April 11, 1934 - February 23, 2018
Mount Sinai Simi Valley - Kamenir Chapel
6150 Mount Sinai Drive
Simi Valley, CA 93063
Service Date: Sunday March 4th, 2018
Service Time: 12:30 pm
Mount Sinai Simi Valley - Kamenir Chapel
6150 Mount Sinai Drive
Simi Valley, CA 93063
Louis I. Bell
January 23, 1930 – February 23, 2018
Louis I. Bell, civil trial attorney, gentleman rancher, philanthropist, husband, father and grandfather, passed away peacefully at the Reseda Jewish Home for the Aging after a long battle with progressive dementia at the age of 88. He is survived by his beloved wife, Sondra, children: Lisa Bell-Williard (Tom), Susan Bell-Warner (Scott), Jula Bell-Liebi (Adam), and grandchildren: Brian, Eric, Shayna, Sara and Margaux.
Louis was brilliant, charming, humorous, curious, compassionate, engaging, loving, and affectionate. He was a remarkable man who led a rich and varied life that touched and inspired the lives of many.
“Mr. Bell” focused his law practice on helping those people who historically lacked a voice, or were ignored by the civil justice system, especially people of color, blue collar workers, immigrants who did not speak English well or were afraid to ask for help, motorcyclists… Mr. Bell was renown as the “go to” person when you needed help, when you needed an advocate in your corner, and when the liability issues were so complex, that no one else was willing to take the case. He always treated his clients with compassion, patience and deep respect. And was deeply admired and respected in return.
Besides his family and his work, Louis loved California’s golden rolling hills and ranchlands, the wonders of nature, horses and, of course, his dogs.
Louis was a life-long supporter of Israel and Jewish Community charities, especially the United Jewish Fund. Some other favorite causes included: The Southern Poverty Law Center, The NYU School of Law (his alma mater), Leona Valley Sertoma, and The Statue of Liberty – Ellis Island Foundation. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Louis’ memory to whichever charitable organization is dear to your heart.
Louis I. Bell, Esq.
Louis was born on Staten Island and raised in Purchase and Portchester, New York, the only child of Jewish-Russian immigrant parents Oscar and Rose Bell. He was the light of their lives and he was equally devoted to them. A multi-faceted personality himself, Oscar passed down to Louis his love of horses, all people, a good story, and the beauty of nature and antiques.
Oscar co-started and co-owned Portchester’s Biltmore Market, where Louis worked as a shop clerk and delivery boy. He earned the nickname “Cabbage Head” from working with the produce. Customers insisted that he would become a surgeon because of his precise lox slicing skills, and he did start out as a pre-med student in college. His interests in English, History and service, however, eventually drew him to the field of Law. Louis and Oscar’s close father/son relationship continued throughout Oscar’s life. Their frequent telephone conversations could be heard throughout the house or office, “HELLO! MR. BELL!! HELLO! LOUIS!!”
Louis attended Portchester High School and was recognized by the local Rotary Club as the top-ranking Eagle Scout in his community. He graduated from Tulane University in 1951 in English with a Science minor and became an active member of Sigma Alpha Mu, keeping in close touch with his fraternity brothers through the years. He obtained his JD from NYU Law school in 1954 and a Master’s degree in Law from USC. He continued to ride and train horses, compete in horse jumping competitions, play polo, and announce polo games for WFAS-FM Westchester Broadcasting at the Blind Brook Polo club in White Plains, NY (where he met his wife, Sondra). He also was a proud member of the Free Masons.
In the Army (1954-1956), Louis was first stationed at Ft. Gulick in the Panama Canal Zone as an infantryman (guarding the Panama Canal). He also worked in Supplies and Operations and as the company Mail Clerk. He was later transferred to Puerto Rico’s Ft. Buchanan, where he taught English to Puerto Rican enlistees as part of their preliminary training. He taught himself Spanish, so he could be a more effective English instructor. Because there were no horses available to him, Louis filled his spare time by announcing Army football (instead of polo) games and learned tennis so he could play on the Army tennis team. Ever the entrepreneur, he also moonlighted as a door to door salesman, selling ladies’ hosiery.
After the Army, Louis started his own general law practice in White Plains New York. While announcing a Polo game at Blind Brook, he was introduced to a lovely, young woman, Sondra Skol, a graduate of New Paltz State Teacher’s College. Soni taught 4th and 5th grade students at Roaring Brook School in Chappaqua. At the time, “Soni” was on a date with another gentleman, but Louis offered to take her horseback riding and they fell in love, literally. Soni’s horse took a sudden jump and she was thrown to the ground. Louis swept her up and carried into the house. Looking her over carefully to make sure she had not broken anything, he was struck by her beauty and she was struck by the concern in his handsome eyes. Louis and Soni were married at her parents’ home in Croton on Hudson on June 21,1959. This year would have been their 59th wedding anniversary. They shared a deep mutual affection that neither of them ever took for granted.
As Louis and Soni embarked on their life together, Louis focused on his career path. Influenced by his father’s distaste for bigotry and his own experiences in the Army, Louis took the opportunity to move to California in 1961 to run the subrogation department of Loyal Automobile Insurance Company, the first U.S. Insurance company to offer Automobile Insurance to African Americans. While there, Louis realized that people of color and economic disadvantage rarely found adequate legal representation in the civil justice system to help them when they were injured. When he left Loyal, he began his Personal Injury, Product Liability and Medical Malpractice Law career. He first worked as a trial attorney for Haskell Shapiro in the bright turquoise Lee Tower Building on Wilshire’s Miracle Mile.
Louis soon felt the pull to open his own law firm. As his practice expanded, he never lost sight of his desire to help those clients in need who other lawyers would turn away due to their socio-economic status, race, nationality, or immigration status. Sensing his mission and attracted by his exceptional skills as a trial attorney and mentor, Louis built a firm of dedicated attorneys and support staff. Andy Shapiro, came to Louis as a law clerk and eventually became Louis’ Law partner until Andy moved his practice to a San Fernando Valley firm. Over the years, Louis and Andy rekindled their close relationship and Andy often visited Louis at the Jewish Home. So many other attorneys honed their advocacy skills under Louis’ exacting tutelage: Alan Salkow, Russ Brown, Andy Kaufman, Nancy Adel, Bruce Keswick, Jonathon Weber, Marcus Petoyan, Fletcher Bouyer… Secretaries Cristina Young and Ina Toliver, met Louis working at Loyal and stayed with him for decades, along with Judy Machit and Joohee Yun, and later, Nancy Van Brakel. Louis’ office resembled a mini United Nations of sorts with staff of varied races and nationalities who helped make his clients feel welcome and understood.
All of his daughters loved to help their dad out at the office answering phones, photo-copying and filing. Lisa worked for Louis from the age of 12. As she matured, she worked as a legal secretary, Spanish interpreter and, during summer breaks from law school, as a law clerk. They would often drive home together, discussing complicated legal strategies and the life challenges Louis’ clients faced. Although Lisa decided to make her life in the San Francisco Bay Area, she and Louis remained close and often used each other as sounding boards for their respective practices. And when Lisa visited him at the Jewish Home, they spent many a happy hour taking walks, singing together and attending Shabbat services, often with Soni and Maria (his caretaker). Louis so enjoyed following along the Hebrew text and especially when Lisa would volunteer in a Cantorial role.
He may have had mixed feelings about how independent-minded his girls turned out, but Louis took great pride in their accomplishments. Although, he was most happy when each of them, found life partners they loved and who loved them in return. Lisa graduated from Pomona College and Hastings College of the Law. She practiced law for a while, but also taught public school Music before focusing on caring for her parents and singing in a big band. Susan graduated from UCLA, majoring in communications and has worked in television and film development, advertising, corporate communications and catering. Louis enjoyed seeing Susan perform live musical theater for children, and her family’s active involvement in their Marin County synagogue. Jula attended Boston University and graduated from USC’s Music program, where she studied Opera. Although somewhat mystified by Jula’s punk rock career, Dad reveled in the classical, blues, country, and folk songs she would sing for him. Jula worked in film production and as a film studio vocalist for movie sound tracks and TV commercials before establishing a successful dog walking and pet care business, “Dog Camp L.A.”
At his Bel Air Casiano home, Louis would unwind by watching a basketball, football, baseball or tennis game on television, reading (Jewish history was a favorite topic), or shooting hoops in the driveway with his kids, or playing chess with the weekly chess club that met at his home. Extended family was very important to Louis. He always made himself available when a family member was in need and enjoyed family gatherings, especially the hectic and musical Passover celebrations at the Russ home. Louis also become very involved in the Stephen S. Wise Temple community. But, it was Louis’ interest in horses and California ranchland that truly fed his soul. He joined the West Hills Hunt Club, loading his family up in the car at an ungodly hour so that they could watch him and his riding buddies jump old stone walls and brook streams in full English hunt regalia – pink coats, hounds, hunting horns and all, followed by lavish hunt breakfasts.
Having grown up amongst New York’s Westchester County estates, Louis loved open land and, despite having married a “city girl,” he dreamed of developing his own ranch for his family to enjoy. He owned an interest in The Hermitage ranch in Ojai, growing oranges, lemons and avocados. There he enjoyed hiking, row-boating and fishing with Soni and his girls in the stocked lakes. He also was a partner in the development of the Malibu Riding and Tennis Club.
But, Sky Meadow Farms in Leona Valley and Royal Oaks Ranch in Three Points were his alone. He loved being a “gentleman rancher.” He dabbled in various ranch businesses, trying to find what would be self-sustaining and attractive to his family and friends. He raised cattle, horses, cherries, peaches and apples. Louis considered himself the “Arkansas Black Apple King” of the Antelope Valley. He also established and ran Western Pacific Outfitters, a pack horse riding business, and recruited his daughters and wife to act as assistant horse wrangler guides and campfire cooks. Always community minded, he and Soni started a local Jewish Chavurah and Louis joined the Cowboy Lawyers Association, hosting annual rides at Royal Oaks. Louis and Soni also joined Sertoma, a local philanthropic organization dedicated to helping those with hearing impairments. And, Louis served on Three Points’ Town Council.
At Royal Oaks Ranch, Louis built his dream home and spent countless hours enjoying the fruits of his labor. He loved working closely with his ranch managers and ranch hands, Paulo, Ben, Manuel — clearing brush, cutting roads, planting trees… He built Soni a “Lover’s Lane” and a gazebo on a viewpoint where they could survey the beauty of the ranch together. They also took long nature walks around the lake and shared unforgettable sunsets.
Because Soni loved the beach, he purchased a house in Ventura, where the family (often including Soni’s parents, Isidore and Marcella) would often escape the heat of summer. The kids would play in the waves of the Pacific and fly kites on the windy beach, and Louis and Soni would take romantic sunset beach walks. And because Soni loved The Arts and travel, they attended plays and concerts, traveled the world together, and instilled a love of The Arts and travel in their children.
What Louis’ grandchildren will remember most about him: Grandpa’s ready smile, his sense of humor, his love for their grandmother, how he liked to tousle their hair, how he would light up when someone sang for or with him, and his appreciation of chocolate ice cream and a good back scratch. He also seemed happiest when there was a dog on his lap.
Sadly, life and retirement do not always go as planned. This brilliant trial attorney with a near photographic memory was struck with progressive dementia. Louis’ family wishes to express their deepest gratitude to the Jewish Home for the Aging’s Dementia Care Unit and volunteers and Louis’ treasured companion, Maria Flores, for the compassionate and exemplary care he received over the past five years. And to Rusty and Joseph, caretakers who showed him such kindness at home, before he came to JHA. Despite Louis’ illness, he thrived due to JHA’s amazing music and physical therapy programs, religious services and time spent in JHA’s meandering gardens. Thanks also to Louis’ long-time secretary, Nancy Van Brakel, for always being there when Louis wanted to check in by phone to see how things were going at the office, or just to share some good humor. And to John Walker and Paulo Gutierrez who shared Dad’s love of the ranches and kept them going when he no longer could.
To Soni on our 20th Anniversary 6/21/72
By Louis Bell, written at Sky Meadow Farms, Leona Valley
Eating raw carrots in a lonely ranch house
Looking out the window at the folded hills. A windmill turns.
Watching the firm but gentle breeze rustle the black walnut.
These are all the things one can do without a wife.
A bird stuns itself momentarily on the picture window
It rights itself and next heads for the nearby
Nectarines which “mysteriously” disappear leaving abundant pits
Below the tree’s shorn branches permitting only next year’s promise.
Inadequate tailed ground squirrels busy themselves
Engineering tunnels, planning mischief to us and survival
For them. Puppies wagging new born tails and testing out
Fierce barks in a modulated key. Horses graze in silence.
All these things one can watch without a family.
The water glistens at the sand’s edge, Breakers
Pummel and retreat to the safety of the sea.
Birds skate on muddied flats and moon reflects
Joyously on the shore lighting a path of hopes and dreams.
Waterfalls plummet into a turquoise pool. The ever
Widening circles disrupt the calm and are themselves
Interrupted by confining walls of tile. Noiselessly contained.
Distant mountains absorb most light rays leaving shades of purple.
One can enjoy this alone.
The world is full of beauty and pain. How sad it would
Be to travel through it alone. How glad to have wife and
Family to share it all. How quickly twenty years compile.
How empty it all would have been without a wife like her
Without children, indelibly stamped with our love.
How much more meaningful existence becomes
When one teaches or is taught
When one sees and is seen
When one learns to feel.
To My Beloved Father, Oscar Bell
On his 89th Birthday
By Louis Bell, March 1991
Despite what I may have said or told you over the many years and decades we have had together, I want you to know how I really feel about our father-son relationship.
I know you are responsible for instilling in me the most important values in my life.
You taught me integrity and honesty. You gave me a work ethic and demonstrated the importance of loyalty and friendship. You taught me the importance of family and teaching values to my children. I learned charity and the satisfaction of helping my fellow man all without bias or bigotry. In addition, you gave me the appreciation for nature, the outdoors and so many overlooked joys of living. You gave dignity to everything that lives whether it be a horse, a dog, cat, bird or any animal. Every tree and flower had meaning for you. The beauty and craftsmanship of inanimate objects like antiques has left a lifelong impression on me.
Your love of my mother has never faltered. Your values have been passed down to your grandchildren and will live in future generations.
You were not just my father, you were my teacher and my best friend. I love you.
The Day Before
By Louis I. Bell, June 20, 1991
The afternoon sun illuminates a portion of the wooden blinds in what was my daughter Julie’s room. My wife’s doll sits attentively on the bed and I miss the laughter and arguments of the children.
Our children are so very special, because you gave them to us. They brought such joy with their accomplishments and talents, but mean so much to me because they are an extension of your overabundance of love and virtues
Your love has warmed and nurtured me for over 32 years. Your support of my aspirations has given me the drive to attain many goals with still more to come.
I hope you and I can continue to share dreams, individual and mutual that will warm our remaining years and invigorate our spirits. I hope that the times will be even more pleasant, and the enjoyment magnified. I hope that the past will be enhanced by continued love and understanding.
I look forward to enjoying each other.
Your loving husband, Louis
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