History Happened Before His Eyes

Steve Bell (left) accepts the key to the city from Mayor Dave Krutzfeldt on Saturday. A reception for Bell was held in ‘The Alley’.

Legendary ABC News anchor visits Oskaloosa, sharing stories of history near and far.

Oskaloosa, Iowa – Reporting from the front lines of America and the world, former ABC News Anchor Steve Bell came back to visit the place he called home.

Steve and his wife Joyce, the “Two kids from North B” were welcomed back to the town that gave them their start in life.

“It’s real fun and a great privilege for us to come back to Oskaloosa because we have so many memories,” said Steve.

For a young Steve Bell, he was instantly smitten by the young lady that moved in 3 doors down from them. “When Joyce moved in, I noticed right away,” Steve remembers.

Bell announced during the band concert on Thursday evening, where as a young man he made $7.00 a week playing in the band. His wife Joyce made $11.00 a week as the soloist for the band. “Those were among our first dates,” remembers Bell. “They were at 502 North B and I was at 516.”

That home at 516 North B is gone, taken down when additions to Whittier School took place.

Joyce, an accomplished soprano soloist was often driven by Bell. “So, every Monday night we would have a date, because I would drive her to practice.”

“My mother latched onto Joyce very quickly as the only hope for my salvation,” says Steve.

“They didn’t think anybody could make him behave,” joked Joyce.

“My mother decided right away Joyce was what I needed to keep me under control,” said Steve.

Steve considered his options of going to law school or becoming a college professor, “Until I wandered into KBOE.”

The couple “were steady or engaged for 5 years until she finished college then we got married,” remembers Steve. “My dream in those early years was to get to Des Moines,” after working 3 plus years at KBOE.

Bell worked at KBOE as the, “one man news, weather, sports, and farm market reports department.”

The couple then moved while Steve worked at WOI for a year. “I took the job at WOI to see if I was serious about journalism.”

Steve decided that he was indeed serious about journalism and went to graduate school at Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, then working as a writer at WGN in Chicago.

Steve accepted an offer from the Omaha station WOW, working there for 4 years before taking off to New York City to work in radio, which he did for a year and a half.

While working in Omaha as the evening news anchor, Steve and Joyce were expecting their first born child any minute, when a producer from WOW knocked on the door informing him he needed to pack his bags to go to Dallas to cover President Kennedy’s assassination. Steve was reluctant at first, but was encouraged by Joyce to go.

“That was my first story competing against the big guys,” said Bell. “I kind of got my feet wet covering that story.”

Steve made it home from Dallas hours before Joyce gave birth to their first child.

ABC News lured Steve away from WNEW, and within 2 months of his hiring at ABC, Steve was instantly propelled to the national spotlight for his reporting during the Newark Riots that took place from July 12th to July 17th in 1967.

“I was the only person available. I’d just done the midnight news and they sent me to Newark because something was happening,” said Steve of arriving into the middle of a riot. “There I was in a suit and tie on the street with all the shooting and windows breaking.”

“That story was my big break,” says Steve. “They made me the national correspondent for ABC Radio. I did that during ‘68 which was the year that was.”

“So, being the national correspondent for radio, I was sent to all the big stories.”

Steve was sent to Memphis after Dr. Martin Luther King was shot. Steve visited both the location where the shooter fired the fatal shot, and the spot where King was felled.

The next morning he captured the moment King’s family and staff spontaneously locked arms around the casket and began singing “We Shall Overcome, while swaying back and forth.”

Bell was so choked up at the scene playing out before him, he had difficulty getting the words out to finish a radio onscene report. “It took me about 3 takes to do it without my voice breaking because of the emotion.”

As the national correspondent for ABC Radio, Steve was with Bobby Kennedy on the platform for Kennedy’s victory speech in the Ambassador Hotel. Steve finished up his onscene report from the stage. “Then, I went into the hallway, which was totally crowded with people.”

After seeing a woman with blood all over her face, Steve pushed his way through the hallway “and there was Bob [Kennedy] lying on the floor.”

Steve was then part of the funeral train, and was the anchor for ABC Radio’s coverage of Kennedy’s burial.

Steve then covered Hubert Humphrey when he lost to Nixon in 1968.

Steve Bell on assignment in Vietnam (Youtube)

Steve next volunteered to cover the Vietnam war for ABC Radio. “Joyce and I wanted to live abroad.”

“Until you see a war, you don’t realize how big a deal it is,” says Steve. “We volunteered to go and Joyce and the girls lived in Hong Kong.”

Steve would get to go home to Hong Kong every 8 weeks for 10 days of company paid R&R. “We did that for a year and a half and then my tour was up in Vietnam.”

Ted Koppel and his family were the family’s closest friends, and Koppel was the bureau chief there in Hong Kong.

Steve was then assigned as the bureau chief in Atlanta where he covered George Wallace during his campaign.

After 11 months in Atlanta, Steve got the call to take over the Hong Kong bureau. Without consulting Joyce, Steve accepted and back to Hong Kong the family went. “This time I was the Asia Bureau Chief.”

While back in Hong Kong, Steve still traveled to Vietnam where he covered the release of the last American prisoners of war.

“We really loved Hong Kong,” said Steve.

“All of a sudden Watergate was getting so big that each of the networks added a third White House correspondent. I was told they wanted me to be a White House correspondent to cover Watergate.”

“So, we moved back to the States,” says Steve who ended up being in that position for 2 years. “The last year of Nixon, the first year of Ford.”
“And then the idea came along to have a morning show, called Good Morning America” Steve said. “I was asked to be the news anchor.”

Steve was with the program for 11 years. “It was a great experience.”

When it comes to reminiscing about seeing history in front of him, Steve credits his work as a national correspondent because of his coverage during the Newark Riots, “I was chosen to do it. That’s how I got to all those big stories in ‘68, ‘69.”

“I was in the right job. Not because anybody knew it was going to be that big of a new period, but I was just in the perfect job to get sent everywhere,” says Steve.

So, the couple from North B had the opportunity to see history unfold in front of them, and Joyce said they have talked about what part of Oskaloosa they took with them around the world.

“Integrity,” said Joyce of what part of Oskaloosa they carried with them.

Steve said that Joyce and himself “found fulfillment and meaning” and “grew together” as they experienced history and the world. “A lot of the Oskaloosa foundation was still there.”

At 3pm in the Alley, Bell was presented the Key to the City by Mayor Dave Krutzfeldt. Steve recounted his story for the large crowd gathered to greet and reminisce with the Oskaloosa legend.

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Posted by on Jul 17 2017. Filed under Local News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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