Crestwood residents recognize neighbor’s kindness, generosity


Olin Levern Bell has gone through a transformation since his retirement 16 years ago.

A retired barber, the 86-year-old Bell, who resides on Sturdy Lane in Crestwood, said he developed a loyal following among his clients because he was courteous and quiet.

“One lawyer I worked on wouldn’t let anybody else cut his hair,” Bell recalled. “He told me the reason he liked me cutting his hair was ‘because you keep your mouth shut.’ He pointed to one of the barbers in the shop and said: ‘If you talked like that guy over there, you’d never cut my hair.”‘

“All I said to customers was hello sir, what can I do for you sir, thank you sir,” Bell said. “I wouldn’t do that now. People have to tell me to stop talking.”

Bell was presented a Good Neighbor Award by his Sturdy Lane neighbors during his block’s National Night Out party last August. The National Night Out is sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch. Bell again was honored as a good neighbor during the Sept. 27 Crestwood Board of Aldermen meeting and re-ceived a standing ovation.

Bell likes to recall being born in a log cabin on May 12, 1920.

“He tells everybody about that,” said his daughter Donna Broome, who lives with her father.

“Well, I was taught to be courteous being out there in that log cabin,” he said.

He stayed in school until the ninth grade and then joined the Civilian Conservation Corps. He made money on the side cutting hair in his spare time.

“We taught the entire United States about conserving, farming, fighting forest fires, building dams, all sort of things,” he recalled.

He married his wife, Maxine “Shirley,” nee Juergens, of Sulli-van in the 1930s.

“She had a high school education and I didn’t,” he said. “She had her pick of the guys she went to school with, but those guys couldn’t dance and I could.”

“The joke I always thought was funny was dad’s middle name was Levern, so they were ‘Levern and Shirley’ ” Donna said.

“Then when World War II came along they put most of us in the service,” her father continued. “I didn’t have to go. I had two kids and I could have got a deferment.”

Eventually, the Army sent him to Okinawa, where he was a truck driver. After being shot at by snipers, he recalled saying, “I’m going back into barbering,’ And I did.”

Bell tells a story of cutting actor Tyrone Power’s hair while stationed in the Pacific.

When he returned to St. Louis, he used his GI Bill of Rights to attain a barber’s certificate and continue his career until 1990.

He counts himself fortunate to live in the Crestwood neighborhood where he, his wife and three children moved in 1963.

“The house was a year-and-a-half old when we moved in here,” he said. “My wife found it. The woman who lived here lost her husband and then met another fellow who had lost his wife. Well, they had two homes from previous marriages and wanted to sell one.

“I assumed their $22,500 loan for 5 percent. See what a deal I got? I had it paid for by the time I was 42 years old. This is a great neighborhood to raise a family.”

He’s been helping his Crestwood neighbors since then.

As one of 10 children growing up during the Depression, Bell figures that’s what people are supposed to do.

“I’ve seen a lot of neighbors move in and out of this subdivision,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of kids grow up and move to different areas. I’ve heard from a lot of them.”

Bell, who walks a mile around his subdivision every day, tells a story of being stopped one day by a young man with his family while out for a walk.

“I remember a kid that stopped by and said: ‘You don’t remember me, I was the brat that lived across the street. I’ve straightened out. I have a business of my own.’ He worked on people’s yards. I remember when he’d come home late at night and they wouldn’t let him in. He’d be laying under a tree over there. These kids do the darnedest things.”

Since 1963 if someone in the neighborhood needed a ride to the doctor’s, Olin was there for them. When recognized before the Crestwood Board of Aldermen, neighbors told stories about how Bell still gets up and shovels snow for his neighbors.

“They remember me for things like that,” Bell said. “I enjoy helping them. I guess I’m the oldest one here. I tell them all I want is a smile and a kind word.”

Every year his subdivision has a block party for the National Night Out event, but last year Bell, who is having some difficulty with the left side of his torso, said he “got to where I didn’t want to go.”

“They kept saying come on down and I kept saying no, I don’t want to go. Just after dark the door bell rang. I opened the door and guess what, there were people all over my front yard and the street. They gave me this (Good Neighbor) Award. There were kids and old people and I didn’t know what to say, except thank you. Then I started talking,” he recalled.

Donna began laughing.

“People around here tell him the phone’s ringing when they want to end the conversation. When dad gets started to talking, you can’t stop him.”

Bell began telling a story about lending a ladder to a neighbor who needed to trim the trees in his yard.

“He got up there, got scared and just gave up,” Bell said. “Then, I started telling him how he could trim the trees and he stopped me.

“He said: ‘The phone’s ringing.”’