Kell Bench 001

A bench in Sunset Park in Rock Island that dedicated in the memory of John T. O'Meara Jr., Ellis Kell and Chuck Hanson.

That it had been a year since her husband, Ellis, died seems impossible to Kristi Kell.

But, the one-year mark of the Quad-City music icon’s passing on Dec. 16 came and went.

“It's just unreal. I can't believe it,” Kell said. “It seems like it can't be a year.”

A few days before the anniversary, though, Kell was gifted a new way to remember and honor her late husband, a lifelong musician who helped start the River Music Experience in Davenport.

Friends of the family Terry and Shelley Hanson dedicated a bench in Sunset Park, Rock Island, to Ellis Kell and two other longtime members of the music community who recently passed: John T. “Johnny O” O'Meara Jr., who died on April 22, 2015, and Chuck Hanson, who died in March 2017.

In front of the bench, there’s a brick inscribed with their names and the words, “Gone too soon: Their love of music lives on.”

Big emptiness

The three losses within the last three years hit Terry Hanson hard.

He played in bands with O’Meara , who Hanson described as “a phenomenal musician who could play it all” and Kell, a singer and guitarist who favored blues music, and considered them best friends.

“When I lost John, it was bad and then Ellis came along, and it was like boom,” Hanson said. “There was a big emptiness.”

A few months later, his younger brother, Chuck, passed. They were in several bands together, including Moonshine in the '70s and Country Blue in recent years. 

“It was a big time loss not just for us but for the community,” Hanson said. “They all had great hearts and they had fun and played great music. That’s why people liked them.”

A place to go say hello

Hanson and his wife, who live in East Moline, say they dedicated the bench for “everyone.”

“I think it’s going to be great for a lot of folks to go down there and think about them,” Hanson said. “I don’t think we’re going to be the only ones going down there. It’s a place you can go hang with them and say hello.”

A few days after the memorial was finished, Shelley Hanson posted on Facebook photos of the bench covered with Christmas decorations.

She tagged about 50 of her Facebook friends and wrote: “This is something we have wanted to do for awhile and it’s now done… These three losses really hit us hard as it did basically to our whole community. And we just wanted a place we could go in memory of them.”

When Kristi Kell heard about the Hansons’ plans, she thought: “How sweet that is.”

The community, she said, has been supporting her family in big ways since Ellis passed by holding memorial concerts and sending cards and even by including his name in the 12-by-24-foot “Welcome to downtown Davenport” mural near the Government Bridge.

“It's all very touching,” Kell said. “We want to thank the community for the support and keeping his memory alive."

The bench at Sunset Park — and the memories that go along with it — is another big way.

“I have so many memories and they run through my head,” she said. “I can make myself laugh out loud.”

On a cold day just three days before Dec. 16, Kell said she went down to sit on the bench for the first time.

She looked down and saw her husband's name and looked up to see Lake Potter.

She thought of the times she and Ellis had walked down there to watch the sunset and talk. She thought of how Ellis and Johnny O grew up in Rock Island and had often fished together on the lake. 

It brought tears to her eyes. And it made her smile.

“It’s a place I can go and sit and remember him and I don't have to say a word,” she said. “It just means the world to me. It’s a wonderful tribute.”

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Amanda Hancock is a reporter covering food, arts and entertainment in the Quad-Cities (and beyond).