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‘Happy that I’m here’

Sports designer enjoys being equal parts busy and content at Devonshire

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October 12th, 2017
Jean Bell, the mastermind behind a wildly successful line of women’s tennis and golf clothes, now lives at Devonshire in Palm Beach Gardens.

Jean Bell, the mastermind behind a wildly successful line of women’s tennis and golf clothes, now lives at Devonshire in Palm Beach Gardens.

 

Jean Bell epitomizes the active people who live at Devonshire at PGA National, Erickson Living’s senior living community in Palm Beach Gardens.

Jean plays duplicate bridge four or five times a week, attends yoga classes, serves on the Resident Council’s marketing and movie selection committees, and as a Devonshire Diplomat, answers questions from visitors who attend its sales luncheons.

Then again, she’s always led a fast-paced life, most notably as an entrepreneur. Jean founded and led Jean Bell Designs, an extremely successful line of tennis and golf clothes for women.

Pieces from her clothing lines still hang in some women’s closets.

From sewing to tennis to golf

Jean’s career began after she accompanied her late husband to Tacoma where he took a course related to his job. With time on her hands, Jean signed up for a sewing course.

Years passed, and in the 1970s when the couple lived in New Haven, Conn., Jean was an avid tennis player at the country club. 

“Women who saw me on the courts asked where I got my clothes,” she recalls. When Jean said she made them herself, the women said she should go into business. So she did.

She designed the tennis clothes, hired seamstresses to sew them, and set up shop in a corner of a local tennis shop. Because Jean’s skirts and shorts fit so well, business not only grew but in the 1980s customers urged her to start a line of golf skirts. So she did.

Soon she noticed that women golfers were wearing off-the-rack Bermuda shorts. “No tennis outfitters made them, so we were the first,” says Jean. 

Pro women golfers snapped up her shorts, leading eventually to her company becoming one of the top three golf lines in the world. She dropped the tennis line then, and in 1995 also stopped her golf line.

The Bells lived at PGA then, on what’s now called the Fazio course. Jean played golf there four times a week and played tennis in New Haven where the Bells spent summer months. 

Now she takes advantage of Devonshire’s corporate privileges at PGA—one of her weekly bridge games is there.

Devonshire, the right choice

Although the Bells’ older son thought his parents should move to Devonshire and unburden themselves of their big four-bedroom house and pool, at first Jean wasn’t keen on the idea. 

“I saw no reason to move,” she says, “but it was a very good decision.” 

After the Bells moved in 2011, Jean underwent a total ankle replacement. She spent about ten days doing rehabilitation at Chatsworth, Devonshire’s rehabilitation and continuing care neighborhood recognized as a Best Nursing Home by U.S. News & World Report. 

“It took at least six months to totally recover,” she says, “but living here is so convenient. If anything goes wrong, [the maintenance team] is just a phone call away.”

Some time later her husband became ill. “His illness made it doubly important to be here,” says Jean. “And now that I’m widowed I’m even more glad I’m here. If I were still in the house, I’d be all by myself.” 

At Devonshire Jean is surrounded by caring neighbors, one of her sons makes month-long visits from Vermont to the house he owns across from the Fazio course, and she has the support of close women friends at PGA. 

“The girls and I go out for dinner at a different local restaurant every Friday night,” Jean says. 

So, while she’s busy, she’s also content. She knows that because of the little epiphanies she experiences every now and then.

In June, as she strolled home following a cabaret evening in Devonshire’s clubhouse, she experienced one of those epiphanies.

“I’d had a lot of fun talking at our table and I felt really happy,” says Jean. “I was also glad when I opened my door to my familiar, comfortable place. I thought, ‘I’m really happy that I’m here.’”

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