Biographical Sketch of Juanita Gilbert Bell, R.N.
April 10, 1923 – April 22, 2012
Juanita E. Gilbert was born in Pea Ridge, Benton County, Arkansas to Galen O. and Pearl Neff Gilbert on April 10, 1923. In the 1930 U. S. Census 6 year old Juanita and family was living in Talihina, LeFlore, Oklahoma and Galen Gilbert’s occupation was RR Agriculture agent. In 1935 the family’s home was in rural Scott County Missouri and in the 1940 U. S. Census they were living in Spring Grove, Linn, Iowa where Mr. Gilbert’s occupation was farmer.
Juanita graduated from St. Luke’s Methodist Hospital Nursing School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 1944. Upon graduation she came to Fayetteville to be near her parents who had relocated back to Arkansas.
Not long after arriving back in Arkansas, she met Floyd P. Bell. The two were married on November 16, 1945. “She had begun her career at Fayetteville City Hospital in 1944, staying there until 1956-57 when she left to go over to Washington Regional Medical Center to help start the new O.B. unit.”1 She stayed at Washington Regional only a short while, then began working for Dr. Joe B. Hall, a doctor who remained her lifelong friend. In August, 1961 Juanita was hired as the first school nurse in the Fayetteville Public School system. “Under her direction vision, hearing, and dental tests were given by PTA volunteer workers.”2
“At the time there were no social workers or truant officers. She filled these rolls. She carried children to the public health unit to get immunizations shots and pushed parents to get physical exams for their children. She found glasses through Dr. Garland Melton, an optometrist who was also president of the Lions Club. The Lions donated the first vision testing machine for the school health program. Then, she recruited retired nurses to come in to help with vision screening. She was the leader in setting up the school district’s polio vaccine program. One of the things for which she is best remembered is the dental program. When she realized that many students had no dental care she contacted some of the dentists to ask for help. Several dentists volunteered to treat students whose parents could not afford the care. She transported the students to their appointments. She then suggested that dentists help with a dental inspection program. To have equipment available so dentists would not have to bring their own, someone asked the Altrusa Club to provide a few dental tools. Juanita met only one time with a committee of Altrusans, dentists and school personnel to brainstorm. The Altrusa Club pledged long term support for equipment and supplies. Juanita left the school nurse position after four years, but her concern and the work she began in helping chilren in need of dental cares is still alive and still growing.”3
She worked at The University of Arkansas Health Services from 1972
until 1989 when vision problems forced her to retire. In 1984 Juanita’s mother became an invalid and was placed in Springdale Health and Rehabilitation Center. While continuing to work, Juanita began visiting her mother and other residents in the Center. “After her mother died in 1991, Bell continued to visit the residents at the nursing home. She and her piano-playing friend, Madge Harp, still volunteer at the nursing home. They can be found there every Sunday entertaining and providing encouragement for the residents.”3
She died on April 22, 2012 and is buried alongside her husband in Dowell Cemetery, Fayetteville, AR.
1 Fayetteville City Hospital 1912-1991, Published by Fayetteville City
Hospital Auxillary, 1999, page 74
2Northwest Arkansas Times (Fayetteville, Arkansas), August 23, 1961, page 20
3 Our Town, The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas, Springdale, Arkansas, page 1
John T. Mitchell
November 20, 2021