A lifetime of service

Celebrated senior has spent her life healing others both physically and spiritually

By Sara Hardin

St. Andrew’s Resources for Seniors is celebrating its 15th annual Ageless-Remarkable St. Louisans Gala on Oct. 28 at the Hyatt Regency St. Louis at The Arch. The event honors those over the age of 75 who dedicate their time and energy to bettering their communities, advocating or volunteering for charitable causes, or otherwise acting as a positive influence on the lives of those around them.

Among this year’s celebrated individuals is Sister Judy Bell, who currently serves as part of the leadership congregation team with the Franciscan Sisters of Mary, as well as Board President of The Sarah Community nursing home in Bridgeton. Bell, who worked for more than 50 years as a registered nurse and nurse practitioner, came to St. Louis in 1958 from her hometown in southern Indiana to join the nursing program at St. Louis University. Bell has offered her healing instincts to countless individuals in need over the length of her career, and considers the gift to so positively affect others to be a privilege in itself.

“The rewarding work is being present to people who really have a need,” said Bell. “Sometimes you can empower them to do things for themselves. Other times you have to make a referral that they get the appropriate care. There are other times when I am the conduit for them just to be able to express concerns about healthcare or family issues. Part of it just understanding where the person is coming from, the issues that are impacting their lives, being that listening ear at times, and also just that sense of presence. Sometimes that leads to prayers, other times it’s just a matter of the gentle touch of holding hands. Other times it’s just affirming them as to the person they are, and encouraging them to be accepting of God’s presence in their lives.”

As part of the nurse practitioner certificate program at Arizona State University between 1995 and 1996, Bell completed her 13-month clinical rotation on the Pima Indian Reservation, offering her skills to those living on the reservation’s grounds. Her work has also taken her to Appalachia, where she was able to make a difference in the area’s healthcare opportunities available to women.

“When I was a nurse practitioner in Appalachia, Kentucky, the physician that I worked with asked me to take over the women’s health care program,” said Bell. “Within a year’s time we were able to increase the percentage of women coming into that program by almost 67 percent. That’s one of my areas of great satisfaction, is being able to make a difference not only by my presence, but by what I was able to bring to them that would better their lives and their lifestyle.”

Bell was nominated to be honored as an Ageless-Remarkable St. Louisan by her friend Diane Meatheany, who got to know Bell over the course of working with her for 20 years. Meatheany, who worked with St. Andrew’s for 23 years, worked closely with Bell during the development of The Sarah Community. Her observation of Bell’s commitment to the residents of The Sarah Community and the holistic care she provided them with led to a nomination that Meatheany considered to be a no-brainer.

“She’s just phenomenal,” said Meatheany. “She’s very selfless, she loves what she does. Everything she does she gives with her whole heart and her mind. She has a wonderful background of being great in leadership and also being a great clinician. She has a compassion for not only the residents, but also the staff that she works with. She really brings a healing presence to everyone that she works with. So, it was an easy choice. I made one nomination and I wrote from my heart about her. She just embodies everything that I know that we look for when we think of a nominee.”

As board chair with The Sarah Community, Bell continues to strive for the nursing home’s excellent reputation and quality of care. Her efforts don’t go unnoticed by either the community’s staff or its residents, all of whom are consistently on the receiving end of Bell’s care and dedication.

“I’ve only known Judy in her work with helping with seniors, and she’s just tireless,” said Meatheany. “I think everyone who knows Sister Judy knows her qualities. As board chair, she knows quality and wants to see The Sarah Community maintain their excellence. They have the highest rating that you can achieve in the country. She is very supportive of the administrators and the directors of nursing. She knows there are challenges, but at the same time she never forgets that her primary responsibility is to the residents. She’s just fabulous.”

Upon learning about her nomination, Bell initially questioned accepting an honor she believed so many others to be worthy of. However, after some encouragement from Meatheany, she eventually agreed to accept her well-deserved acknowledgement among the gala’s other honorees.

“My reaction [to the nomination] was overwhelming surprise. Great humility,” said Bell. “My thought is that I am just doing what God has asked me to do. There is no big thing about this, but my nominator and a number of other people saw that it did make a difference in many people’s lives. I am grateful for their affirmation. I know that at times I feel ageless, but sometimes it’s the remarkable that I question.”

In light of her personal experiences, Bell has this piece of advice to offer:

“Set goals for yourself in life. Work towards those goals. Walk with people that affirm you and give you direction, and believe in yourself.”

To learn more about St. Andrew’s or The Sarah Community, visit standrews1.com and thesarahcommunity.com, respectively.

CUTLINE: Photo courtesy William Greenblatt Sister Judy Bell currently serves as part of the leadership congregation team with the Franciscan Sisters of Mary, as well as Board President of The Sarah Community nursing home in Bridgeton.