Iverson C. Bell, Sr., DVM, believed passionately that each of us can and should make the best use of our talents to serve our fellow human beings and animals alike. His personal philosophy was evident in his extensive accomplishments as a husband, father, veterinarian, and leader in both professional and civic affairs.
Iverson C. Bell, the son of Clayton and Ethel (Shavers) Bell, was born on October 12, 1916, near the towns of DeKalb and Texarkana in northeastern Texas. After graduating from high school in 1934, he began his undergraduate education at Kansas City Junior College and then continued at Kansas State University. His education was interrupted by service in the US Army during World War II. After the war, with the help of the GI Bill, he continued his college career at Wayne State University in Detroit before transferring to Michigan State University, where he earned his DVM in 1949.
Following graduation, he taught small-animal medicine as part of the founding faculty at Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine in Tuskegee, Alabama, during the school's inaugural year. It was here that he met Ethel Davis, a nurse at the Tuskegee Veterans Administration Hospital, who became his wife on July 1, 1950. After the Bells settled in Terre Haute, Indiana, Dr. Bell established the Bell Pet Clinic, which was destroyed by a fire in 1978. Dr. Bell rebuilt the clinic as the Bell Animal Hospital, where he practiced veterinary medicine for 35 years. During those years, Dr. Bell served as a mentor and teacher to many students interested in veterinary medicine.
In addition to managing a thriving private practice and raising his family of four children, Dr. Bell became a committed and influential leader in both professional and civic affairs. In recognition of these efforts, he was named Man of the Year by his college fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., and his leadership was recognized nationally when he was offered an ambassadorship to Nigeria during the Kennedy administration.
Later in Dr. Bell's career, his commitment to his beloved profession was evident by the many positions of leadership that he filled during the 1970s and 1980s—a tumultuous and uncertain time for the United States, with a recession and civil opposition to the Vietnam War at home in addition to world tensions caused by the Cold War and the international oil crisis. Despite these uncertain times, Dr. Bell agreed to serve as vice-president of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), fulfilling this high national office with distinction from 1971 to 1973. His involvement with AVMA also included chairing several committees, one of which was responsible for organizing an animal medical exhibit at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. Within his own state, he held several positions in the Indiana Veterinary Medical Association—as chairman of the Committee on Education, chairman of the Board of Directors in 1979, and president in 1982. As an ardent supporter of veterinary medical education, Dr. Bell was active in establishing the Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine.
Dr. Bell's civic contributions were equally extensive and influential. Dr. Bell served in many capacities within his community, reflecting his commitment to and interest in public education, civil liberties, and the community's young people. As a 20-year board member of the Vigo County School Board in Terra Haute, Dr. Bell served several terms as president of the board. He, together with another school board member, co-founded the Foundation for Public Education. As a member of the Indiana School Board Association, he was elected president of the association in 1970–1971, receiving their Outstanding Board Member Award in 1973. He also served as vice-president and president of the Vigo County Library Board.
His involvement within the community extended beyond public education into several other positions of leadership and influence. Indiana Governor Edgar Whitcomb appointed Dr. Bell to the Regional Advisory Board for Criminal Justice. In addition, he served as vice-president of the Terre Haute Housing Authority, chairman of the Vigo County Tax Adjustment Board, and a member of the board of the Vigo County chapter of the American Red Cross. He was also actively involved with the Rotary Club of Terre Haute and with the Vigo County Pollution Control Board. His lifelong commitment to and interest in the community's youth was reflected in his involvement as chairman of the Covered Bridge Girl Scout Council and as a member of the board of directors of the Wabash Valley Council of Boy Scouts.
Throughout his lifetime, Dr. Bell fought the prevalent racial discrimination and segregation of the era. As part of this struggle, he served as chairman of the executive board of the Terra Haute chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the most influential civil rights organization for ethnic minorities in the United States in that era.
Dr. Bell died at the age of 67 on May 22, 1984, after a brief illness. With Dr. Bell's death, veterinary medicine has lost a visionary leader, a champion of the oppressed, and a role model for all students, in particular veterinary graduates, to emulate. He was survived by his wife, Ethel, Associate Professor of Nursing Emeritus at Indiana State University, and his four children: Iverson C. Bell, Jr., MD, a psychiatrist in Atlanta; Clayton E. Bell, DC, a chiropractor in Atlanta; Susan Bell, PharmD, a pharmacist in Chicago, and Allayne (Taylor) Bell. Although Dr. Bell was justifiably proud of each of his children's achievements, he was disappointed that none of them chose veterinary medicine, the profession that he had served and that had served him so well.
The American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges honors Dr. Bell's lasting contributions to diversity and veterinary medical education by biannually hosting the Iverson Bell Symposium. Dr. Bell's legacy is further commemorated with the presentation of the Iverson Bell Award. This distinguished award recognizes those individuals who embody Dr. Bell's spirit of tenacity and selfless commitment and who have contributed significantly to the promotion of diversity and the inclusion of underrepresented minorities in academic veterinary medicine. The Iverson Bell Award, which celebrates the life and achievements of Dr. Bell, has been awarded to both veterinarians and non-veterinarians since 1989.