Iva Lee Haygood Bell recently celebrated a birthday that most of us can only hope to reach. She turned 105 on September 10. A party was held for her at the Bloomingdale West Recreation Center.
Born in 1911 in Alpharetta, Georgia, Bell relocated with her family to Tampa in 1926 at age 14, settling in Gary, a small section of town east of Ybor City. One evening in late 1926, she met her future husband Rowland at a drug-store soda counter across from the Columbia restaurant.
They married in 1927 in Ybor City and had twin daughters born in 1942 and another daughter in 1955. She and Roland were married for 56 years until his death in 1984. Her husband worked for the shipyards in Tampa and as a mechanic at the Hav-A-Tampa cigar factory before the family ran a feed and grocery store on Florida Avenue near Sulphur Springs. In addition to helping run the family stores, Iva Lee Bell rolled cigars for Hav-A-Tampa in the 1930s and later worked for Maas Brothers department store in Tampa.
The family relocated to the growing Brandon community in 1953 and settled near Lithia Pinecrest Rd. and State Road 60. They opened Bell’s Grocery, and the business thrived off the two lane State Road 60, but when the road was widened around 1958, they lost parking frontage which resulted in a decline in business. They finally had to close the store in the early 1960’s.
Bell currently lives in Brandon with her daughter Gloria. She visits the Bloomingdale West Recreation Center three or four times a week to do activities and socialize with her friends.
Everyone wants to know her secret, but the Brandon resident is quick to admit she doesn’t have a magic formula for long life. She has been drinking coffee since the age of 5, has never had a specific exercise routine, and has never smoked nor tasted alcohol.
She credits her children and grandchildren in keeping her active. Bell has loved to read all of her life and has always eaten smaller meals and enjoys vegetables.
“I never took medicine,’’ Bell said. “Never been sick, didn’t have to. If I took medicine it probably would make me sick.’’
She has seen a lot of changes in her 105 years, but if asked, she doesn’t really give it a second thought.