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Bill Bellis (4-3-14) service 4-6-14

Bill Bellis, who was formally named John William by his parents, Joel Leonard and Edith Fuller Bellis, entered this world in Eastland on Aug. 11, 1922. The next 91 years would be filled with accomplishments too numerous to mention, but perhaps one of his greatest and earliest ones was his marriage to Betty Blair on Feb. 27, 1943. That union, which lasted more than 71 years, produced four children, three of whom still survive, as well as a host of grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.

Bill was extremely community-minded, not to mention industrious, providing for his growing family by buying and selling rebuildable auto parts throughout the south. During one of those excursions, he happened to pass through Hardin County. The area—especially the fishing—had an appeal greater than he could resist, so he packed up his family and moved from Grand Prairie, Texas to Savannah. Eventually, he and his wife would own and operate Bellis Botel Resort; the property included a wonderful old boat from the Corp of Engineers turned restaurant with rooms for rent, where he and Betty cooked up the best catfish and hushpuppies you could ever hope to find. Even the Memphis City Council recognized the uniqueness of the institution, issuing a resolution in 1991 praising them and their wonderful retreat. He was also a co-owner of Bellis Electronics. Bill loved working with electronics and anything mechanical, believing, as he liked to say, “If man built it, man can fix it.” His knowledge came from his own research and experience; being self-taught often worked to his advantage since he rarely, if ever, found anything he could not repair. He even built his own racecar for dirt track racing.

To say that Bill enjoyed fishing would probably be a mild understatement. His love for the sport led to cross-country trips for the couple, first to Washington State and eventually to Alaska, all to fish for his favorite—salmon. He would return home with his bounty where he would can it and then often give it as gifts. You knew you were special if you ever received a can of Bill’s salmon, complete with his own label. Together, Bill and Betty traveled close to a million miles in pursuit of his favorite hobby. His love of fishing, combined with his desire to improve his community, resulted in his collaboration with others to found the Catfish Derby, a celebration that many of us still fondly remember.

A veteran of World War II, Bill proudly served his country as a member of the U.S. Army Air Corp, but his life of service did not end with his tour of duty. He was a lifetime member of the Tri-State Gun Club and an active participant in the Masonic Lodge, the Scottish Rite, the Shriners, Lions Club and the Gideons. He served his county as a member of the Hardin County Tourism Board and the Hardin County Republican Party, and his God as a faithful member of the Counce Thursday morning prayer group and deacon of Hopewell Baptist Church. The value of his contributions did not go unnoticed and the community sought to recognize him in many ways, from naming him the grand marshal of the Christmas parade to his most recent honor, the Pinnacle Award, which was given to him by the local Chamber of Commerce this past January. Hardin County chose his 90th birthday to present a Lifetime Achievement Award while the Lions Club bestowed their Distinguished Service Award upon him in 2010.

Even at the age of 91, Bill managed to stay busy; his hands and his mind were never still and he spent many hours working in his shop. That work, and usually most everything else he did, was accompanied by his continuous whistling. No matter what was occupying his time, there would be whistling to go with it, something he did almost up until the moment he died. Unlike so many others, Bill’s body, though failing, did not betray him until the last few weeks of his life—and his mind stayed as sharp as it ever was until the last few hours.

John William “Bill” Bellis left this world Thursday, April 3, at the ripe old age of 91 years, 7 months and 23 days.

In addition to his wife, Betty, he is survived by two daughters, Rita B. Chancy and her husband, Jerry, of Savannah and Donna Bellis Sinclair and her husband, Sam, of Martin; a son, John William “Johnny” Bellis Jr. and his wife, Diane, of Savannah; 10 grandchildren, Diana Abrams Barker, Lindy Abrams Alexander, Melanie Abrams Burkholder, Sam Sinclair Jr., Melissa Sinclair Blackwell, John Thomas Sinclair, Benjamin Bellis Sinclair, Stephanie Bellis Warner, William Hunter Bellis and Caden Tucker Bellis, 28 great-grandchildren and 10 great-great-grandchildren.

In addition to his parents, Bill was preceded in death by his two sisters, Aileen Bellis Stringer and Bernell Bellis Patterson, his daughter (and Johnny’s twin sister), Jean Lillian Bellis, his grandson, Keith Abrams and two great-grandchildren, Owen Riley Sinclair and Erin Cabler.

A man of many talents with a great desire to serve, Bill Bellis was a unique individual—a good man who will be missed by all who knew him.

 

 

 

 

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