Dr. Ronald “Ronnie” H. Bell, 89, passed away peacefully on December 22, 2021.
Longtime Clevelander, Ronnie was born on January 22, 1932 to Molly and Dr. Julius Bell. He graduated from Shaker Heights High School, attended the University of Miami in Ohio, and completed his vocational training at the Western Reserve University School of Dentistry, class of 1953. After his residency, he served in the United States Army. , in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, from 1957 to 1959.
Known to everyone as Ronnie, he set his sights on Diane “Dinny” Bell in high school. In fact, he couldn’t remember a time when he didn’t know her. Their families shared common ground – his father, Julius, and Dinny’s father, Harry Levitt, were both dentists in Cleveland. Ronnie married the love of his life in August 1954 and they were married for 64 years until Dinny’s death in 2018. Their first two children, Douglas and Lisa, were born while Ronnie was stationed at Fort Bragg , and after their return to Shaker Heights. to set up their home and an oral surgery practice, the family grew to include Carolyn and John.
Ronnie’s career as an oral surgeon spanned 45 years. He practiced in private practice for 15 years, before partnering with his lifelong friend, Dr. Ken Callahan, for two decades. Then Ronnie joined the practice of Dr. Scott Alperin to pursue the practice of oral surgery. Although he retired in 2007, he did not go out of business. He spent several years as a mobile dentist, traveling to schools up to 100 miles away to perform dental examinations on children. During his career, Ronnie has served as President of the Cleveland Dental Society and the Alpha Omega Dental Fraternity and has served as Chief of Staff at Suburban, Marymount and Bedford Hospitals.
Dr Bell was undoubtedly a dentist, but Ronnie was much more. He truly embraced life (as he has kissed most of everyone he has met) and immersed himself in art, music, and travel. He and Dinny almost always had bags in their suitcases and passports on hand to explore the world – Japan, Alaska, Pakistan, Israel, the Galapagos and beyond. When the family was young, the Bell station wagon was loaded for road trips across the country. Ronnie was convinced that his children needed to see the beautiful United States of America before venturing abroad. So he took them on six-week trips in 1974 and 1975, visiting countless states and national parks. They went downhill skiing in Vermont, upstate New York and Colorado in the spring, and on his 50th birthday he took the whole family cross-country skiing in the frigid Arctic Circle. And canoe trips to distant waters (complete with camping and the famous Ronnie Power Plant Eggs) were common Bell family adventures.
But he cleaned up well for a night on the town. Ronnie and Dinny were huge supporters of the arts in Cleveland, spotted in almost every museum and concert hall. Ronnie himself was an opera supernumerary for over 50 years. He took the stage with the Metropolitan Opera when they came to Cleveland to perform, and with the former Cleveland Opera Company, of which he was a co-founder. Ronnie also “layered” with his sons, Doug and John, as well as his dad, stepfather, and stepbrother, Burt. He and Dinny served on the National Opera Council for several years and loved visiting the world’s greatest opera houses on their travels.
Perhaps, however, it was the hours of life spent at Severance Hall that really captured her heart. While in dental school, Burt introduced Ronnie to the Cleveland Orchestra (from the cheap seats), and Ronnie got hooked. In the decades since, he could still be found in Box 11, sitting next to Dinny every Thursday night. Beyond fundraising and boarding, Ronnie was a beloved figure in the orchestra, beloved by musicians, elevator operator, parking attendant, and administrators. They were all family to him. He cherished every performance and performer and loved being in their presence.
And then there was the man and his bike. Ronnie drove more miles than anyone can count (although he always kept the most meticulous records). What started as a five-day bike ride in Dayton with Doug, followed by bike trips to Europe and the Rockies with Carolyn, has grown into an obsession. In fact, Ron has held three cycling world records and has cycled across the country seventeen times. He has competed in Race Across America (RAAM) six times. From Oceanside, Calif., The RAAM stretches 3,000 miles, climbs to 175,000 feet, traverses 12 states, and ends in Annapolis, Md., Without a single day of rest. Ronnie set the RAAM world records at 65, 70 and 80; was the oldest solo qualifier at 60, covering 422 miles in 37 hours; crossed on a mixed team of four people at 65 in eight days, four hours; and in a team of four to 80, in nine days, 11 hours. He crossed Outer Mongolia past the Great Wall of China, was part of the Vietnam team with Senator John Kerry, completed the Face of America Ride with Diana Nyad and rode the Tour de France after the race with Greg LeMond.
Ronnie applied that same mental toughness to other mind-blowing athletic feats. He has climbed eight significant mountains, including Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Rainier, and peaks in Greenland and Ecuador. He raced the 100K World Cup from Florence to Faenza, Italy; 135 miles from Death Valley to Mount Whitney; 60 miles along the Panama Canal and the eight-day Marathon de Sables through the Sahara in Morocco. The title of his unwritten book says it all: If it doesn’t hurt, it’s not mine; My life in the slow lane.
Everyone who knew him will remember Ronnie’s generous and tireless spirit, crisp clothes and famous red glasses. If you’ve had the chance to share a bottle from their extensive wine collection, you’ve probably heard stories about how and where it was produced. If you have visited the house that Dinny made so grand, you have also discovered the magnificent art that filled the rooms and heard these stories. And if you saw the countless photographs he took and then chronicled, you knew family was always the center of his universe, the core around which everything else revolved.
Oh, how this family will be missed. Ronnie, beloved husband of the late Diane “Dinny” Bell of 64 years, is survived by her children: Douglas (Laura) Bell, Lisa (Greg) Bell Benedetto, Carolyn (Stephen) Geldermann and John Bell; nine grandchildren, Spencer and Marissa Bell, Sara (Annie) Benedetto, Molly (Kevin Martin), Harrison (Kathryn McElroy), David (Kristie) and Hannah Geldermann, and Sara Channa (Meir) Goldstein and Asher (Chedva) Bell; 10 great-grandchildren, Aviva, Maayan, Aharon and Naftali Goldstein, Shlomo, Aharon, Sara and Devora Bell, Levitt Martin and Connor Geldermann; sister, Marjorie Sachs; sister-in-law, Alice (Dr Burton) Saidel; brother-in-law, Dr Stuart (Nina) Levitt; cousin / best man, Ken (Amy) Rogat; and many adored nieces and nephews. The family expresses their gratitude to her loving help, Ramona, and to the other caregivers who have been so constant and generous.
A celebration of Ronnie’s extraordinary life will be scheduled at a later date, free of COVID.
Meanwhile, those who wish to honor Ronnie’s memory can contribute to the Cleveland Orchestra. We know he will be listening.