The staff here at the Custer County Chronicle, like the rest of the community, was shocked and saddened to hear of the death of Bill Bell last Monday. Bell’s several-years long battle with cancer came to an end when he succumbed to the disease, like so many have before him. Cancer is a horrible, horrible thing, and takes far too many people far too soon. It took one of our favorites in Bill.
Many on the staff have known Bill for the better part of the two decades since the new owners and some veteran staff came to the Custer County Chronicle. We knew him through the Custer Volunteer Fire Department, which is likely the same way most of, if not all of, Custer knew Bill. He was hard to miss. He was the face of the department. He was affable, had an iconic mustache and frequently had his signature bib overalls on. And, in a world where there is increasingly less and less of them, Bill was just a flat-out nice guy. He was fun to talk to and fun to be around. He was a dedicated firefighter and a hard worker. He was assistant chief for the fire department for many years.
Bill was also our go-to guy for every fire-related thing that went on in Custer. Whenever there was a fire we would call Bill, and he would happily fill us in on whatever he could in regards to what happened in the fire. He always insisted on two things—he wanted to talk about it in person instead of over the phone (which was fine because we enjoyed having him in the office) and he wanted to read over the story before it went to print to make sure it was accurate. That was fine with us too; we always want to have accurate reporting. He would come in, sit down, talk about the incident in question and then hold court with whoever was in the office about whatever subject was the topic de jour that day. He would jokingly ask if the staff was getting any work out of some members of the staff, and then he’d be on his way.
Bill was the ultimate in first responders. When you think of Custer volunteer firemen, the name Bill Bell always comes up because he answered practically every emergency call. We could always depend on him for information about an event the department was involved in because he was always there on the scene. Perhaps Custer Emergency Management director Mike Carter said it best at the recent community preparedness meeting when he said everyone gave Bill grief about always being on the radio, but now everyone would give almost anything to hear his voice one more time.
Those who serve their communities in the way Bill Bell do are a rare commodity. When we lose one, it hurts. It not only hurts the people who knew the person, but it hurts the community. Custer was a better place with Bill Bell volunteering and saying hello.
Rest easy, Bill. You will be truly missed by everyone who knew you.