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More to Memorials than Just Rocks

By Sarah Popelka

Jim and Ruth Bell's artistry with stone is reflected in their work.
Jim and Ruth Bell's artistry with stone is reflected in their work.

It’s not too often one can memorialize someone, decorate a kitchen, reward a deed and designate a homestead all in the same place. However, Bell Memorials in Beloit, Kansas, provides an array of products that fit into all of these very categories. They customize one-of-a-kind memorials, granite countertops, etched glass, monument signs and post-rock yard art.

Fifth generation stonecutters, Jim and Ruth Bell, own the business in Beloit along with locations in Manhattan and Great Bend. The addition of their son, Josh Bell, last May made six generations in the service.

Jim Bell’s father started Bell Memorials in 1946 and sold the business to hissons in the early 80s. Jim and Ruth purchased the company in 1990, and
they celebrated Bell Memorials’ 50th Anniversary in 1996. In commemoration, they made a 340,300-pound sign personally selected from a quarry in Missouri and topped it with a gold bell. Customers guessed the weight of the sign, and the winner received a personalized post rock. Opening the event, Josh and Marcella, Jim’s mother, rang the
bell strung with gold ropes to signify the beginning of 50 more years to come.

Today, this Limited Liability Company employs 20 individuals between its three locations. The number of employees has doubled twice since 1990, then employing only three in addition to Jim and Ruth. Everything is prepared at the Beloit site. In order to obtain good products, the Bells believe one must first have the talent and capabilities of putting in good quality. In other words, quality work in, quality work out, Ruth Bell said.

One way the Bells strive to achieve that high standard is their art facilities. Bell Memorials was one of the first monument companies to have a computerized-art room, which has been in operation since 1986. Currently, they have three complete systems including three full-time artists and one full-time etcher.

Ruth explains that they don’t sell just monuments. One truly memorializes someone when working with Bell Memorials. In the past, headstones contained only names and dates. Today, customized memorials not only include the name, birth date and death date, they usually tell a story about that person. For example, a spouse’s name, marriage date, children’s names and personalized symbols actually give viewers an
insight into a person’s life and personality.

In fact, Jim and Ruth are certified memorialists through the Monument Builders of North America (MBNA). They both are very active in the
organization. Jim is a trustee representing the Mid America Monument Builders Association, and Ruth is the vice president and president-elect for the MBNA.

In addition, the Bells have been members of the American Institute of Commemorative Artists (AICA) for seven years. Only 52 monument
individuals from North American belong to the organization. Membership is exclusive, for one must first be asked to join and then submit an application for approval.

“The AICA is an excellent way to learn from the most talented in the business,” Ruth said. They attend the conventions, which host workshops
for the members to exchange ideas.

Bell Memorials also uniquely craft their stone post yard art. Farmers contract their old limestone fence posts to the Bells who sandblast designs to create yard art. However unlike many other companies, Bell Memorials do not saw off the front of the posts in order to achieve a more natural piece.

The Bells are busy remodeling a new building just down the block from their present location. It provides more office and showroom space for the business. They hope to be in their new home by next summer.

The Bells truly love their business. Even while on vacation, Jim and Ruth visit local cemeteries to get ideas, Ruth said. They have build Bell Memorials into a strong and trustworthy business and hope its traditions continue forever.

 

 

 

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Last Updated April 6, 2009
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