Bell-Ransom family gathers for the 41st annual reunion

Ralph Bell Sr. | Submitted The Bell-Ransom Family at the 41st annual reunion.

“This is Us,” gathered in remembrance and in celebration of stories of excellence and service, was the theme of the 41st annual Bell-Ransom family reunion held Aug. 2-4.

As in years past, the reunion began Friday, with the family gathered at the Bell family home site in the Occoneechee Neck. There they enjoyed an afternoon of reminiscing, meeting new family members, paying tribute to ancestors and fun and games for the young and young at heart. Clarence Bell Sr. offered the blessing before the annual family fish fry dinner, which ended Friday’s festivities.

Family members and friends gathered Saturday at Kirkwood Adams Community Center in Roanoke Rapids to meet and greet family members while viewing exhibits highlighting 40 years of Bell-Ransom family reunions and history prior to the 41st annual reunion program.

Margaret McGee, Cheryl Bell, Valencia Turnage, Catherine Bell and Dianiece Brewer registered guests. Each guest received a Bell-Ransom reunion souvenir program and gift bag. Anjanette Ballard passed out school-supply-filled bags to all children present. The school supplies were donated by Jeanette Bell Richardson. Guests entered the banquet room to see tables beautifully decorated by Freida Wellman’s Décor 4 Joy with red and white covers and vases of red and white roses.

The 2 p.m. program was opened by young Bell-Ransom cousins Taylor Gardner, Aric Gardner, R.J. Pyatt, Sophia Pyatt, Damaris Dozier, Andrew Smith Jr., Aniff Subratie, NyAsia Dawson, Aiden Dozier, Amari Points and Niyah Evans serving as a color guard to lead the Pledge of Allegiance. NyAsia Dawson read selected scriptures and Aiken Dozier lead the prayer.

Sandra Bell Rosser, daughter of the late Sumner F. Bell Jr. and Maxine Mills Bell gave the official welcome to the reunion program.

Linda Bell Strickland introduced Mr. Eddie Davis, Public Historian of Durham, who was the guest speaker for the occasion. Davis has been involved in education for nearly four decades, first with Weldon City Schools and then at Hillside High School in Durham, where he guided students through a process that led to the ratification of the 24th Amendment to the United States Constitution which eliminated poll taxes. He has served on state and national levels with education associations and is currently on the board of directors for Russell Rosenwald School, Durham County. Mr. Davis has been named Durham public historian, spearheading the 150th anniversary of Durham. His background makes him keenly aware of the rich history and legacy of excellence and service of citizens in the Roanoke Valley.

Mr. Davis encouraged the family, especially the young, to know and study the history of the many trailblazers whose lives impacted not only the Roanoke Valley but the entire country and are role models for excellence and service. Among those Mr. Davis highlighted were Northampton County resident Louise Lassiter and the case Lassiter v. Northampton County Board of Elections which reached the Supreme Court and resulted in the elimination of the literacy test as a requirement for voting with the Voters Right Act of 1965. Educator, documentary film maker, and social justice activist Willa Johnson Cofield, whose roots are in Enfield, and her work for voting rights; Crystal Lee Sutton (Norma Rae) and the work she did as a labor organizer and advocate for justice at JP Stevens plants here in Roanoke Rapids; and North Carolina State Senator Erica Smith, who is currently seeking the 2020 Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate.

Mr. Davis also reminded the audience of others who have a special place in the history of the Valley. Among them long-time educators and administrators, Jasper W. Jones, and Willie Gilchrist and the late James Jones, the first African-American School Board Chair for Northampton County.

Linda Strickland presented Mr. Davis a token of appreciation and pointed out that some of those mentioned by Mr. Davis have a connection to the Bell-Ransom family.

Jacqueline Bell Pyatt introduced the 2019 reunion theme: “We Gather in Remembrance and Celebration Sharing our Story of Excellence and Service.” The theme was chosen to honor the memory of Sumner F. Bell Sr. and Alice Ransom Bell and their children who started the reunion in 1979 and all family ancestors as well as those who died since the reunion in 2018. The theme also celebrates stories of excellence and acts of service by family members over the past year which continue the family legacy.

Margaret Bell Hawkins, Jeanette Bell Richardson and Sandra Bell Rosser led the memorial tribute. Shelby Jean Phillips, with help from family members Keith Bell, Dianne Bell, Tanita Ross-Dozier, Terry Bell and Maria Webb, who are members of the Roanoke Chapel Baptist Church choir, sang a song in memory of loved ones.

Wanda Bell Owens and Beatrice Evans presented tokens of appreciation to senior members of the family, Viola Boone, Lucille Hardy and Jasper Jones, in recognition of their many years of shared wisdom, leadership, high standards of excellence, abiding faith, friendship, love for family, service to the community and support that is an important part of the Bell-Ransom family story. All three honorees are above 90 years of age.

Bell-Ransom family members who attended all 40 reunions were designated as Bell-Ransom Family Reunion Gold Stars at the 2018 reunion. Margaret Underdue Richardson and Freida Peele Wellman presented 2019 gold star lapel pins to Gregory Underdue, Beverly Underdue, Margaret Bell Hawkins, Sandra Bell Rosser, David Bell Sr., Jeanette Bell Richardson, Margaret Hawkins McGee, Catherine R. Bell, Clarence Bell Sr. and Melvin Branch in celebration of their accomplishment, loyalty and support of the reunion. Gold Star member Percy Underdue passed in February 2019.

Dr. Brion Gardner presented Bell-Ransom Legacy Achievement Awards to: Whitney Jenkins for her selection as a participant in the KIPP National Alumni Leadership Accelerator program; Sabrina Paige-Hunter for being named 2018-2019 Support Person-of-the-Year for Roanoke Rapids Graded School District; Lesa-Cline-Ransome for receiving a Coretta Scott King Honor Author Award for her book “Finding Langston!”; Margaret McGee, Pre-K teacher, for being named the 2019 Everetts Elementary STEM Academy Teacher of the Year for Halifax County Schools; and Talisa Bell for being honored as a distinguished graduate of the Air Force Noncommissioned Officer Academy program and earning her bachelor’s degree in health care management from Park University.

Evelyn Dawson announced the 2019 Bell-Ransom Scholarship recipients as: Summer Scott who graduated from Herbert Flowers High School, Landover, Maryland, and will attend Morgan State University; Elijah Garcia graduated from Long Beach, California’s Woodrow Wilson High School and will attend California State University Long Beach; Rikaiah Penn graduated from Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, Maryland, Rikaiah will attend Coppin State University; Ulyssia Banks graduated from Northampton Early College and will attend North Carolina A&T State University; Steven M. Webb graduated from Roanoke Valley Early College and will attend N C Wesleyan College; Shirmara Young graduated from Northwest Collegiate and Technical Academy and will attend East Carolina University; Kailell Scott graduated from Largo High School in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, and will attend Clark-Atlanta University; Halie Lynn Person graduated from Cape Fear Academy in Wilmington, and will attend UNC-Chapel Hill; Taylor Clark graduated from Parkdale High School in Lanham, Maryland, and will attend University of Maryland at Salisbury; Tiffany Underdue graduated from KIPP Pride Gaston and will attend Western North Carolina University; and Bryant Hunter graduated from Roanoke Rapids High School and will enter Pitt County Community College.

Crystal Belfield presented Legacy Service Keepsake tokens to Joni Campanella Roan for being a 2018 California University of Northbridge Volunteer Service Award recipient; Valencia Turnage who retired from Weldon Elementary Global Academy after 30 years of service; Brenda Few who retired from Everetts Middle School; Louis Belfield who was honored in Edenton as a 2019 Alpha Phi Alpha Ultimate Advocacy Honoree; and Lawrence Gee III for loyalty and service to the Bell-Ransom family.

Margaret Bell Hawkins presented special Cary Pittman Rosenwald School Achievement Awards to Valencia H. Turnage, Margaret McGee, Beverly Underdue, Tanita Ross-Dozier, Sabrina Paige-Hunter, Linda Strickland, Dorothy Lewis and Eddie Davis for outstanding achievement and dedicated service to education and community. The award honors Cary Pittman, contractor and builder of Allen Grove Rosenwald School. He was the grandfather of Margaret Bell Hawkins. Cary Pittman’s two living daughters, Geraldine Clark and Viola Boone of Garysburg, were in attendance. Leanna Pittman Bell, sister of Sumner F. Bell Sr., was a teacher and principal of Allen Grove Rosenwald School.

Alice Bell Rosa presented Legacy Certificates to Bell-Ransom family young future leaders Micahial Bell, RJ Pyatt, Sophia Pyatt, NyAsia Dawson, Aiden Dozier, Damaris Dozier, Clarelle Bell, Taylor Gardner, Aric Gardner, Andrew “AJ” Smith, Ethan Moore, Aniff Subratie, Rodney Jenkins Jr., Ethan Moore, Robert Allen Owens III, Randall Gregg-Lewis, Skylar Gregg-Lewis and Jackson Lockhart.

Robert Lockhart, Kyle Lockhart and Stefanie Lockhart presented the 2019 Bell-Ransom Outstanding Achievement and Service Plaque to their mother, Terry Bell, who was recently promoted to Human Resources Consultant for Employee Relations Equal Employment Opportunity after five years as Training Director and Performance Administrator with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture. Terry has 18 years of service with the state of N.C. She is also an award-winning Mary Kay Cosmetics independent beauty consultant.

The theme “This is Us” was used to introduce the family members present. Baby boy Jackson Lockhart, born to Robert and Heather Lockhart on May 15, 2019, and grandson of Terry Bell, was the youngest in attendance. Descendants of Douglas Bell Sr. and Beatrice Ivey Bell received the trophy for the largest number of family members in attendance.

Michael Bell offered the blessing before the catered buffet was served. Following the dinner, Ralph Bell Sr. gathered all for the annual family group photograph. The afternoon gathering ended with Beatrice Gardner, Anjanette Ballard and Claudette Belfield in charge of door prize drawings. Door prizes were donated by family members. Door prizes ended with Emily Pyatt winning the prize of free registration to the 2020 reunion.

Saturday night the family gathered again for the entertainment/talent review which included a ukulele performance by Rudy Pyatt; modeling and a dance performance by Sophia Pyatt; and modeling by Damaris Dozier, Linda Strickland and Evelyn Dawson. Refreshments were catered by Chemaka Turner-Williams’ Soulful Sister Catering. DJ Terrence Blount provided dance music.

The reunion weekend concluded Sunday, Aug. 4 with church services at area churches.