Jack Houston Bell

Jack Houston Bell (born Jack Fleming Austin Jr.) passed away peacefully at his Lapwai home on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024, from prostate cancer. Jack was born on Nov. 2, 1953, in Midland, Texas, to Beatrice Sallie Payne and Jack Fleming Austin. Jack was adopted by Floyd Houston Bell when he was 5 years old. Jack married Debbie Shirey in 1977 and divorced in 2002. Jack married the love of his life, Valdasue Steele, in 2008. They lived happily near Lapwai with their beloved horses and other animals.

Jack started working for the Nez Perce Tribe in 1987 as a wildlife biologist. He had a long career with the Nez Perce Tribe, becoming the Land Services Director in 1993, then was appointed to act as Interim Natural Resources Manager in 1998 for two years, then resuming his role as the Land Services Director. In 2010 he became the Natural Resource Damage Assessment Coordinator for the Nez Perce Tribe at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. At the time of his death, he was still working and was the director of the Environmental Resource and Waste Management Department, a position he held since 2017. During his time working for the tribe, he was recognized for his accomplishments; he most appreciated receiving the employee of the year award. As part of his responsibilities, he served as both the NRDA Senior Trustee and the technical primary trustee for the Nez Perce Tribe in all NRDA activities at Hanford. As a technical primary trustee, he also served as the chair and vice chair multiple times for the Hanford Natural Resource Trustee Council. He influenced and participated in the development of multiple programs that are still active today. Jack carried with him an immense amount of institutional knowledge of the tribe, its programs, staff and tribal members. This knowledge and experience were instrumental to the work that he was doing within ERWM and NRDA. As a result, he was asked to serve as co-chair over eight years for the Law Seminars International Tribal NRDA workshops in Seattle. He was also asked to speak with the National Academy of Sciences and other nationally recognized groups and organizations. He had the gift of gab and loved to talk about all he learned and the people he met.

Jack graduated from Simi Valley High School in California, attended Moorpark Community College, then transferred to Humboldt State University, California, and completed his bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Management in 1976. Jack also completed his master’s degree at the University of Idaho in Wildlife Management in 1987.

Jack loved animals and was happiest when riding his horse in the back country over ridge lines and barely recognizable trails. He was into fitness and did triathlons for 20 yrs. He was especially proud of finishing the Canadian Ironman Triathlon in 2001. He also loved playing basketball and tennis, as well as noon ball at the Pi-Nee-Waus gym, elbowing in shots and playing defense against tribal staff and policy makers. Jack loved life and wanted to make the best of every situation. He encouraged, influenced and offered guidance to anyone he could talk with in hopes he could make a difference in how they could succeed in their life. Jack was a kind, tender hearted, caring, sci-fi nut, athletic enthusiast, horse loving, storyteller, with a sense of humor.

Jack is survived by his wife, Valdasue Steele, his children: David Bell (and Lisa) of Olympia, Marian Bell of Wood Village, Ore., and Patrick Bell of Seattle; sister Sallianne Howell (and John) of Vancouver, Wash., sister Deanna Bell of Westlake Village, Calif., and sister Carole Austin, of Greenwood, S.C.; uncle Harold Payne (and Louise) of Santa, Idaho, uncle Tommy Austin of Montgomery, Texas; several nieces, nephews, cousins and three grandchildren. Jack was preceded in death by his parents, and aunt Ann Bennett (and Jim), aunt Virginia Steely (and Chuck) and cousins Bernice Steely and Walter Steely.

Jack’s family would like to give special thanks to the caring staff at St. Joseph Family Hospice, especially nurse Amanda. We would also like to thank the Vassar-Rawls Funeral Home staff for their kindness and compassion. No services are planned but memorial donations can be made in Jack’s honor to the Lewis Clark Animal Shelter/New Building Fund, 6 Shelter Road, Lewiston, ID 83501 or online at lcshelter.org.

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