By Callie Shehan
When Jewel Bell arrived at King College in 1952 with only sixty-six cents in her pocket, she never dreamed that a two-week job filling in for a maid would turn into a seventy-year-long career. Throughout her time at King, she has been a maid, a switchboard operator in Parks Hall, supervisor of the women’s dorm, and an executive administrative assistant for communications. Her current office has resided in the E.W. King Building since 1990, where she helps countless people find their way around campus and serves as gatekeeper to the president’s office, along with the president’s assistant, Holly Stevens. All the while, she offers a signature smile that everyone loves.
When approached for an interview on her time at King, she laughed and commented that so many people come to her with the same request that she’s lost track of how many times she’s been interviewed. She also happily mentioned that it’s been wonderful working at King and that she enjoys sitting in for the president and talking to everyone that walks through the door of the E.W. King Building. During the interview, she spoke a lot about her childhood, and even more so, she spoke of her mother, often mentioning her in a positive light, noting, “My mother taught me all about what it meant to love the Lord and work hard every day.” During her early years at King, she found ways to pitch in wherever she could, all the while smiling as she worked.
Over the years, King has recognized Jewel for her many decades of service by presenting her with the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award in 1980. This award is given to students and community members that often demonstrate noble character, placing service above all else. In 2017, Jewel was honored by having a campus street named after her as the entrance to Nicewonder Hall. Not only has she received multiple awards and had a street named after her, but she also had the Jewel H. Bell Scholarship named in her honor. This scholarship was established to aid students who need additional funds to pursue their academic dreams. It has provided more than $2.3 million in aid to students since being established in 2007. She also recently received the university’s first-ever Lifetime Service Award, presented during alumni weekend in spring 2017. At the same time, she has also been declared an Aide-de-Camp by Governor Bill Haslam, an honor that carries with it the title of Tennessee Colonel.
While being a part of King for over 70 years, participating in various jobs, Jewel herself has never attended any classes on campus; however, her son Lawrence Jr., became the first African-American student to attend in 1966. Today, she has three grown children, seven grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild. She noted that King University is her home, and the students are her family, “Some of my family call me Gran, some call me GG, JB, Miss Jewel, plain Jewel, Mrs. Bell or Ma Bell. I prefer the young people, and I love them. I feel like God has enabled me to be here so long because of them, and I believe I’ve made an impact.”
Find out more about Jewel Bell on her employee profile here.