West Bend, WI – West Bend / Washington County lost one of the Godfathers of the community on Saturday, December 3, 2022, as Don Bell, founder of Cedar Lake Sales and Service has died.
Don was 91 years old. He originally started selling snowmobiles, boats and chainsaws during the early days of Cedar Lake Sales and Service in West Bend.
Brian Bell provided a trip down memory lane with details on how the store got its start as Cedar Lake Simplicity in 1968. “Mom and Dad received news they were awarded the Simplicity brand with lawn and garden equipment,” he said.
The Bells started the business in the rec room at their house on the west side of the lake; later they expanded to chainsaws and snowmobiles. Don’s Dad, Fred Bell, bought the first lawn tractor from the business. Don and Eileen knew with that support from Dad they were headed down the right path.
Fellow boat dealer Tim Keith from Keith’s Marina said Donny Bell was a pioneer, not only in the industry but for the growth of the City of West Bend.
“You look how the City of West Bend grew to the west, when my parents bought their place in 1972 in the boat business. The old Fleet Farm was the edge of town facing Dick’s Pizza on 18th Avenue and where Donny built his building, where it is now, was nowhere near that,” said Keith. “He started in the snowmobile business with Arctic Cat and the chainsaws and then he progressed into the boating business. Alan and Brian have it going now but it brought all these businesses out to our end of town and it’s good for us as well. People come out of the metro Milwaukee area to shop both our businesses, but Don was behind starting all of that. That’s how West Bend grew to the west rather than the east… he was a pioneer that way. He brought the car dealerships out as well.
“Don always did a lot of nice stuff for the people in the community with the annual Rabbit Hunt for MS,” said Keith. “He would always bring the tickets to the Boat Show in Milwaukee and guys would see him coming with those Rabbit Hunt tickets. He did a lot of good for the community.”
Kraig Sadownikow remembered Don, “What a gentleman. Always happy and smiling. I remember being a young Rotarian. I was having lunch at a table with Don and Jim Kiekhafer. They were debating who was the best morel mushroom hunter in town. Neither would give up their secret spots”
After one year in business, Don and Eileen incorporated in February 1969 and signed a lease to rent a building, their current location on Hwy 33 in West Bend. A franchise agreement was signed with Arctic Cat Snowmobiles and Chrysler Boats and Motors from Hartford, Wisconsin.
Mark Hofert of West Bend remembered those early days. “When Don Bell started Cedar Lake Sales, it was also a Simplicity Lawn/Garden equipment dealer. I used to go there to get parts for my dad’s riding mower. Very helpful advice given to a young person learning to do his own repairs. He was one of the business pioneers on that stretch of Highway 33. At that time, it was Township of Barton (on the north side of the road – Township of West Bend was on the south side). Other early businesses in that area were Golden Knight Supper Club and Ace Auto Trim. Sud’s Volkswagen was on the south side of the road – now known as Boucher Ford. Wonder if the Volkswagen brand will ever return to West Bend?”
In 1972, Don and Eileen doubled the size of their building because they were growing so fast. They sold 350 Arctic Cat snowmobiles in 1972 alone. In 1974, Don and Eileen signed on the Lowe Boat franchise and had two boat lines to sell.
Robbie Robrahn grew up next door to the Bell family.
“Don actually gave me my first job at 16 years old,” said Robrahn. “I was a parts manager. We put stuff together, tractors and stuff and helped with deliveries.”
Robrahn said his dad died when he was 15 and Donny took him under his wing. “He was kind. A great boss. He kept me busy. I would go to school and get out early and go to work. I knew all his kids while growing up.”
Robrahn said Don Bell was a man with a vision. “He knew the importance of hard work and being part of the community, “said Robrahn. “I just passed that new building they’re putting up on Highway 33. He’s got to be so proud of his boys because they kept this as a family thing. Donny taught them well.”
Aside from business, Robrahn said ‘family’ is what was most important to Don Bell. “All the fun we had up north when they took me snowmobiling when I was a youngster. Family was important to him, and all the children in the neighborhood. They always made sure the kids had fun, whether it be playing in the barn, or we played kick the can and they had a big place that everybody could come around.”
Another family-owned business in West Bend, the Gonrings from West Bend Elevator, realize the trailblazing Don and Eileen did in the community. “Don’s history of supporting our community and one of West Bend’s elders of business will be missed but not forgotten,” said the West Bend Elevator family.
Todd Tennies of Tennies Ace Hardware said Don adhered to simple values in business. “He was true to his word, honest and fair,” said Tennies. “Great small businessman and a loss to the community; he knew a lot of people and was a big name in the boating industry.”
Local locksmith Terry Vrana grew his business as Don Bell was busy setting the pace with his. “I’ve known Don for as long as I can remember,” said Vrana. “One of the most fun-loving and honest people I’ve ever met. He was a visionary and a great businessman, that’s for sure. He was great with people and knew what he was doing, and he was always in such a good mood, always happy.”
“He was a pillar of the community,” said Scott Tennies. “A great businessman and he raised a great family.”
Bill Mitchell was a DNR warden for years and a friend of Dons. “When we met at the American Club Don said, ‘Who you all meet when you ain’t got your gun.’ Don was a sweet guy and ran a good business. We will miss him.”
One of his prized accomplishments was co-founding Rabbits Unlimited Ltd., a non-profit organization dedicated to raising funds for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society for MS research and support. During the past 21 years, over $750,000 has been raised to fight MS, the disease that affected his son and daughter.
Funeral details will be posted when information becomes available.