Lenn A. Bell, inimitable and deeply loved, passed away on October 29, 2020 while on vacation in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico. As sudden as his death was and as much as he will be missed, we can be somewhat comforted by the fact that he managed to squeeze a hell of a lot of life and joy out of his 57 short years. This tribute to Lenn can barely scratch the surface of his life’s story or begin to describe the unique and powerful impact he had on each of us who loved him, so when in-person gatherings are possible again, we hope Lenn’s friends and extended family will join us in a celebration of his life. Until then, posting your pictures and memories of him here will be a great comfort to all of us.
Lenn was born on August 9, 1963 to Lou Jean and Larry Bell. He grew up in the suburbs of San Diego along with his older sisters, Lori (Stephenson) and Lisa (Sawyer). He adored his mom, who shared his witty, playful personality, and greatly admired his dad, whose work ethic, generosity, and dedication to serving others greatly influenced Lenn. Playing on numerous El Cajon little league and pony baseball teams was a highlight of his childhood. He also took a lot of pride in having his own early morning newspaper delivery route, riding his bike dozens of miles each week through the Mt. Helix foothills, often up incredibly long, steep driveways (both ways!). He loved chances to interact with his customers while collecting their subscription payments, and demonstrated early on a wonderful gift for making people feel valued and understood. And with his unparalleled sense of humor, he was pretty good at making people laugh, too. Not in a “courtesy chuckle” kind of way, either; more like side-splitting, delirious, bring-you-to-tears laughter.
Lenn loved outdoor adventures and was thrilled whenever his dad would take him along on backpacking trips with all the older boys in their ward's scout troop. They became his band of big brothers, and Lenn became their nonstop source of comedic relief. Another passion Lenn developed as a kid was deep sea fishing. He’d wake up long before the break of dawn, somehow having convinced his mom to drive him down to the harbor docks so he could catch the first charter boat out for a day on the ocean, surrounded by seasoned fishermen with whom he’d become fast friends.
He appreciated many different musical genres, but was particularly drawn to the raw expressivity of the late 70’s emerging punk sound. Lenn dove head first into the local punk scene and knew he needed to look the part. But his parents were less than pleased when he suddenly decided to ditch his clean-cut looks for a full shaved-head mohawk. In a futile attempt to prevent a repeat offense, Lou Jean had Lenn sign a “hair oath,” while Larry simply referred to him as “Satan” for the next several months. Or maybe years.
Lenn was a natural athlete who—despite being vertically disadvantaged throughout his teen years—had the competitive drive and talent to do well in almost any sport he tried, from basketball, football, and baseball, to golf, skiing, and even broom hockey. When he wasn’t busy alternately torturing and amusing his teachers at Valhalla High, Lenn wrestled for the school team. The camaraderie and friendships that grew from each of those athletic pursuits meant the world to him.
His many adoring nieces and nephews had almost as much fun hanging out with their attentive, hilarious, supportive “Uncle Lenny” as he always did while spending time with them. His sister Lisa’s children Lianne, Nicole, and Tyson (“Bubba”), were often at the house during Lenn’s teen years, and he loved including them in as many of his activities and adventures as possible.
One of Lenn’s most defining characteristics had to be the engaging way he drew people to him and brought friends together, not just through sports, but in every imaginable setting: school, church, work, family gatherings, support groups, concerts, fantasy sports leagues, his taco shop roundtables, and especially in the great outdoors.
Although not a huge fan of organized religion (or of anything that threatened to stifle his fiercely independent nature), Lenn was incredibly grateful for the many genuine, loyal, lifelong friends he spent his most formative years with while being raised in the LDS faith. He also appreciated the experiences he had as a church missionary in Puerto Rico, where he was able to learn Spanish while meeting some of the warmest, most humble people on Earth.
Education eventually became more of a priority for Lenn, and he earned an associates degree at Grossmont College, where he and his mom even enrolled in a couple of classes together. He also spent some time at BYU, SDSU, and Ricks College. Being on the ski team at Ricks was a huge highlight of Lenn’s college career, as was forming a punk band, “Fathers of None,” with some of his friends. It’s rumored he may have actually attended a few classes while he was there, too.
Lenn’s initial life plan included following in his dad’s footsteps by going to dental school, but ultimately, he could no longer suppress his intense entrepreneurial drive and decided to head to Utah County to rescue its locals and transplanted college students from a tragic dearth of Southern California-style taco shops. Also, at 26, he was getting pretty old by LDS standards, and knew that the Provo area—crawling with thousands of 20-something co-eds—wouldn’t be a terrible spot to start conducting his increasingly urgent WifeSearch.
It only took Lenn a few months to both open his mexican restaurant, Lenito’s Taco Shop, and to meet the girl he would marry later that same year. The restaurant’s grand opening in the early spring of 1990 was a big success, thanks in part to some very positive press, and word of its authentic, tasty menu spread quickly throughout the land. Never one to pass up a delicious taco or two, Jen (Konold) dropped by the restaurant with a mutual friend who introduced her to Lenn as he took their order. She got a call from him just a few days later, asking her out on their first date.
Jen didn’t know what to think when Lenn asked if it was okay if he brought his mom, sister, and nephew along, who were all in town for a visit. But she quickly got over her considerable nerves, finding that meeting Lenn’s family was as comfortable and enjoyable as spending time with her own. Plus, they discovered that Lenn’s sister’s husband was Jen’s first cousin once removed, so technically, they were kind of already family…
The two of them spent the next day up Provo canyon together, talking for hours and feeling like they’d known each other for years. Well, they had known OF each other for a few years, since they grew up only five miles apart, and also because Lenn’s reputation tended to precede him. Jen was struck by how many interests, experiences, core beliefs, and goals they shared...and possibly also by how attractive, kind, and witty Lenn was. Lenn claimed he went home that night and announced to his roommate that he’d found the girl he was going to marry. Darin probably responded by rolling his eyes and skeptically chuckling a little, but several months later, Lenn married Jen just after Christmas. He was an immediate hit with Jen’s family, especially her teenage brothers, who joined Lenn for off-roading, backpacking/hiking trips, and highly-anticipated carte-blanche visits to Lenito’s.
Making the adjustment from long-standing bachelorhood to marriage was likely a jarring transition for Lenn, but he settled in nicely with his hallmark enthusiasm and sense of humor. He and Jen especially loved taking weekend trips together, going to concerts, and spending dinner/game nights with friends.
By this time, Lenito’s was doing well enough that after his big daily lunch rush, Lenn could often head out for an afternoon of fishing, golf, or mountain biking. He usually had a major project he’d be working on, too, like remodeling their basement into a rental unit, trying to start up his own dog breeding kennel, designing/building a spec home, or restoring a VW Beetle ragtop.
With the birth of their first child, Trevor, less than two years later, Lenn’s life took on a whole new wonderful dimension. He was absolutely thrilled to be a dad, determined to spend as much time as possible playing with and caring for his sweet son. Within another two years, Karsten arrived as the newest member of their little family, and the laughter, fun, and games Lenn enjoyed with his growing brood never seemed to stop. Favorite family activities included wave running at the lake, Golden Eagle hockey games, and camping trips with friends.
Growing restless after six years of running Lenito’s and a couple of ill-fated franchising attempts, Lenn decided to call it quits with the restaurant business. He and Jen had always thought it would be nice to raise the kids in a setting similar to their own upbringings and near both of their families, so they loaded up the truck and moved back to San Diego County, finding a home in Poway.
A few weeks after settling in and just before Lenn started work in the mortgage industry with a few of his favorite high school buddies, the Bell clan welcomed their new daughter and sister, Alyssa, to the family. She immediately had everyone wrapped around her little fingers and seemed to evoke a tenderness and sensitivity from Lenn that he ordinarily kept a little more tightly under wraps.
The next several years were filled with all the craziness and fun that comes with raising young kids, and somehow Lenn managed to do a lot of his work from a home office situated squarely in the middle of all the mayhem. Lenn was very involved in his kids’ day-to-day lives and he was their absolute hero. He was an enthusiastic, inspirational coach for dozens of the kids’ little league, flag football, basketball, and soccer teams. He’d regularly read Harry Potter to the kids at bedtime. He endured countless school performances almost as well as some of the other dads did. But sharing his love of the outdoors with his family—through hikes, beach trips, camping, and ocean boating adventures—seemed to be the most rewarding part of fatherhood for Lenn. And enjoying professional sporting events together may have come in a close second. An incredible highlight for both him and Trevor was a father/son outing to game five of the ‘98 World Series to watch their beloved Padres play (yes, the Pads lost that game and every game of the series, but that was irrelevant).
Continuing to make remarkable friends wherever he went, Lenn met several parents from Trevor’s little league teams and dads from the boys’ Adventure Guides group. Their families ended up becoming very close friends and many of the Bells’ greatest memories from the Poway years were made during the camping trips, vacations, pool and holiday parties they all enjoyed together.
Lenn’s ever-present restlessness and drive pushed him to change things up again in 2002, when he enrolled in SDSU’s journalism program and started writing for the Daily Aztec newspaper. Underestimating (or perhaps fully recognizing?) the impact that a little ol’ student column could have on the community, Lenn wrote an opinion piece about one of SDSU’s biggest benefactors, calling into question the business ethics and practices that enabled him to make such generous donations to the university’s athletic programs. For some strange reason, the accusations in the article did not sit well with said benefactor, and Lenn found himself on the receiving end of more anger and criticism than he could possibly have anticipated, or endured easily, despite his lifelong penchant for controversy.
Craving a change of scenery and a fresh start after struggling through one too many personal battles, Lenn proposed a move back to Utah, which was met with varying levels of enthusiasm from his family members. But off to Utah they went, hoping the lure of the mountains, snow, and noxious air quality would somehow distract them from missing the friends and family they’d left behind. At least they had many beloved old friends and Jen’s brothers’ families nearby to make the transition much less painful.
After almost single-handedly finishing the sprawling basement of their
No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away... newest home, Lenn successfully dabbled in business brokering for a couple of years before deciding it was time to start up a business of his own again. By moving into a rental house and using the proceeds from the profitably-timed sale of their home, Lenn was able to start up an Invisible Fence dealership that combined nearly every element of his ideal job: working with dogs, challenging manual labor in an outdoor setting, enjoyable interactions with customers, and the ability to set his own hours so he could still have time to play and also be around for family commitments.
While the dealership would survive and even thrive until his passing, Lenn's marriage to Jen did not, and they divorced after 22 years together. They remained amicable and extremely grateful — for the years spent raising their three incredible children together, for everything they were able to learn from each other, and for the many joyful times and important life lessons they experienced along the way. Sure, there were some very painful, seemingly unbearable years that weren’t exactly full of rainbows and butterflies for anyone involved. But sometimes, getting through the toughest challenges in life has a way of intensifying the beauty that can eventually follow.
And for Lenn the beauty did follow, as he watched his kids graduate from high school, start college, find various jobs and living arrangements, and begin to pursue their own paths with the self-determination he modeled for them. He cherished every bit of time he was able to spend with them as grown adults. He experienced the incomparable joy of being Silas’s grandpa. And he found love again when he met his fiancée, Christine, in 2018 [see her story and tribute to Lenn below]. She brought happiness, fun, tenderness, and a whole lot of laughter into Lenn’s life when he needed it most. They had just bought a home together and were looking forward to spending the years ahead doing more traveling, going to concerts and Jazz games, and just enjoying the simple pleasures of life by each other’s side. How fortunate they both were to have shared the meaningful time that they did together.
In the weeks since his passing, both family and friends have repeatedly described Lenn as “one of a kind,” “a force of nature,” and “larger than life.” When someone lives as passionately and as impactfully as Lenn did, not even death is powerful enough to take them away from us. As Meghan O’Rourke suggests, “the people we most love do become a physical part of us, ingrained in our synapses, in the pathways where memories are created.”
May our indelible memories of Lenn and the way he encouraged us to love without hesitation, to be unapologetically ourselves, and to always laugh—hard!—compel each of us to honor his fearless spirit by taking a few more risks and by squeezing every ounce of joy from the remainder of our own all-too-short lives.
Lenn, we love you and miss you tremendously.
By Christine Barrett:
The first time I saw Lenn was on February 13, 2018. We met at Beans and Brews Coffee for our first date. We sat and talked for two hours. I was so intrigued by him. He was so easy to talk to and so very handsome. That same evening, Lenn had asked if I would like to go to dinner that week. After that dinner I was hooked.
We went from seeing each other once a week, and before I knew it we were in a committed relationship. Every time Lenn would send me a text my heart would skip a beat. We had so many great moments. Our first get- a-way together was St. George. As we were driving I mentioned to him that this would either make us or break us. Lenn was very amused by this statement. Well… we were inseparable from that day on.
This man of mine was the most caring, thoughtful and compassionate man I had ever met. Lenn was a giver and so was I. That made our relationship so special. Lenn was a big tease and sarcastic and it took me a little while to figure that out. I just loved his teasing manner. We laughed daily about silly things.
Lenn motivated me in so many ways. I completed my first half marathon with him by my side. He was so proud of me. I even took up bike riding so we could do that together. Of course I was way slower than him but he always stayed behind with me.
On December 19, 2019, Lenn had made reservations at a romantic restaurant in downtown Salt Lake. I had no idea what was coming that night. He seemed so nervous and anxious at dinner, but still I would have not guessed what came next. On the sidewalk of Salt Lake he asked me to stop for a minute and to sit down on a bench. Then he knelt down and pulled a beautiful ring out of his pocket and asked me to marry him. I started to cry and of course said “YES!” I was so stunned that he asked me and felt like I was in a dream. Later on I was told by my children, Miranda and Gavin, that he had called them to ask them for permission. What a sweet man he was!
In spring of 2020 we had decided to start looking for a home together. It was such an exciting time. I could not believe that we would finally be living together. We found a home that we both loved and moved in the first week of June.
We were so happy together. I told Lenn so many times that I would just wake up so happy and that was because I felt so loved and cared for. For the first time in my life I was truly loved and cherished. I will forever be so grateful to Lenn for showing me what that felt like.
I love Lenn so very much and always will. He was my knight in shining armor and I felt like I was in a fairy tale.
Lenn, your life was my blessing, your memory is my treasure, and you are loved beyond words and missed beyond measure.
Love you forever,