Today is Monday – but it’s not just another Monday. It is the first Monday of the rest of our life. The Monday after the Gil Belles Memorial. I have been gone from our blog for so long, working. I have been focused on earning money, doing the things that I do for a paycheck, (of which this is not yet one). This is just my passion – the thing I truly love, writing about our travel, what leads up to it, and results from it, interjected with logic and my personal beliefs or lack thereof. I had to set this passion aside to pay off some debt. Because there just isn’t time to do EVERYTHING. Since last November I’ve been working at Kohl’s Department Store. It was a clever way to get into someone else’s pocket for some income, when you don’t have any “credentials”. This spring / summer I have been doing Bleacher Inspections for the Rockford Public Schools. It is my Belles Architecture “pet project” that comes around every couple of years. I had been attempting to balance my time between all my obligations, Belles Architecture, Belles Travel, Kohl’s, and our Airbnb. All of which consists of bookkeeping, hourly work, travel consulting, travel booking, cleaning, cooking, laundry, dog walking, inspection tours, and of course a little YOGA, when suddenly one day – everything changed.
May 25, 2017 began as an ordinary Thursday at Belles Architecture and Belles Travel. I sit across from Rob in our open home office. I can hear all of his conversations. A call came in – Rob’s phone rang. “Belles Architecture, Rob Speaking” are the words that I always hear. This time followed by a different voice and “Oh, NO! – What happened?” I jumped up, and scurried over to his desk, where I could see his face. I needed a clue. Who was it? What had happened? I hope to never see the face I saw again. Rob had a pen in his hand and had written two words “GIL BELLES“.
My heart sank – and a sigh of relief swept through me – ALL AT ONCE…. I sensed that Rob’s Uncle Gil was dead – that it had been tragic – but at the same time I was relieved that the call was NOT about either of our daughters! I listened and waited, for the conversation to end. When Rob hung up he said “Gil is dead. His car was hit be an Amtrak train” “Who was it?” I asked. “The McDonough County Coroner” he replied.
A series of emotions swept through our home for the next several days and weeks…. beginning with disbelief, riddled with confusion and deep sorrow. Rob’s Uncle Gil was this super fit guy! Years ago he had been on the cover of an AARP type magazine! He was better than “well known” in the Macomb Illinois community. He was that guy that was involved in everything. He was a philanthropist who spent nothing on himself, except to give in his own name. No one really knew how old he was, because you couldn’t tell. He was still doing a daily workout that consisted of swimming, weight lifting, and biking, and the day he died was likely no exception.
The first thing I thought was – well – if May 25th, 2017 was Gil’s day to go, he wasn’t going to die naturally; “the train” had to be the means. I don’t even believe in having a designated “Day to go”! This just felt confusing. While another part of me said – WHEW – “Tragic Family Death” CHECK THE BOX on the life form. It’s done, what’s the chance of it happening again?… yep it’s done. And then I saw all of his “real family” the people in Macomb posting about their tragic loss. I knew that we had to help them through it. But I also knew that it would be fascinating to learn about this mysterious uncle and to meet his friends.
I do think it was right that he died suddenly, like this, because Gil Belles was never going to be good at “old age”. He was going to fight it kicking and screaming. I saw this whole community of people who had suffered a great loss, and needed to be lead to a peaceful place of closure. What I love is writing. I saw an opportunity to write. It wasn’t going to make me any money but I would enjoy it, even under the tragic circumstances. But above everything it was an opportunity to make a difference. It was an opportunity to help people heal and find closure after the death of their dear friend. I knew that the task was our’s even though we didn’t know, any of the people well. Rob and his sister Julia were legal “next of kin”. Gil was single and likely unattached – through no fault of our’s, Gil had kept much of his personal life from the family – it just wasn’t a topic of conversation at the dinner table, which was the only table we ever shared with him. And it didn’t matter, I knew the responsibility of celebrating his life was the responsibility of his family because that is how our society works. So,I set out to gather the info we needed, to plan a series of events. Through these events Gil’s friends could celebrate his life and all the good he had done for the Macomb Community. I created some google forms – and shared them on Social Media. Which really got the ball rolling.
I can tell you an event like this really gives you a new outlook on life. They say, and I believe, that everything happens for a reason. Boy did we need a reason to re-learn to LOVE life and appreciate each new day. A few years back we branched out from Architecture, to share our passion for international travel. We were weary of the thankless work we did as Architects and were hoping to inspire our friends and associates to take their desperately needed vacation time, by opening our travel business Belles World Travel. We poured our hearts and souls into it, piddling away about ten thousand dollars earmarked for the effort, in no time – and with almost no results. (We DO appreciate those friends and family who have patronized our new business) Lynn worked the travel business full time, and gave up her billable work and paycheck from Belles Architecture for the cause, creating an even deeper family shortage. Three years later we are working day and night in order to recover. I am not even sure what day it was when we learned, first hand, that ANY day could be our LAST.
We have a new point of reference in our home. We get ANOTHER DAY! Another Monday. Today I needed to write. I love the thinking that writing requires. The ponderance of emotion, and the way you are forced to sort your thoughts into a logical process.
Sunday night we returned from the Celebration of Uncle Gil’s life, where hundreds of people participated in different events. The 24 hour celebration consisted of a community potluck put on by the West Central Illinois Arts Center – where he served on the Board of Directors. We had so much fun we forgot to take any pictures!
The next morning there was a Fun Run – where 50+ of Gil’s fitness and YMCA friends gathered for a 5K Run / 1 Mile Walk on the WIU campus. We gave away some of Gil’s fitness awards, event t-shirts, and equipment. Gil Belles even made an appearance by randomly popping his bike tire, while everyone was gathered and paying attention. His bike had been ridden to the event by his great niece Susan Belles.
In the afternoon there was a short program at COFAC Hall followed by an Ice Cream Social on the Western Illinois University Campus. Many people that I met complimented me for the organization of the email campaigns that I used to keep everyone informed, gather input, and delegate authority to people whom we had not previously known. My main objective had been to allow them all to “feel included” and to make sure that no one was wondering what was going on. I had the best time doing it, even under the circumstances. I believe that Gil, who really didn’t know me well at all, would have a new respect for people, who were what he would consider to be “under educated”. I am sure that no one, including Dr. Belles, can tell that I have but a GED. I wish that more people understood that going to school is only ONE way to “become educated”. This was my opportunity to shine as an “unschooled individual” among University types. <CLICK HERE> to see a video of the short program.
This Monday meets me with a distinct desire to do something notable – and a true discovery that I really love to write. Whether I continue this Travel Blog or not – I will keep writing. I have discovered a gift that gives me fulfillment, and an understanding of every part of me, my life, and even parts of YOU!
Well……. A whirlwind 8 days after Gil Belles’ death Rob and I booked a trip to Egypt that we had been “on the fence” about. We can barely afford it. But why not? I mean – if we are still here in September, we will fly to Cairo Egypt, where we will connect with our guide Ayman Elshafie, an educator with a PhD in Egyptology and spend a few days seeing Cairo, the pyramids of Giza (ANCIENT ARCHITECTURE!!) before flying to Luxor where we will embark on an Egyptian Cruise Ship and set sail up the Nile River. Yep – that’s our kind of thing! During our Cruise we will watch the sun rise over the Valley of the Kings from a Hot Air Baloon. Our ship will stop every day to visit a different ancient Egyptian temple, until we reach the Aswan Dam. After over-night-ing in Aswan and exploring the famous market of spices we will return to Cairo by air – choosing either to visit Alexandria with the group, or venture off to Hurghada, a beach resort town stretching some 40km along Egypt’s Red Sea coast, (my preference) before our return flight to Chicago. We saw no reason not to. As I write this today we are debt free. Everything is paid off and we can begin again.
We are quite willing to share our adventures here – but it takes a lot of time, and time is money. So if you enjoy reading our posts please let us know in a quick reply, or comment. Because we all need a cheerleader now and then! So far this effort has not really paid off, like we had hopped. Please click around to learn more about our mission. We really need your help to find the right audience of people interested in intellectual, adventurous, travel. We are looking for Architecture LOVING, lifetime learners with limited fear and open minds. These people are willing to allow us to benefit from sharing our experiences. Not people who read the free content and run off to book on their own! YES – I want you to travel. But it’s not because of the money I’m going to make. It is because of the richness of the experience that I know you will have, the wisdom you will gain, and the world peace it will foster. Any money that we make merely enables us to continue sharing, to teach the value of international travel to even the greatest of skeptics!
Meanwhile we will be here, at our home sweet home, The Belles Home Resort, enjoying the abundance of beauty that we have created for ourselves! I will be finishing up the 2017 Bleacher Inspections and Packing for Egypt! Rob is off to diffuse a potential lawsuit – by a client who built on a restricted budget, 15 years ago, and then failed to maintain the building. Now they are looking for someone to blame – what a profession!
“Travel Like an Architect!” Get the hell away! Do something that makes your heart pound and makes you feel whole! Explore & Celebrate Life – Because you never know when you might get clobbered by an Amtrak train!
Rob’s uncle Gil had two trips booked at the time of his death. His annual trip to New York City and a trip to visit his life long friend in Michigan, Ken Block. Gil Belles was 76 years old. He died on May 25th and has missed both those trips. Don’t wait – Don’t leave an empty seat – make your plans – call today! 607-Get-Away
People who didn’t know will keep turning up for a while….
We are truly sorry that we missed you. We did our best to find people using Social Media (Gil’s Facebook Page) and a series of shareable Email Campaigns. There was a lot of information disseminated prior to the Memorial Events. Click HERE to review the Email Campaign Archive.
The question that we keep getting is “What was done with Gil?” – There will be more information about this coming. Click here to read an email “Final Resting Place” in the Archive.
If you want to notified of any future “News” Join the list HERE
If you have some info that you want sent out to our “Gil Belles Memorial List” please contact us. It could be a funny story or other memory that would add interest to otherwise boring content 🙂
Phone: Rob Belles (Gil’s Nephew) 815-961-0504 “Belles Firm of Architecture”