Sunday Profile: Annie Bell makes it happen
Can she have it all?
It’s a question women hear, fret over, roll their eyes at or, in the case of Glenwood Springs resident Annie Bell, shrug off.
“You’ve got to make opportunity,” she said. “I feel like I’ve always just said, ‘I’ll make it happen. I’m going to make something happen.’”
Bell is the epitome of the woman who has it all.
She’s a mother of two — Frances, 8, and Kate, 15 months — and a wife.
She has a successful freelance career as a “business developer,” the best catch-all term she could think of to describe the work she does, including front-end website development, search engine optimization, marketing, vendor relations and bookkeeping.
And she has a deep passion for this valley, the first and only place she felt truly at home, which manifests in her volunteer work: She and her husband have recently revamped a dormant PTA at Sopris Elementary School, where Frances attends and where Annie Bell works in the after-school program Beyond the Bell. She also is involved with the Carbondale Clay Center, Carbondale Council on Arts and Humanities (CCAH) and anyone else who asks for her help.
“The PTA is a huge focus right now, probably more than some of the other organizations that I was really involved with even just a few months ago,” Bell said. Then, after a pause: “That might be one of my faults. You can’t do everything.”
It’s easy to see a problem and expect someone else to fix it, but that’s never been Annie Bell’s M.O.
So when she heard from Sopris Elementary School Principal Kathy Whiting that the school needed activities, programs and resources, but had no parents’ association to speak of, Bell and her husband, Bruce Bell, stepped up.
She tried to get involved with the unorganized PTA that was in place, but everyone she reached out to sent her to someone else, and nothing was getting done.
“I eventually just went back to the principal and said, ‘I just want to start something. This needs to happen,’” she said. “You’ve got kids that need after-school programs, and you’ve got kids that have needs for everything from school supplies to lunches to snacks in the classrooms. You have teachers who have these great ideas for field trips that we can raise money for and make sure that field trip happens for the kids. And Kathy was like, ‘Yes, please take on as much as you want.’”
Annie Bell started meeting informally with other parents, but when Bruce Bell got involved, he wanted to do it right, she said.
“Bruce got involved, and he was like, ‘We’re going to be a PTA,’” she said. “And so he was the one that got us formally assembled as a PTA, got all the paperwork done, got everybody signed on into their formal board positions, that kind of thing. He cemented everything together, and now that we’ve got this firm basis, we’re going to move forward with so many projects.”
At 5 p.m. Thursday, the school is hosting an Eagles’ Nest Bazaar, a craft show/flea market fundraiser featuring local businesses and even products from some of the kids. Other ideas for the future include coordinating teacher appreciation events and a science and arts expo night. The Bells hope to collaborate with the PTA at Glenwood Springs Elementary School, too.
“All this stuff is coming up in the springtime, but it’s great because finally there’s somebody to handle that again,” Annie Bell said. “It’s not just thrown on the backs of the teachers that already have so much to take care of. And the administration, they don’t have time to take that on. It’s the parents’ job to get in there and do it.”
‘THIS IS HOME’
While Annie Bell’s attention is focused on the PTA now, there was a time when she didn’t want children. She was a career woman who loved to travel, and she didn’t think she’d be able to give enough time to raising a family.
Bell was born in Baltimore, and she’s been a self-proclaimed artist from the time she could proclaim anything.
“I was always in the art room, always the freaky artist chick that was doing community service projects where we would go down into inner city Baltimore to paint murals, taking classes at the Maryland Institute on the weekends,” Bell said. “I mean, that was my thing.”
Bell studied communications design in Richmond, then in Philadelphia. But at the time, in the ’80s, schools were still teaching paste-up, with computers just coming into play in graphics.
So Bell, thinking anything she learned would be obsolete by the time she graduated, switched her major to photography.
“Well, then what happens in photography?” Bell said. “A couple years later, everything went digital. So it was kind of like the industry went bananas on me.”
But photography is what brought Bell to the Roaring Fork Valley. After living with a boyfriend in San Francisco for a few years, Bell got a summer assistantship with the Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village, and she knew right away this is where she belonged. After her assistantship was up, she was offered a full-time job as a registrar with the ranch. Bell said it was a 2-second decision.
“I remember calling my roommate in San Francisco and saying, ‘You can go ahead and sublet my room,’ calling my boss and saying, ‘OK, remember how I told you I was going to come back after three months? I’m not. Go ahead and give my job away,’” Bell said. “I had a fiancé at the time, and I sent him the ring back via FedEx. When you know something is right, you just go with it.”
But Bell didn’t just go with it; she went all in. She became entrenched in the upvalley art scene and volunteered for anything she could, including the International Design Conference, the Food and Wine Classic, Aspen Theatre in the Park, the Wheeler Opera House, the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, the Aspen Music Festival and School and Colorado Animal Rescue.
About three years after moving to the valley, Bell met her husband at a mutual friend’s birthday party. She describes it as love at first sight.
Bruce Bell pushed her for years to start a family, and Annie resisted. Then something changed.
‘MOST INSPIRING THINGS
IN THE WORLD’
“If you had asked me back before we had Frances, a couple years before that I was like, ‘I will never have children, I am a career person, I like to travel, we don’t have time for children, I won’t be able to focus on them,’” she said. “And then, I don’t know, something just changed. And now I’m all about children. With Frances, you realize how cool kids are and how they’re just the most amazing, inspiring things in the world.”
When the Bells decided to have their first child in 2006, they moved from Aspen to their current home in Spring Valley. They wanted more freedom, more space and more pets.
“We have four dogs, who are all amazing, and a pig who thinks he’s a dog and is amazing,” she said. “So we’ve got quite the vibrant household.”
Bell manages to balance her career with motherhood because the two are rarely completely separate. She works from home with the baby, and when she has meetings over lunch or coffee with her collaborators, Kate usually comes along. When she volunteers at the Clay Center’s First Friday events or other evening gigs, she leaves the little ones with her husband.
When Bell was pregnant with Kate, she was working an office job with a general manager who insisted she come back to work after her maternity leave rather than telecommute.
“It wasn’t even an issue for me,” Bell said. “I was like, ‘OK, well, I’ll take my three months of maternity leave, and then I’ll come back after that.’ And when the three months of maternity leave were over, I was like, ‘I’m not coming back.’”
With the help of the Internet and some determination, Bell is happy right where she is, having it all.
“I don’t feel desperate that I have to go back in the working world,” she said. “You can be kind of picky and choosy and do a lot of consulting and freelance, which is a perfect balance. You can get your love of community, you can get your time with your family, you can bake cookies with your daughter, all that kind of stuff.
“Part of it is you just can’t be scared. You can figure it out. You can definitely have it all.”
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Fire investigators are still working on determining the cause of Tuesday’s house fire in Glenwood Springs, which left no one injured but caused extensive damage.