By Liz Collin

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — As a long-time construction worker, Mike Bell was known for his toughness. The 79-year-old beat cancer three times, but then COVID-19 infected his entire family, just as they were planning to be vaccinated.

While his daughter, Colleen Flaten, may not have been able to escape the stories, her father had reason to be proud of the 40 years he spent as a heavy equipment manager.

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“Every time we drive somewhere [Bell would say], ‘Hey, I dug the footings at that building.’ Yeah, we couldn’t go anywhere where he wouldn’t talk about one of his job sites,” Flaten said.

Bell was known for his craftsmanship, his passion for restoring wooden boats and his opinionated nature.

“Kind of came across as this rugged, hardcore man, but deep inside he just had the biggest heart ever,” Flaten said.

Mike Bell (credit: Collen Flaten)

His daughter believes that fighting spirt helped him to beat laryngeal, skin and lung cancers — all within the last decade with the help of Mayo Clinic doctors. But it was on Dec. 31 his entire household learned they had COVID, including Bell’s wife, daughter, son-in-law and grandson.

“Day 9 of COVID, he went into the hospital and never came home,” Flaten said.

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It was the same day Norma, Bell’s wife, was also hospitalized.

“They were both in the hospital at the same time. She was in one hospital, and he was in another,” she said.

Only Norma was able to make it out. After a video conversation, her husband of 53 years took a turn for the worse.

“That was the last picture of them together and I’m so glad I got it,” Flaten said.

Flaten is also a school nurse. She had planned for her parents to be vaccinated very soon, pushing others to keep their guards up.

“I think a lot of people don’t realize until they lose a loved one how serious it is, and we need to keep protecting our people,” Flaten said.

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In addition to his wife, Bell is survived by five children, 16 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren. His family was able to hold a small, socially-distanced service on Jan. 15 in Forest Lake in his honor.

Liz Collin