John L. Bell, a retired civil engineer who was a partner in the Baltimore engineering firm of Rummel, Klepper & Kahl, died April 28 of pneumonia at Anne Arundel Medical Center. He was 92.
The son of the Rev. John Wesley Bell, a Methodist minister, and Annie Lee Siegler Bell, a homemaker, John Louis Bell was born and raised in Charleston, S.C., where he graduated in 1940 from St. George High School.
He attended Wofford College for a year before enrolling at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, N.Y., where he earned an engineering degree in 1944.
Mr. Bell was given a reserve commission in the Navy and served in the Pacific as an engineering officer on the destroyer USS Dale, which, family members said, he always called "The Mighty Dale."
Discharged from the Navy in 1946, Mr. Bell remained in the Naval Reserve until 1955, where he attained the rank of lieutenant.
Mr. Bell began his career at Rummel, Klepper & Kahl in 1946 as a junior draftsman, preparing ink-on-linen engineering drawings at a salary of 92 cents a hour. He later worked in the firm's sanitary and bridge departments.
In 1964, Mr. Bell opened and directed the firm's Raleigh, N.C., branch for a decade, before returning to Baltimore, where he was named a partner in the firm and was given the responsibility of overseeing and directing its transportation planning department. He continued to be responsible for its North Carolina office.
As a resident engineer, he oversaw the design of local buildings, bridges and highway projects during his four-decade career. Some of the major projects he worked on included designs for the Jones Falls Expressway and 10 miles of the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway in Maryland, which became part of Interstate 95.
Another project that Mr. Bell worked on in the late 1970s was the $60 million flood-control project for flood-prone Carroll Creek, which flowed underground through downtown Frederick.
"The Carroll Creek Flood Control and Urban Linear Park project was among the hallmark projects of his career," said David Wallace, who is an RK&K partner emeritus.
"John came up with a very creative and unique solution: a pair of dual underground concrete box channels. Each box would easily accommodate a trailer truck, separated by an open-surface water amenity," he said. "The underground flood-control system would work as an inverted siphon, fed by a weir system in Baker Park, where floodwaters could be stored before they passed under downtown Frederick."
Mr. Wallace said the project took several years to complete and "created the urban linear park now enjoyed by the citizens of Frederick."
New development has taken place along that waterway, which spurred the arrival of restaurants, shops, offices and homes.
"John was extremely pleased with this solution and the firm's contributions to this award-winning project," Mr. Wallace said. "The flood-control system has worked fully as designed to safely convey many subsequent storms under downtown Frederick without damage to the city."
After returning to Baltimore in 1974, Mr. Bell worked on the Baltimore to Annapolis Transportation Study, which resulted in the building of Interstate 97 and the widening of the Capital Beltway between Route 97 and Interstate 270.
"John was a demanding boss, with strong writing skills and high expectations for his staff to do likewise," said Mr. Wallace. "I was among a group of young engineers and planners preparing reports and memos for our clients, and every memo had to be reviewed and approved by John before we could send it out.
"John reviewed our work products with a red pencil, and we youngsters passed around a red pencil to the current holder of the 'No Red Comments from John Award.' The pencil did not move around very often."
He said that Mr. Bell had a profound effect on his professional life.
"John was my mentor from 1974 until his retirement in 1987. He was a strong leader and a demanding boss and a wonderful advocate for me within RK&K," said Mr. Wallace.
When Mr. Bell retired, his fellow RK&K partners gave him a lathe.
"Throughout his life, he was also an inventor, woodworker and machinist," said Kate Perry, a grandchild who lives in New York City. "He held at least four patents including a golf tee-setter, a neck saver for bifocal glasses, and a stratified-charge internal combustion engine."
Mr. Bell was a longtime Severna Park resident. In his home, he maintained a machine shop and a wood shop, where he made furniture and wooden bowls.
"John was the consummate tinkerer and inventor. He loved to work with his hands and manufactured many intricate pieces from metal," said Mr. Wallace.
Mr. Bell's wife of 41 years, the former Lina Moorer, who was his childhood sweetheart, died in 1985.
Since 1989, Mr. Wallace had lived with his companion, Margaret Valeria "Val" Jones, and since 1996, they have resided at Heritage Harbour in Annapolis.
Services are private.
In addition to his companion and granddaughter, Mr. Bell is survived by three daughters, Susan Knisely of Severna Park, Jane Belew of Boise, Idaho, and Barbara Brown of Campobello, S.C.; five other grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun