• “My ultimate love is teaching skating. If I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t be here.” — Kevin Bell, 2006
By Sean Pearson
Watching Kevin Bell teach toddlers how to skate was a bit unnerving in the beginning. Not generally known for his calm, nurturing approach, Bell barked out instructions like a drill sergeant.
But the kids loved him. He showed them respect — and they gave it back. He held high expectations for them, and they rose to the occasion. Kevin Bell was the kind of coach who made you work hard, and then burst at the seams to tell you how proud he was of you. His passion for both skating and coaching were hard to miss.
So was his zest for life.
Bell and his wife, Mary, moved to Homer in 1984, where he began working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a deckhand/cook on the research vessel Tiglax in 1987. In 1995, he became the ship’s captain. By that time, Bell had already started Homer’s youth hockey program, and the Homer Hockey Association he helped establish had two seasons of hockey under its belt.
Kevin was instrumental in turning used boards from Anchorage into Homer’s first ice rink, and spent countless hours shoveling snow off the outdoor rink.
“Winters in small-town Alaska are long and dark, and kids need things to do,” Bell said in a 2006 interview. “I’m here in winter and I love coaching skating. Why not spend my time teaching kids something I love?”
Bell worked relentlessly to build the indoor Homer Ice Rink — now Kevin Bell Arena.
“Dad would sit in his easy chair in the evenings and make 20-30 phone calls — all about keeping the hockey program going and how to make it better,” said the Bell’s youngest son, Keith. “It drove my mom crazy.”
Now 25 years old, Keith is a commercial fisherman with plans to, “have my own boat at some point in the future.” He is currently fishing for cod in Dutch Harbor, but said he is moving back to Homer this year after a brief stint in Seattle.
Older brother David turned 30 in January, and works as a deckhand on the State Ferry Tustumena. He too can attest to his father’s level of commitment — and exuberance — to Homer’s hockey program.
“When we were kids, there were times we’d be at the grocery store with him and he’d be talking someone’s ear off,” David said of his dad. “We just wanted to go home, and after 45 more minutes, Keith and I would be like, ‘Dad, can you just call them when we get home so we can leave please?’”
Brother Keith agreed.
“He would delegate some stuff, but he was so hands-on, he really preferred to try to do everything himself,” Keith explained. “Then he would pass out from exhaustion.”
When Homer’s indoor ice rink finally opened in 2005, possibly no one was more excited than Kevin Bell.
“I’m doing back flips every time I walk in this rink,” he said in 2006.
Shortly after the arena opened, Kevin started getting calls from mothers
who wanted their preschoolers to start skating. He established the “Learn to Skate” program, starting the toddlers on their bellies and working from there.
“Some of these kids were just out of diapers,” he explained. “We give them juice and cookies after practice and make it a good time for everyone.”
Life took a dramatic turn for the Bell family in 2007, when Kevin experienced a seizure in early January. A battery of tests, including an MRI, revealed three lesions on the temporal lobe of his brain. He had surgery to remove the tumors in February, and spent the next 11 months battling back to recovery.
Ultimately, however, the cancer returned, and Kevin opted to forgo further treatment. He died at South Peninsula Hospital on a Monday morning — Jan. 7, 2008 — surrounded by his family. He was 53.
David Bell stuck around town for four years after his dad died — mostly because the town of Homer is such a good “support group.”
“The people down there — especially friends I played hockey and broomball with — really helped me get through some tough times,” he explained. “I do kinda miss Homer, but the only reason I moved back in the first place was to be with my dad when he was sick.”
Both brothers said they occasionally get the chance to stop in and enjoy the ice at the arena — despite their hectic work schedules.
“I still go to Homer frequently, usually to play a little hockey or broomball,” David said. “But — to be honest — I only laced up my skates once this winter. My dad would be disappointed.”
Keith said he was only able to skate at the rink twice this winter, but plans on “playing a little more this year,” and is interested in coaching
some of the younger kids.
“One of the things I liked most about my dad was his enthusiasm for whatever he was passionate about,” Keith said. “Whether it was coaching hockey or navigating the Aleutian Islands, he always gave 110 percent.”
“There are just so many things I love about the guy,” David said. “He was the most generous man you will ever meet; he loved hockey and loved the ocean, but he loved my mom, my brother and me more than anything else.”
Kevin Bell was full of intensity and passion – and it was real. He was excited about coaching, excited about people and ultimately excited about life.
“It’s been six years since he passed,” Keith said. “But I miss him like it was yesterday.”
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