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Posted on: March 14, 2019

Remembering Jeff Bell

Jeff Bell-cropped

A memorial service was held on Sunday for longtime Apache Junction Parks and Recreation Director Jeff Bell – the city’s only Parks director until his retirement in 2016 – who 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 March 13, 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 Multi-Generational Center.

 

“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 management.

 

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 parks.

 

“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 Rodeo.”


The memorial service was held Sunday at the Multi-Generational Center.

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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 Community Event

 

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 Project Collaboration

 

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 Public Improvement”

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