Editorial: Leading with heart — the big man makes his exit

Editorial: Leading with heart — the big man makes his exit“Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

While Teddy Roosevelt may have been the one to originally coin the phrase, Ernie Bell made it his personal and professional mantra for more than 35 years of service to the Sierra Sands Unified School District.

As nearly 300 people showed up last Saturday to wish him a happy retirement as superintendent of the district, the common theme from those who best knew him was the dedication and compassion Ernie extended to everyone who crossed his path.

The audience itself was a testament to the vast number of connections Bell made during his career — people who taught or coached him, who taught or coached alongside him or who learned to do so from him joined a cross section of residents from virtually every sphere of influence.

Ernie was born and raised in Ridgecrest. After going to college to play football and earn a degree, he returned to work his way up through the ranks — from teacher to the district’s top position. He married a local girl (in the process merging two of the valley’s pioneering families), and together they raised a family who continued giving back to the community. (His wife, De Anne, was also honored Saturday for her shared commitment and sacrifice to the district).

Over the last five years, Bell helped the district through the contentious, but ultimately successful, completion of more than $100 million in renovations. He was known to show up on campuses and in classrooms — even homes — to check on his students and staff.

“Ernie leads with his heart,” said Dr. David Ostash, who will succeeded Ernie starting July 1. “And while this is true in every aspect of his career, I will say one of his greatest legacies is how he taught, coached, loved and inspired our valley’s students and athletes.”

Ernie was quick to feed, hug or compliment students, but also to hold them accountable for their own success.

“If a kid was walking the street during school time, it didn’t matter what was on the schedule — Ernie turned his truck around and he made contact with that kid. And I can’t tell you how many times Ernie gave kid that look — you know, the vein throb in his forehead, the set jaw, the piercing blue eyes. He let you know in no uncertain terms, in a way that only Ernie Bell can do it, that you will do the right thing.”

In many ways, Saturday’s farewell was not just a tribute to Ernie Bell, but also a reminder that his chosen profession of public education is among the loftiest of missions. At its heart, education is meant to equalize opportunity. But in modern cultures, it is also the artery through which different neighborhoods, churches, clubs and job sites intersect.

Even after Ernie leaves his office, the bridges he helped build will remain. And as long as those individuals remain engaged, Bell’s legacy of student service will continue.

— Rebecca Neipp

Story First Published: 2019-05-24