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Richard A. Bell

Richard A. Bell

April 11, 2020

Richard Bell, age 79, of Eau Claire, Wisconsin passed away at The Classic at Hillcrest Greens in Altoona on April 11, 2020.  He was born to Franklin and Bernice (George) Bell on March 26, 1941 in Wonewoc, Wisconsin.  Growing up in a small town along the Baraboo River, he developed two great passions that set the course for much of his life—a love of nature and a love of words.  One path led outdoors, the other to the public library, and both fed a curiosity about the greater world. If Richard wasn’t rambling through fields or forest, he could be found immersed in a book.  A whiz at spelling bees, he used mnemonic devices like turning abstractions into images as in “There is a rat in separate”—a trick he’d later share with his children. After graduating from Wonewoc High School, he studied literature at Wisconsin State University-La Crosse, where a classmate, Patrick Sheafor, introduced Richard to his sister.  Later, student teaching in Madison, he looked up Milly Sheafor, who worked nearby as a nurse. The couple married at St. Mary’s Church in Richland Center on June 6, 1964.  Richard taught English at Wisconsin Heights High School in Mazomanie while earning a dual Master’s Degree in English and in Library Science from UW-Madison. In 1971, Richard accepted a position as reference librarian at UWEC and he and Milly moved to Eau Claire and raised a family.  For thirty years, Richard guided generations of students through research projects first using the library card catalogues and later the intricacies of computer search engines.  As one former student noted, “Richard was Google before there was a Google.” 

Richard was a guide of another sort by mentoring a younger generation in the outdoor skills in which he was so proficient.  He led canoe trips to Quetico Provincial Park and the Albany River in northern Ontario.  He backpacked in the Wind River Range of Wyoming and fly-fished the Kinnickinnic and White Rivers of Wisconsin. But Richard’s favorite spot on earth, apart from his home, was the ridge-and-coulee country of Buffalo County.  Following in the footsteps of two of his favorite authors, Sigurd Olson and Aldo Leopold, Richard built a small, book-lined cabin from which he both experienced the natural world and reflected upon it. Richard was progressive in his politics, but his optimism and soft-spoken humor knew no boundaries.  He could talk to anyone, a skill he put to use serving his community as a volunteer for Literacy Volunteers of America and Hospice.  Richard was an inveterate feeder of birds, a reader of trees, and a singer of old songs.  Following him through the woods or along on a portage trail, one was apt to hear snippets of Willy Nelson drifting through the pines.  

The Peace of Wild Things, a poem by Wendell Berry, was loved by Richard and sums up his heart and life’s philosophy.

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

Richard was preceded in death by his parents and a sister, Susan.  He is survived by his wife Milly, a son David (Renee) of Madison, and a daughter Sarah (Scott) Hamric of Battle Creek, Michigan and their son Jay, his sister Virginia and brother Frank (Carol) of Salem, Wisconsin.  He is also survived by many friends and comrades who will miss his presence, whether it be in the woods, or on the water.

Kathleen Shadick, a first cousin of Milly, has been integral to Richard’s care over the last several years.  Her love has been a great gift to both Richard and Milly.

The family would like to express their most sincere gratitude to Dale Peters for helping Richard complete his final portage.

There will be a gathering of friends and family to celebrate Richard’s life at a later date when we can all come together safely.

Sarah extends a heartfelt thank you to Richard’s dear friend, John Hildebrand, for his gracious assistance in writing this obituary.  Dad always told me, “You are only as good as your best proofreader”. 

Chippewa Valley Cremation Services—Celebration of Life Center in Altoona is serving the family. 


A Celebration of Life will be held later.

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  • Kathy Ennis My deepest sympathy to all of Richie's family. We grew up in the same neighborhood in Wonewoc and I have fond memories of Richie and the Bell family. He was a good fellow, bright, kind, personable and not above a practical joke now and then. God Bless you and your family.

    May 14 at 8:29pm

  • Leah Decot May Dear Milly, I am so sorry for your loss. Richie was a friend and classmate. He will be missed by everyone who knew him.
    Please accept my sincere condolences.

    May 9 at 11:53am

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