Funeral is Saturday for Ann Arbor educator killed in Northern Michigan car crash
Ann Arbor Public Schools employee Yolanda Bell was regarded by her colleagues as a private, caring and hard-working individual — one truly dedicated to serving Washtenaw County's special needs students.
Her dedication led her to travel Monday to Traverse City for the annual Blended Learning Conference for special education professionals.
But Bell, 59, was killed in a traffic collision just outside of Cadillac, near the Wexford County Road Commission building.
At about 9:40 a.m., Bell crossed the centerline along M-115 and struck an SUV. She and the driver of the SUV were pronounced dead at the scene.
From Penn Funeral Home
“She was a sweet, very caring, very visionary person,” said County Special Education Director Jennifer Scott-Burton. “She had a real passion for students and for doing what was best for kids to help them meet the dreams they wanted to meet after high school.”
As the transition coordinator, Bell worked directly with special education students and their families to help ease them through their K-12 experiences. Her job was to transition cognitively and emotionally impaired children as well as children with severe disabilities from elementary to middle school and from middle to high school and beyond, Scott-Burton said.
Bell brought leadership to countywide discussions and initiatives on how to assist students after graduation, working with the other transition coordinators in the county, Scott-Burton said.
“She was a real key player at the high school level helping families to see kids coming out (of high school) and being that adult, which is sometimes difficult when dealing with a special needs family,” Scott-Burton said.
Bell excelled with forward thinking and helping families with high school freshmen explore and contemplate which post-secondary options best aligned with their individual needs and strengths, Scott-Burton said, including whether a child would go on to college, into the workforce, independent living or another situation.
“She met consistently with families, staff and students to talk about their visions and what the staff and students need to do and work on together. Whether it be job coaching or something else, (Bell) helped set up those conditions,” Scott-Burton said.
Bill Harris, a principal at Eberwhite Elementary School in Ann Arbor, worked with Bell for four years while he served as the assistant director of Student Interventions and Support Services at AAPS. In addition to saying Bell was a soft-spoken and kind-hearted woman, Harris said she always tried to make everyone else’s job as easy as possible.
“Whenever the district or the state came in and said something it needed us to do, she was very good at implementing it and framing it in a way that was teacher friendly and respectful of the time and efforts the teachers were already putting in,” Harris said.
“Anybody who called, she would help without hesitation.”
Harris said he was shocked by the news of her tragic, sudden death.
“Everyone here (at AAPS) is in a state of transition between the school year and the summer. So everyone is busy tying up loose ends and while there is never a good time for this to occur, the timing made it particularly surreal,” he said, explaining the accident caused people to slow down and reflect.
In addition to being dedicated to helping children, she also was dedicated to her church, Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, where she had been a member for more than 10 years, said Pastor Jerry Hatter.
“She was a very gentle, kind and caring individual and really sought to help others find their way to church and to Christ,” Hatter said.
Bell was active in Bible studies, the V.I.R.T.U.O.U.S Women Ministry and various community outreach and service projects. Most recently, she was an organizer of Women’s Day at the church, Hatter said.
“The congregation is very hurt and grieving (over Bell’s death). Everybody was knocked back. She was such as wonderful lady and we will miss her,” he said.
Hatter said Bell’s parents recently died, as did a sister and her youngest daughter. Bell is survived by her husband, Hubert, and one daughter, Bettina.
Arrangements are being made by Penn Funeral Home in Inkster. Hatter said Bell was an Inkster native.
A funeral service for Bell will take place at 11 a.m. Saturday at Brown Chapel Church, 1034 W. Michigan Ave. in Ypsilanti Township, with a family hour at 10 a.m.
Interment will be at United Memorial Gardens in Plymouth.