Dr. Ronald “Ronnie” H. Bell, 89, passed away peacefully on Dec. 22, 2021.
A lifelong Clevelander, Ronnie was born on Jan. 22, 1932, to Molly and Dr. Julius Bell. He graduated from Shaker Heights High School, went onto Miami University of Ohio, and completed his professional training at Western Reserve University School of Dentistry, class of 1953. Following his residency, he served in the U.S. Army, Fort Bragg, N.C., 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 recall a time when he didn’t know her. Their families shared common ground – his father, Julius, and Dinny’s father, Harry Levitt, were both Cleveland dentists. Ronnie wed 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 they returned to Shaker Heights to set up their home and an oral surgery practice, the family expanded to include Carolyn and John.
Ronnie’s career as an oral surgeon spanned 45 years. He was in private practice for 15 years, before partnering with his lifelong friend Dr. Ken Callahan for two decades. Then Ronnie joined Dr. Scott Alperin’s office to continue the practice of oral surgery. Though he retired in 2007, he didn’t close up shop. He spent several years as a mobile dentist, traveling to schools up to 100 miles away to conduct dental exams on children. During his career, Ronnie served as president of the Cleveland Dental Society and Alpha Omega Dental Fraternity and was chief of staff at Suburban, Marymount and Bedford hospitals.
Dr. Bell was undoubtedly a dentist, but Ronnie was so much more. He truly embraced life (as he embraced most everyone he met) and immersed himself in art, music and travel. He and Dinny almost always had bags packed and passports in hand to explore the world – Japan, Alaska, Pakistan, Israel, the Galapagos and beyond. When the family was young, the Bell station wagon was loaded down for cross-country road trips. Ronnie felt strongly that his kids needed to see the beautiful United States of America before venturing overseas, so he led them on six-week driving trips in 1974 and 1975, visiting countless states and national parks. They downhill skied in Vermont, upstate New York and Colorado in the spring, and for his 50th, he took the whole family cross-country skiing in the frigid Arctic Circle. And canoe trips to remote waters (complete with camping and Ronnie’s famous powerhouse 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 at nearly every museum and concert hall. Ronnie himself was an opera supernumerary for over 50 years. He took to 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 “supered” with his sons, Doug and John, as well as with his father, father-in-law, and brother-in-law, Burt. He and Dinny served on the National Opera Council for several years and loved visiting the world’s great opera houses during their travels.
Perhaps, though, it was the hours of life spent at Severance Hall that truly captured his heart. During dental school, Burt introduced Ronnie to The Cleveland Orchestra (from the cheap seats), and Ronnie was hooked. In the decades that followed, he could always be found in Box 11, sitting beside Dinny every Thursday night. Above and beyond raising money and serving as a trustee, Ronnie was a beloved figure at the orchestra, adored by the musicians, the elevator operator, the parking attendant and the administrators. They were all family to him. He cherished each performance and every performer and loved being in their presence.
And then there was the man and his bicycle. Ronnie covered more miles than anyone can count (though he always kept the most meticulous records). What started as a five-day bike ride to Dayton with Doug, followed by cycling trips to Europe and the Rockies with Carolyn, turned into an obsession. In fact, Ron held three world records in cycling and crossed the country on his bicycle seventeen times. He participated in Race Across America (RAAM) six times. Starting in Oceanside, California, RAAM spans 3000 miles, climbs 175,000 feet, crosses 12 states, and finishes in Annapolis, Md., without a single day of rest. Ronnie captured RAAM world records at ages 65, 70 and 80; was the oldest solo qualifier at age 60, riding 422 miles in 37 hours; crossed on a coed four-person team at age 65 in eight days, four hours; and on a four-man team at age 80, in nine days, 11 hours. He rode across Outer Mongolia past the Great Wall of China, participated on Team Vietnam with Senator John Kerry, completed the Face of America Ride with Diana Nyad, and rode the Tour de France post-ride with Greg LeMond.
Ronnie applied that same mental strength to other mind-boggling athletic feats. He summited eight significant mountains, including Mt. Kilimanjaro, Mt. Rainier, and peaks in Greenland and Ecuador. He ran the World Cup 100K from Florence to Faenza, Italy; 135 miles from Death Valley to Mt. Whitney; 60 miles along the Panama Canal, and the eight-day Marathon de Sables across the Sahara in Morocco. The title of his unwritten book says it all: If it Doesn’t Hurt, It Doesn’t Belong To Me; My Life in the Slow Lane.
All who knew him will remember Ronnie’s generous, indefatigable spirit, his impeccable clothing and famous red glasses. If you were lucky enough to share a bottle from his massive wine collection, you probably heard stories of how and where it was produced. If you visited the home that Dinny made so grand, you experienced the magnificent art that filled the rooms and heard those stories, too. And if you saw the countless photographs that he took and then chronicled, you knew that family was always the center of his universe, the core around which everything else revolved.
Oh, how that family will miss him. Ronnie, the beloved husband of the late Diane “Dinny” Bell for 64 years, is survived by his 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 numerous adoring nieces and nephews. The family expresses gratitude for his loving aide, Ramona, and for the other care providers who were so constant and giving.
A celebration of Ronnie’s extraordinary life will be scheduled at a later, COVID-free date.
Meanwhile, those who wish to honor Ronnie’s memory may contribute to The Cleveland Orchestra. We know that he will be listening.