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Longtime Apache Junction Parks and Recreation Director Jeff
Bell – the city’s only Parks director until his retirement in 2016 – has died
after an illness. He was 61.
Bell, having steered the city’s parks department for 35
years, oversaw the development of more than 2,000 acres of park and open space
in a thriving operation that now employs more than 100 full and part-time staff,
has hundreds of volunteers and serves a community of tens of thousands, winning
accolades from peers and citizens alike.
“Jeff built the department from scratch when we were just a
small, emerging city,” said Mayor Jeff Serdy. “With his leadership, we ended up
with beautiful parks, the amazing Multigenerational Center, just great
facilities. He also helped mentor the next generation of Parks professionals
and raise the standard for our city with award-winning programs.”
Bell, who died on Wednesday, took the position of “community
services coordinator” in 1980 since there wasn’t a Parks department yet. Ground
had just been broken on ball fields and tennis courts near Apache Junction High
School. Bell began his job working with the school district to develop
agreements for joint use facilities. That led to many projects, including the
aquatic center at what has become Superstition Shadows Park, to the crown jewel
“Jeff was a visionary public servant who found creative
methods to deliver world-class facilities and programs to our community,” said
current Parks Director Liz Langenbach, who worked with Bell for 20 years. “He
worked hard to develop staff that focused on high quality, personal customer
experiences. Jeff was a beloved mentor and father-figure to many of us in the
department, and will be missed dearly.”
Bell grew up in Casa Grande and volunteered with that city’s
parks department before he was a teen-ager. He worked there before and after he
went to Arizona State University, where he earned a degree in recreation
In Apache Junction, he started with creating Veterans
Memorial Park on the city hall complex and by 2016 had a system of parks,
facilities and awards that rivaled any city. Bell oversaw the development of Prospector
Park to the Multigenerational Center.
Recreation Management magazine selected the recreation
center for its Innovative Architecture and Design Award in 2006 and Athletic
Business subsequently featured the project in its publication.
A long list of facilities came to be under Bell’s watch,
including the Little League Park, Superstition Shadows Park and Aquatics Center,
which includes the skate park, Silly Mountain Park, and the Focal Point.
Remarkably, Bell worked with the school district and the U.S. Bureau of Land
Management to acquire the trails and open space, some of which became developed
“For several years in our organization, Jeff was known as
‘Senor SOAR’ (Service Over and Above the Rest),” city manager Bryant Powell said
at the time of retirement. “Jeff was our senior staff lead on this work. He
embodied the idea. This was a several year assignment where Jeff took on extra
duties to provide expertise to many city teams, helping them review and
implement city staff customer service and process improvement projects.”
Bell garnered many acknowledgements over the years, from the
Arizona Parks and Recreation Association and others. In 2004, the state
association named Superstition Shadows Park the “Outstanding Facility for a
community with a population under 60,000,” and the Arizona Department of
Commerce and the Governor’s Office gave Parks an award for “Excellence in Rural
Development” for Superstition Shadows Park. In 2008, the Phoenix New Times
honored Lost Dutchman Days with their award for “Best Place to See a Homegrown
The family has announced that a memorial service will be held on Sunday, March 24, at 3 p.m. at the Multi-Generational Center.
A list of awards earned while Jeff Bell was director
2013 - The Downtown Holiday Program and Light Parade is
recognized by Arizona Parks & Recreation Association (APRA) as Outstanding
2012 - The monthly Fit Families Program was recognized as
Outstanding Educational Program of the Year by APRA
2011 - East Valley Tribune names Multigenerational Center
“Best City Rec Center” In Best of East Valley 2011 Reader’s Poll
2011 - Parks and Recreation Department and Superstition Area
Land Trust are awarded Partnership Award by APRA for the Silly Mountain Park
2008 - Fourth of July “Locals Only” skate competition
selected as Outstanding Sporting Event by APRA; Parks recognized by the
Arizona chapter of American Society for Landscape Architects for Outstanding
Maintenance Practice at City Hall
2008 – Phoenix New Times names Lost Dutchman Days the “Best
Place to see a Homegrown Rodeo.”
2006 - Multigenerational Center receives Outstanding
Facility Award from APRA; center recognized by “Recreation Management” magazine
with Innovative Architecture and Design Award.
2005 - Superstition Shadows Park receives Outstanding
Facility Award from APRA.
2004 - Superstition Shadows Park receives “Governor’s
Excellence in Rural Development” Award in Parks and Recreation category from
the Arizona Department of Commerce.
1997 - Focal Point wins “Arizona Main Street Award for Best