Herbert Wilson Kell, known as Wilson, age 98, passed away peacefully on August 4, 2021. He was born on December 9, 1922, in Imboden, to Johnson Hatcher Kell, Sr. and Mattie McLaughlin Kell. He was the youngest of 12 siblings and remained close to them throughout life. Wilson loved to talk about his time in Imboden growing up on the farm, making molasses and playing baseball with family. He graduated from Sloan-Hendrix High School and went on to serve in the Air Corps, Air Force, during World War II. Wilson was stationed in the South Pacific for three years. After being discharged in 1946, he then went on to Arkansas Tech University on the GI Bill where he graduated with a Bachelors in Athletics and Education. During his time there, he lettered in football, baseball and basketball for the Wonder Boys. Baseball was his passion, and he was an All-Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference shortstop where he batted .687. During college, he was drafted by the Boston Red Sox and played two summers of minor league baseball, one in El Paso, Texas, and another in San Jose, California. He was the first graduating class of the college moving from a junior college to four-year program. He would often joke that “they liked us so much they decided to keep us two more years”. He loved his time at Tech and talked of it often. Arkansas Tech is also where he met his “bride”, Betty Sue Harris Kell. They married in Sheridan in 1951 and set a perfect example for all who knew them of what a marriage should be. After graduating from Arkansas Tech in 1950, Wilson moved to Waldron and coached football, baseball and basketball at Waldron High School. Over the next four summers, he lived in Fayetteville where he worked towards his master’s in education at the University of Arkansas. He and Betty Sue loved their summers in Fayetteville. Wilson played intramural sports and learned how to golf at Springdale and Fayetteville Country Clubs, where Betty Sue often would caddy for him. In 1953, they moved to Marianna where Wilson took a job at T.A. Futrall High School coaching football and Betty Sue became an English and Speech teacher. Here, they started their family and raised their two children, Cindy and Bert. He coached for 11 years and earned the name “Coach” around town, which many still called him throughout his life. He led the team to three district titles. He loved coaching and his team thought the world of him. He knew how to motivate, inspire and support his team. He and Betty Sue were true mentors to all who knew them. In 1964, Wilson left coaching to become the Personnel Director for Douglas and Lomason Co. in Marianna. Being the respected person that he was, this job was a great fit and he stayed with the company for 24 years until retirement. Upon retirement, you could find him during winter months in the duck woods and in summer months at Marianna Country Club. He had a passion for both duck hunting and golf, something he instilled in his family. The Arkansas Senior Golf Association tournaments were some of his favorites and he always looked forward to them. He played golf until his early 90s and was a phenomenal golfer, winning Marianna Club Champion five times. He was an avid fan of the Razorbacks and attended games until his late 80s but never missed a game on TV. Wilson also enjoyed going to “coffee” with a great group of men each morning at the old Chevrolet Dealership in Marianna. They believed they could solve all the world’s problems sitting in their circle over coffee. Wilson loved Marianna and the town loved him. He served on City Council for 43 years. In 1994, Wilson and Betty Sue were Lee County Citizens of the Year, a title normally bestowed to individuals and not couples. The family joined Marianna First United Methodist Church after moving to town, where he was a member of Methodist Men for decades, taught Sunday School for 45 years, sang in the choir and served on every committee possible. His faith was strong and evident by his involvement in church. Not having any relatives in Marianna, church became their family. They made lifelong friends through church and enjoyed countless Christmas Eve get together’s, lake trips and vacations where memories were made that still stay close to the family. Wilson was a true family man. Being the youngest of 12, he had several siblings, nieces and nephews that he remained close with throughout life. George and Skeeter Kell, his nephews, were some of his very best friends and he was always so proud of their baseball careers. The family enjoyed the “Kell Konvention” on Labor Day weekend each year and always looked forward to getting together with everyone in Imboden.
Known affectionately as “Papa” to his grandchildren, he loved spending time with them. They always loved going to Marianna as kids because they would help pick tomatoes or pecans, take trips downtown, go to the pool, run around the golf course and enjoy “Papa’s Big Breakfast”. They appreciated many summer beach trips and getting together for holidays. The family is so thankful they were able to make one last beach trip in 2020. Later in life, going to “the club” (Marianna Country Club) became Wilson’s favorite outing and the family loved taking him there to see people and enjoy one anothers company. Wilson’s generation is often said to be the “Greatest Generation” and he is the epitome of that reference. He was a kind, giving, respected and godly man. His memory was sharp until the end and all who knew him thought of him as remarkable. He had the best smile, could light up a room and always had the sweetest demeanor. You couldn’t help but be happy when you were around him.
Wilson was preceded in death by his loving wife of 69 years, Betty Sue, his parents, siblings and daughter-in-law, Gina Kell. He is survived by his daughter, Cindy Shenep (Jim) of Little Rock, his son, Herbert “Bert” Kell, Jr., of Rogers, five grandchildren: Christopher Shenep of Little Rock, Kell Shenep (Laci) of Little Rock, Courtney Becton (Dr. Trey) of Fayetteville, Stuart Shenep of Little Rock, and Maggie Kell (fiancé Brandon Droy) of Rogers, three great-grandchildren whom he adored: Sofie and Ella Sue Shenep of Little Rock and namesake Wilson Becton of Fayetteville as well as a host of cousins, nieces, and nephews.
Due to the current rise in COVID-19 cases, a celebration of life will be held at a later date at Marianna First United Methodist Church. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to church at Marianna First United Methodist Church, 59 S. Poplar Street, Marianna, Ark., 72360.