,” Lynn, a member of the COB board of trustees who works with
First National Bank, Cookeville. “But Dr. Bell was 30 years old and he looked like the youngest person in our class. Students did not know whether to hang out with him in the student lounge or ask him for help.”
Though it has been a decade since Bell left Johnson Hall, the connection remains strong; the Bells’ son and daughter-in-law are both graduates of the College of Business.
“My time in the College of Business was a wonderful time,” Bell said. “It is just fun to work with such a dedicated group of faculty and staff, a great leadership team and a great group of volunteers and alumni who come back and do so much.”
Others speaking at the event included long-time trustees Martin Medley and Joe Albrecht. Drue Huffines was the master of ceremonies.