“The legend of the Poppi: Miracles, Love, Loss and Triumphs"
In the late morning on April 1, 1941 a woman named Dorothy called her husband Lehmond to let him know that she was going into labor. When he got to the phone he laughed, said good one, and hung up the phone thinking it was an April fools joke. Dorothy wasn’t due until mid June￼￼. She tried calling again but he didn’t even bother coming to the phone. She hung up and turned to her mother-in-law and asked to be driven to the hospital. Her mother-in-law refused as there was an ice storm and her mother-in-law did NOT drive in ice.￼￼￼ So, in an ice storm, Dorothy drove herself to the hospital while in labor. Although the details are foggy, Dorothy gave birth to her 4 lbs 2 oz little girl on the hospital steps in front of the hospital. The little girl, later to be named Neyla Colell Boyd , suffered some facial bruising as a result of being born on the steps. Hospital personnel quickly brought out a gurney and rushed Dorothy and Neyla Colell Boyd into the hospital and into the elevator.￼￼ While in the very slow moving elevator, Dorothy told the doctors she was having another baby. They assured her it was just the after birth. She yelled at them and told them they better just catch it. In that elevator she gave birth to a 2 lbs. 4 oz. little boy.￼ The little boy was obviously too tiny to survive, and much too frail to be born this early. The doctors chose to put him in a shoebox, cover the shoebox and put it in the corner to let the little boy die in peace. After working on Neyla for sometime, one of the nurses decided to check to see if the little boy had died. When she lifted up the sheet, she saw a little fighter. She told the doctors, “I think this one’s going to live”, and they began to work on the little boy later to be named Bruce Colell. Being born that premature, Bruce Colell had one nearsighted and one farsighted eye. He could actually make one pupil larger and smaller on command and loved to fool optometrists. His heart was too big for his little body and he had to see many doctors and specialists back then. His legs were also turned in and he had to wear braces until he was three years old. When Dorothy brought her twins home, many people wanted to see them. But she was embarrassed of the bruise on Neyla’s face. So she would bring down her little boy in his blue outfit and then she would race him upstairs, change him into a pink outfit and bring her “little girl” downstairs until Neyla’s bruise was gone.￼
Little Bruce’s father, Lehmond Colell earned the starting position for third base for the Pittsburgh Pirates.￼￼ During spring training he suffered an injury that triggered some rare blood issue. For treatment he was moved from Ohio to Tucson. When Bruce was seven years old his dad passed away due to this unknown blood condition. Dorothy kept her three children in Tucson and worked many jobs to raise her family on her own. They were extremely poor and lived in the Poor part of town in a very small one room house with a dirt floor. Dorothy cut hair to support her family, Butch aka Charles L. Colell got a paper route, and the three children picked leftover peanuts in a field of one of Dorothy‘s clients and sold them to earn enough money for the roof over their head.￼￼ Things were hard for the kids because their mother was a single working mom. That was not acceptable back then and the three children were picked on a lot. Butch was one of the toughest kids in Tucson and would fight just about anyone.￼
Because Dorothy was always working, the three children only had each other and the desert to explore.￼ Bruce was fiercely protective of his twin sister and older brother Butch (Charles L. Colell). so much so that if a little boy tried to look up his sisters skirt, he would hit them over the head with a brick. If Butch got in a fight, little Bruce was always there to back Butch up with a brick to his enemies heads. I honestly don’t know how big these bricks were but no children died or were seriously harmed during these incidents. Sometime after his dad‘s passing he decided that church was the place he needed to be. So every Sunday he would find a new church and volunteer to be baptized as he wanted to be saved. ￼He played football in junior high as a receiver and never once dropped the ball. He could jump up with three people covering him and always come down with the ball. However, he decided he was much too small for high school football after watching his big stronger brother get injured during his first week. In high school he won the Arizona gymnastics State championship and received multiple gold medals.
Poncho, (frank Barns) and Wayne Godare were Bruce’s very best friends while growing up. They had a wild adventures in the desert, wrecked a number of vehicles, but always had each other‘s back‘s. Bruce and Wayne enlisted in the service together. Wayne went on to achieve greatness in the military while Bruce was ushered to another room and not excepted into the military because of his eye deformity from being a preemie. Once Wayne left for the military Bruce and Wayne lost touch for over 50 years until they reconnected on Facebook. Frank, on the other hand, was able to stay in touch with Bruce and has been lifelong friends for over 70 years.The 3 friends united in 2017 for a wonderful long awaited reunion.
At the age of three little Bruce started playing the piano and fell in love with music. Throughout his life he learned he had the ability to play any instrument. Literally any instrument. He wrote thousands of compositions. He went to the University of Arizona and became the assistant band director. He created one of the most famous field shows in Arizona history. While attending the University he joined the fencing team. While walking home one night, someone jumped out to attack him and Bruce thwarted off the attack by jumping to the fencing position and lunging his foil into the attackers chest.￼ At some point he decided that California was the place to be and he moved to Ventura county where he got a job as the band director at Channel Islands high school. On his first day of school he saw a beautiful lady named Kristi Snyder, The daughter of a well-known and well respected local farmer. Bruce told his friend that he was going to marry that girl. His friend told him that she was much too far out of Bruce’s league. At the time Kristi Colell was just a substitute and Bruce decided he would introduce himself￼￼￼￼. When he got to her classroom, he noticed she was frustrated so we asked her how he could help. She was trying to plug something in but the outlets didn’t work. He decided to try and help. He could not help and she thought he was an idiot. A few months later she returned to channel Islands high school with a full-time job and Bruce got the courage to ask her out. On the third date he proposed and they were married six months later.
He earned his masters in composition and his PhD and piano. He was the first of his family to graduate college let alone get a PhD. He went on to teach 43 years in high school and college level music. He had groups that went all over the world touring. He was a guest pianist for Don Ho for an entire week while on a trip to Hawaii when Don Ho’s pianist became sick.￼ He was the church choir director at Saint Mary Magdalene for 21 years and took a group of 88 people on a pilgrimage to Rome where they had a private audience with the pope. While on the stage the pope grab Bruce his hand and drug him all over the stage not letting go. Bruce also took a group of 44 on a pilgrimage to the holy land. While on that trip he swim in the Jordan River with his youngest daughter and the rest of his life regretted not swimming to the other side as the Bible says, heaven is on the other side of the Jordan River. He achieved more music accolades than anyone could think possible. There was not one contest his high school jazz girls choir or high school jazz band couldn’t win. they even won every single the college contest they entered.
After his 43 years in music, he and his youngest daughter took a Spanish I course at Ventura college and he developed a passion for Spanish. He went on to take 42 units in Spanish, write a Spanish book for learning Spanish and taught several years at our local community center. He was drawn to anyone who looks like they might speak Spanish so he could practice. His four youngest grandchildren will be bilingual.
But no matter what accolade or amazing adventure Bruce was on, the pride and joy was with his Wife of 53 years and three daughters. Every time his wife, a local drama teacher, decided to do a musical, a fundraiser or a dinner dance, Bruce was there to provide all the music.￼￼ Because Kristi’s father was a farmer and grew price winning lemons, Bruce decided to Enter the Ventura county bake off￼￼ and compete against the best of the best for their lemon meringue pie. He won and became the first ever male “Ventura county bake off Queen”.￼
In the late ‘60’s Bruce began his martial arts career and achieved a 2nd degree black belt in kenpo and a 3rd degree black belt in judo. He trained with several friends and developed a 6 inch punch. His friend Denny developed a 3 in punch but Bruce’s shoulder couldn’t take the force. He competed in the first MMA fighting challenge and won his first match (because his opponent) was a no show. He lost the second round to a guy who was a “giant Amazon man”. He ended up quitting fighting because his facial bruises scared his 2 young girls. So instead of fighting, he judged martial arts contest with Chuck Norris.
When Bruce’s oldest daughter Alexis Colell Kinsley became a cheerleader at Moorpark college, he noticed that the football team was not supported by the band. So he took it upon himself to become the one-man band during the Moorpark college football games. He gave Moorpark the “on Wisconsin” theme as their fight song. He played tequila every game and got the crowd ramped up with his bugle playing “charge￼”. He proudly escorted her on the football field when she was one of Moorpark college’s homecoming princesses.￼￼ One of his best moments in life was when she called him to tell him she was expecting his first grandchild. Bruce decided that the child should be named Jack because he was eating cracker jacks at the time of the phone call. The child’s name is Caleb not Jack to the disappointment of Bruce. At that point Bruce had to pick a grandparent name. His grandpa was named pop and he decided that was what he was going to be named as well. Caleb decided that was not the case, and he would name Bruce poppi. And the legend of the poppi began. A few years later Bruce earned himself another grandson named Luke. Both Caleb and Luke would honor Bruce by learning the piano and trumpet and play in their Junior high jazz bands.
His middle daughter Tristan Colell was a world champion ice skater. He spent thousands of hours in many different rinks and every Monday, Bruce would leave at 2 AM and he would drive her to San Diego so she could train. They would leave at 2 AM so he could be back by 7 AM to start school. Every time she skated out on the ice, in his loudest voice he would shout “show ‘em how it’s done”! Bruce was Tristans fiercest champion and biggest supporter. When she retired from skating she started serving tables at different restaurants. Regularly, he would eat at those restaurants by himself in her section just to talk to her and see her smile. He visited her many times in Las Vegas and was with her on her 40th birthday. The most tragic day in his life was one week after her 40th birthday when he received the phone call from his son in law of her passing due to rare medical issues.
His youngest daughter Dominique was very different from the older two. She chose dirt sports so she could knock people around. He always signed up to be her softball coach. He would pick her up from Saint Mary Magdalene school every day and they would hit thrifty‘s to get ice cream. They would drive home and prepare for softball practice. It didn’t matter how many jobs he had, he was always her coach and even the All-Star coach. He would hit her ground balls till he was tired and he would pitch to her and until his arm was sore. Later, when she entered the Miss Ventura county pageant in 1999 he suggested using ice carving as a talent. That was very much unheard of but she had no other talent so together Bruce and Dominique started on a journey that would change her life and his retirement. Because of this decision Bruce would later learn how to carve ice and compete in five ice carving world championships in Fairbanks Alaska. He also became an ice delivery boy for images and ice. Because Dominique’s icehouse was in his backyard, she bought a house across the street. One of Bruce’s proudest moments was the day he found out that Dominique’s first son was named Bruce Colell Junior. by naming her son this, it was a great way to convince Bruce to be her Manny. And for the next few years he would spend 6 to 8 hours a day with Brucer and eventually Charlie, Dominique’s two older boys.
A very special moment in Bruce’s life was celebrating his 75th birthday with his twin sister, Brother, Niece Tammy Boyd Reschke, daughter and grandson in Montana.A few months after their 77th birthday, Neyla gained her wings as an angel and Bruce’s health begin to deteriorate. Within two months of her passing his health began to deteriorate. His friends, family and people on Facebook donated blood and send it to thousands of prayers for him. Every time, to the disbelief of the doctors, miracles would happen and he would eventually walk out of the hospital or rehab.
During his battle with pneumonia the first six months of 2020, he once again became a very proud poppi of boy/girl twins named Anndalyn and Casey (both preemies just ounces bigger then Bruce was). Three months after the twins were born, Bruce got to live with his daughter, son-in-law, four grandchildren, wife and little cocker spaniel for the next 21 months. Those were extremely special months in all of our lives.
It is with utter devastation and disbelief that we announce, that on April 5, 2022 God decided he needed a new choir director for His choirs of angels and Bruce Gained his wings as the families new guardian angel. There is nothing we wouldn’t give for one more smile and one more piano note
The Dr. Colell Scholarship scholarships are offered to current students who want to pursue an education in music.
Our community needs help. By providing a scholarship to a student can help with any expenses.
Copyright © 2022 Dr. Bruce Colell Memorial Scholarship Foundation - All Rights Reserved.