Meeting Bob and Dolly Jewell is like catching up with old friends; hugs are exchanged, and the conversation is lively. They banter and tell stories. Laughter is a guarantee.
Bob and Dolly both grew up in challenging circumstances, and when asked what allowed them to rise above, Dolly refers to a piece of paper, held by a magnet on their refrigerator, on which Matthew 17:20 is written: “Jesus said, ‘I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.’”
“Dolly has led a remarkable life,” says Bob. “She’s been a loving, caring mother and wife in spite of her upbringing.”
Dolly (neé Boucher) was born on July 25, 1931, in Muskegon, Michigan. When she was three, her mother married another man and took Dolly to live with her new family, while her brother stayed with their father. Dolly’s stepfather was an alcoholic, and she hid in fear during her mother and stepfather’s frequent fights.
Dolly’s mother sent her to a boarding school in Tennessee when she was 14. Dolly says, “When cockroaches fell in the soup, the servers picked them out but still served the soup.” She had the strength to self-advocate, and her mother transferred her to another boarding school. When she graduated in 1949, she stayed on at the school as Assistant Dean of Girls. Besides overseeing students, she cared for patients in the on-site hospital and worked in the kitchen and garden, all for $20 a month.
In 1951 Dolly moved back to Grand Rapids to live with her dad. She attended the Seventh Day Adventist Church, where she met Bob.
Bob was born on July 25, 1926, in Lansing, Michigan. When he was three, and his brother was two, their father married another woman with whom he’d had a child. In 1931 Bob’s mother moved with her sons to the Grand Rapids area. They rented a place for $25 a month, and then the alimony stopped coming. After taking correspondence courses to become a beautician, his mother set up a beauty shop in the second bedroom. “She set women’s hair for 25 cents, which was good money during the depression,” says Bob.
Later, Bob’s mother rented the basement of a store in Wyoming Park for her shop. With tenderness, Bob recalls how she walked there, over a mile away, in all seasons and worked tirelessly to provide for the family. He also credits their survival to the goodness of relatives who shared their homes temporarily and a grocer who allowed them to purchase food on credit until his mother could settle the bill.
After 20 years, Bob’s mother purchased a house. Bob says, “How she ever saved enough from doing hairstyles, I’ll never know. It was important to her that her children received an education. Schoolwork had to be done before anything else.”
In June of 1944, after he graduated from high school, Bob was drafted into the navy. He trained in electronics, then cryptography in California.
“I asked fellow servicemen how to become a Christian, and he said, ‘You have to believe in God and that He cares.’ Later I was walking down the street, and I thought, ‘I do believe He cares.’ I didn’t have an aim in life until then, but a short time afterward I decided to be an optometrist.”
When World War II ended, Bob had enough points to take advantage of the G.I. Bill, and after he graduated from the Northern Illinois College of Optometry in 1949 he started a practice. According to Bob, he needed to learn some lessons in humility. His practice did not thrive, so he joined the Muskegon Co-Optical and later the Grand Rapids Co-Optical, where he worked for 35 years until his retirement.
When the Jewells met, according to Dolly, it was not love at first sight. But Bob told his mother he’d met the girl of his dreams. He wrote letters to Dolly, which she has kept to this day, and eventually won her over.
The Jewells were married on June 14, 1953. Dolly trained to become a hairdresser and had a shop in their home, but when her daughter Sheri was born in 1956, she devoted herself to motherhood. Two sons followed: Michael (1957) and Steve (1960). They later chose a daughter, Kathy, to be part of their family.
In the 1950s, Bob began traveling to Haiti and Honduras with other professionals, including a doctor and dentist, to set up temporary clinics. Before the trips, he collected eyeglasses of various prescription strengths. Once there, he tested the vision of local residents and provided suitable glasses. Dolly accompanied Bob to Haiti in 1975. She says, “A lady came into the clinic with the sole of a shoe tied to her foot. After seeing poverty firsthand, I said I’d never need anything again.”
Bob adds, “You can be happy with nothing because happiness doesn’t consist of what you have, it’s who you are.”
When asked how their upbringing shaped their perspectives on marriage and family, Dolly says, “My mother wasn’t a role model, and I didn’t want to be like her. I don’t believe in divorce. I took my vows ‘till death do us part’ seriously, and we didn’t want a broken family. We loved our kids and thought we had the best kids in the world.”
Bob says, “I had a wonderful mother, she taught me how to love, and I grew up with a sense of responsibility. Dolly and I have faith in common.”
Bob and Dolly still enjoy traveling in their motor home named “The Jewell Box.” Bob enjoys the scenery, while Dolly appreciates the destination. They have been to every state except Alaska. “We’re thinking of going next year,” says Dolly.
The Jewells have four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Their son Michael died of cancer in 2015. In the face of heartache, Bob finds solace in the same belief that led him to become a Christian in the first place: “Cast all your cares on Him, because He cares for you.” – Proverbs 12:25
In 2016 Bob and Dolly moved to Sunset. Dolly says, “When we moved here I told people, ‘I’m Dolly Parton, and this is Bob Hope. We’re celebrities.’”
Bob looks at Dolly and says, “We’re not celebrities, we’re more of a nuisance.”
When asked about the secret to a long marriage, Bob says, “When a disagreement arises, try to see the other side.”
Dolly quips, “Our new place is small, we don’t have room for an argument.”
According to Sunset staff, the Jewells add vibrancy to the community and are always up for participating, whether it be dressing up for Halloween or portraying Mary and Joseph in the live Nativity scene.
“The Lord has been very kind to us because we don’t deserve what we have,” says Bob. “And we couldn’t have made it without God and Christ.”