IRA J. BELL. - A list of the leading citizens of Sangamon county contains the name of Ira J. Bell, one of the representative and honored residents of Springfield. He is one to whom has been entrusted important public service and over whose record there falls no shadow of wrong or suspicion of evil. His unbending integrity of character, his fearlessness in the discharge of his duties, and his appreciation of the responsibilities that have rested upon him, have been such as to make him a most acceptable incumbent in office and his worth is and has been widely acknowledged.
Mr. Bell was born on a farm near Dover, Iowa, September 16, 1861, and is a son of William E. and Minerva P. (Courtright) Bell. His early education was acquired in a country school of Lee county, that state, known as Brush College, and later he attended Denmark Academy at Denmark, Iowa, being a member of the class of 1882. He was graduated with honors at the latter institution, doing four full years' work in four spring terms. In the meantime he began teaching school at the age of sixteen years and taught at Veile, Iowa, in the winter of 1878-9; Brush College in the winter of 1879-80; was principal of the schools at New Boston, Iowa, in 1880-81; of West Point Business College in 1882 and 1883; and of the public schools of Mount Hamill, Iowa, in 1884.
In November, 1882, when only twenty-one years of age, Mr. Bell was elected county surveyor of Lee county, Iowa, serving as such from the 1st of December, that year, until the 1st of December, 1884. In 1883 he was a candidate for county superintendent of schools, but was defeated in the Democratic convention by one vote. IN 1885 he removed to Marshall, Illinois, where he engaged in merchandising until 1889, and then sold his store and opened an abstract office, which he conducted until 1893. In 1888 he was elected county surveyor of Clark county, Illinois, and so acceptably did he fill the office that he was re-elected, receiving three hundred and twenty majority in 1888 and fifteen hundred and fourteen in 1892. He retired from that position on the 1st of December, 1896, a deputy having done his work for the last four years of the term. On the 1st of November, 1890, he started the publication of the Clark County Democrat and was in charge of the same until the 1st of December, 1892. He took charge of the land department in the state auditor's office at Springfield, January 7, 1893, under State Auditor David Gore and resigned that position to accept a clerkship in the Illinois state insurance department on the 1st of the following July, was promoted to file clerk September 1, 1893, was made assistant chief clerk November 1, the same year, was made acting chief clerk February 1, 1894, and chief clerk of the department on April 1, 1894, holding that position until August 1, 1897. At that time he began the practice of insurance law, having been admitted to the bar before the supreme court in November, 1893. He was first in partnership with H. C. Bell, who had just resigned as deputy commissioner of pensions, under the firm name of Bell & Bell, our subject paying special attention to insurance and bankruptcy law, and H. C. Bell to general practice, with splendid success. The firm dissolved partnership in August, 1900, when Ira J. Bell with Edwin F. Smith began the organization of the Loyal Americans, which was chartered September 7, 1900, with Mr. Bell as supreme secretary, which position he still holds. In the short space of three years there has been built up a society with over twenty-one thousand members in good standing and a reserve fund of over fifty thousand dollars - a record never before secured by any fraternal organization in the history of the world. In April, 1903, Mr. Bell together with E. F. Smith, H. M. Merriam and James A. Easley, organized the Springfield Crude Oil Company, of which Mr. Bell is vice president, and they now operate fifty-five hundred acres of leases in Montgomery county, Kansas, having twenty-five of the best oil wells in that state, with a model pumping plant. Mr. Bell is also interested as a stockholder in the Dixie Irrigation Company and the Pecos Valley Irrigation Company of Pecos City, Texas, and he stands high in business circles.
Mr. Bell married Miss Effie S. Sexton, who is a daughter of T. W. Sexton, living at 920 North Fifth street, Springfield, and was a teacher in the schools of this city prior to her marriage. They have three children: William Earl, now eighteen years of age, who is a yeoman on board the United States ship Arkansas; Ethel, eleven years old; and Donald, three and a half.
As a Democrat, Mr. Bell has always taken a very active and prominent part in local politics, was secretary of the Clark county central committee in 180 and 1891 and chairman of the same the following year. He was also chairman of the Springfield Democratic city central committee in 1889, 1900 and 1901, besides filling the offices already mentioned. He is an influential member of a number of civic societies, in which he has been honored with important official positions, being chairman of the auditing committee of the Court of Honor from 1895 until 1898; chairman of the auditing committee of the Fraternal Army of America from 1897 until 1902; chairman of the board of directors of the Fraternal Crystal Light from 1897 until 1900; supreme president of the Loyal Sons of America from 1902 to the present time; and supreme secretary of the Loyal Americans from 1900 to the present time. Genial and pleasant in manner, he makes many friends and is quite popular in business,
social and political circles.