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For 105 years, Valrico resident has simply 'lived good'

VALRICO — Iva Lee Haygood Bell has lived through both World Wars.

She experienced the passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. She has witnessed the Civil Rights movements, dial-up Internet, three generations of family and seven generations of iPhones.

Bell recently celebrated the living history of her life with a 105th birthday celebration.

"She married my dad ... and they just lived a good life," said Bell's daughter, 74-year-old Gloria Osgood.

Although she has depended on Osgood to be her caregiver for the last 14 years, Bell still enjoys socializing through exercise, puzzles and bingo at the Bloomingdale West Recreation Center.

"She's been coming here since 2009 and she's very active," said nutrition and wellness manager Mary Jo McKay. "She didn't start using a walker until last year."

Bell, born in 1911 in Alpharetta, Ga., moved to Tampa at age 15. After meeting a new friend, the two often took the trolley from her Gary home down Seventh Avenue to the bustle of Ybor City. There, at a drugstore soda counter across from the Columbia Restaurant, she met a man named Rowland.

The following year, she married Rowland Bell. In those early years, they spent time at Tampa Theatre, the city's first air-conditioned building, and enjoyed picnics at Bok Tower in Lake Wales. They also frequented the Goody Goody Restaurant, a drive-in that had opened in 1925.

Her Hillsborough roots run deep as she recalls rolling cigars for Hav-A-Tampa during the Great Depression while her husband worked at the Tampa shipyards. She remembers a place that no longer exists, citing her time living in Gary, a community that was once on the outskirts of Ybor City.

The Bells ended up settling in Brandon and opening Bell's Grocery in 1953 near the intersection of Brandon Boulevard and Lithia-Pinecrest.

"Everybody knew everybody," said Bell's grandson Michael Wigh. "It was a gathering spot and a family store."

The store closed in 1963 — after a widening of Brandon Boulevard took away much of its parking — and Bell landed a position at a Maas Brothers department store in downtown Tampa until she retired 20 years later. She would spend the next 56 years as Rowland's wife until he passed away in 1984.

Bell's family can attest to her not taking any medications and never drinking or smoking, and she doesn't think she does anything unique to have kept her health. "I live an everyday, ordinary life and I don't do anything spectacular," Bell says.

While she doesn't claim to have any special tips on her health and longevity, she does have one bit of wisdom to share:

"I just say live good."

Contact Kelsey Sunderland at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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