Our Walsworth – Fulton location is a leader in the regional publication market and excels in production of magazines, journals and catalogs. The production of commercial publications in Fulton, Missouri, officially began in 1927, when Ovid K. Bell founded The Ovid Bell Press. However, the beginnings of what is today Walsworth – Fulton can be dated back to 1887, when John P. Bell, Ovid K. Bell’s father, became Owner and Editor of the Fulton Gazette, a weekly newspaper that later became part of the Fulton Sun.
The Ovid Bell Press was acquired by Walsworth in 2012 and was integrated into the Walsworth name in 2020. After almost a century of commercial printing, the Fulton location remains steadfast in the diligent leadership of the press operation and continued service to the community in which it thrives.
The Pioneering Spirit of the Bell Family
The town of Fulton sits in the county seat of Callaway County, Missouri. Callaway County, or the Kingdom of Callaway, was settled by the nephew of Daniel Boone in 1818 and named after Boone’s grandson. Fulton itself was settled in the summer of 1825 and was named after Robert Fulton, the American inventor whose first steamboat traversed the Hudson just years earlier. The original area of the town comprised 50 acres of land which lies today between the boundaries of Sixth and First Streets, north to south, and Bluff and Nichols Streets, east to west. The 147 original lots of land sold for about one dollar each.
The history of Fulton and Callaway County was of special importance to Ovid K. Bell, and as a student of history, he sought to learn and write historical accounts of his birthplace. In Ovid K. Bell’s Short History of Callaway County, written in 1913, he described with fond regard the resilience of the first settlers of Fulton, saying it “was not unlike that elsewhere on the frontier of civilization. The men were robust and stalwart, the women strong and resourceful.”
The town of Fulton quickly flourished, and the population increased rapidly as the county began to grow in political prominence. Nearly every need for the county was supplied by its capable inhabitants. From growing their own food to manufacturing building materials, wagons and hunting supplies, the town of Fulton grew to be self-sustaining. This pioneering spirit lived also in the Bell family, whose citizenship in Fulton dates back to the 1850s.
John P. Bell, Ovid K. Bell’s father, moved to Callaway County from Virginia and worked on his family’s farm as a boy. After attending Westminster College in 1861, John P. Bell took over the farm and started a family of his own. Ovid K. Bell was born in 1875 to John P. Bell and his wife, Emma Keen (Gilbert) Bell, as the first of five children.
A Promise of Growth
The Bell family was always involved in the community, and John P. Bell was elected county collector in 1884 wherein he acted as Deputy County Officer for three years. Upon the end of his term, John P. Bell retired from the collector’s office and purchased the Fulton Telegraph in 1887. The Telegraph had been a prominent newspaper in the state of Missouri since 1845. It may be possible some of the first printing equipment ever to be in the Kingdom of Callaway was in the Telegraph plant, as the Telegraph’s predecessor, the Banner of Liberty, was the first newspaper established in the area in 1839.
John P. Bell changed the publication’s name to the Fulton Gazette, where he served as Owner and Editor. At just 12 years old, Ovid K. Bell set his first line of type in the office of his father’s newspaper in 1887. After dividing his time between public schooling and working to meet the workload demands of the Gazette, Ovid K. Bell was able to attend Westminster College for a time as his father had before him.
In 1897, Ovid K. Bell became the private secretary and assistant to Missouri Congress Representative Richard Parks “Silver Dick” Bland, who was close friends with John P. Bell. In late 1899, Ovid K. Bell traveled to Washington D.C. to work with Bland and later worked in the bureau of a Philadelphia newspaper in D.C. Although his dream was to become a Washington correspondent for a metropolitan newspaper, he returned to Fulton in 1900 to aid his father at the Gazette.
From Debt to Distinction
In light of his father’s declining health, Ovid K. Bell took responsibility of the Fulton Gazette in 1901 as the weekly newspaper’s new Owner and Editor. Unfortunately, the weekly newspaper was facing an uncertain future. The Gazette was deeply in debt, had less than 500 subscribers in the county and was operating out of meager facilities. Ovid K. Bell made the difficult decision to sell the Gazette’s building to satisfy the company debt and move to a rented space until the Gazette could get back on its feet. This allowed Ovid K. Bell to keep the Gazette running as he worked to create a new beginning for the publication.
Ovid K. Bell’s passions for politics, history and journalism fueled his diligent work at the Gazette. Ovid K. Bell prudently applied himself toward building up a newspaper which was, as he said, “worthy of support as a servant of the people.” As the business grew, Ovid K. Bell made the publication his own, rebuilding the paper to reflect his intentional drive to serve the people around him in the best way he could. He listened to the desires of his readers in order to provide them with news they would not receive otherwise. In response to his choice to include a stock and farming section in the paper, he said, “I want to give them what they want and what will help them.”
In addition to the business, he remained active in his community, including playing a role in a movement to get Joseph W. Folk elected as Missouri governor in 1904. Ovid K. Bell himself became Secretary of the Democratic State Committee in the same year.
In a 1911 edition, The Evening Missourian newspaper highlighted Ovid K. Bell’s determination, saying, “The Fulton Gazette is a country weekly that stands high in the field of journalism. It has risen above the average paper and has become a real newspaper, a newspaper that is vitally interested in the people and things of its county… Ovid Bell is not ‘the man that stood still.’ He coupled his energy and ambition to his experience in journalism, squared himself behind the Gazette and pushed.”
Throughout Ovid K. Bell’s first decade as the driving force behind the Gazette, he reformed and revitalized the paper. During this time, his purpose-driven focus remained on serving the people of Callaway County, and he attributed much of the company’s growth to the fact that the Gazette supplied their needs.
With the growing success of the Gazette, Ovid K. Bell was able to move the company into a new building in 1911 with a flat-bed press, a linotype machine, a cylinder press with electric motors and an ample supply of type. His changes to the Gazette resulted in its subscribers rising from a list of under 500 to that of over 3,000 names in the county and out to other states.
“A newspaper is a servant, and when it fails to serve those who are depending on it, it has no reason for existing. The daily papers cover news of general interest, and practically every man in this county reads them. It is in our field, where things are going on that the daily papers do not get, that the Gazette is trying to cover.”
– Ovid K. Bell, The Evening Missourian, 1911
Ovid K. Bell was a man with great journalistic ability, dignity, enthusiasm and strength with which he upheld the best traditions of his profession throughout his career. He was a member of the Missouri Press Association (MPA) starting in 1894 and was elected president of Missouri Editors in the MPA in 1912. He was also active in the National Press Association and was the Chairperson of the Department of Weekly Newspapers.
First Periodical Client
Over the following years, Ovid K. Bell built relationships with many business owners and political leaders in the county through his personal relationships and involvement in the community. Through his leadership at the Gazette, he made relationships with many local business owners who paid for advertisements in the paper. He saw potential to take on additional printing jobs from local businesses and run their publications at times when the presses were not otherwise running.
In 1924, Ovid K. Bell wrote in a letter to The Journal of the Missouri Medical Association, “If we are given the job, I shall be glad to give it my personal attention.” This client, now the Missouri State Medical Association, is a client Walsworth proudly serves to this day.
“Customer service is top notch! We are approaching our 100th year anniversary of printing with Ovid Bell/Walsworth in 2025,” remarked Lizabeth Fleenor of the Missouri State Medical Association. “That says a lot about the integrity, professionalism, and quality of the business and its organization.” The relationship carried over and continues to thrive as a testament to the strong and loyal relationships both the Bell and Walsworth families have developed with the people and companies with whom they partner.
Founding of The Ovid Bell Press
As the commercial printing side of the business expanded, Ovid K. Bell saw his future lay solely in publication printing. After more than 25 years as Owner and Editor of the Fulton Gazette, Ovid K. Bell decided to retire from the newspaper profession to continue his commercial printing business.
Ovid K. Bell’s plans for the future of his printing operation were realized at the beginning of 1927 with the official founding of The Ovid Bell Press (The OBP). He sold the Fulton Gazette to the Fulton Sun, which still runs today. In the purchase, he retained the printing plant as well as some of the equipment to continue business.
Ovid K. Bell was the guiding hand in plant production as he shifted the focus of the press operation to printing commercial jobs full-time. The mainstays of the business were magazines, books and law briefs. He continued to write on his own and published more books surrounding the history of his hometown, such as Cots Sans Dessein, a History.
The Legacy of the Bell Family
The initial success and growth of The OBP was unquestionably through the continued leadership of Ovid K. Bell and his promise to guide each publication efficiently from start to finish. He took pride in providing each customer with quality publications and in learning to adapt in ways to benefit his customers, employees and community.
He was widely respected as a journalist and printer, and his character stretched beyond the Ovid Bell Press. He and his wife, Lucy Maud Hall Bell, were active in their church and local colleges. Ovid K. Bell was a deacon at Fulton Presbyterian Church, President of the Westminster College Alumni Association and a master of Fulton Lodge No. 48 Ancient Free and Accepted Masons.
In 1936, he constructed a new building with the production facility on the lower floor and administrative offices above. Over the following decades, The OBP worked to meet rising demand by installing additional printing equipment and purchasing nearby land for building expansions. They kept the building updated through the years, and it is the same building in use today for Walsworth – Fulton, which has grown to almost 100,000 square feet.
Ovid K. Bell’s son, Ovid H. Bell, graduated from Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina, and served in World War II in the Army Signal Corp OSS before returning to Fulton to work with his father at The OBP. Through the years, father and son worked side-by-side to grow the company to manage a quarter million dollars annually by the 1950s.
After the passing of Ovid K. Bell, Ovid H. Bell took the mantle of The OBP and continued to operate under the same founding principles of serving the community around him through his work. The presses continued to print magazines and books, including many national fraternity and service club magazines and medical college textbooks.
Ovid H. Bell was an extraordinarily kind man, and he made a point to walk the plant every day to greet each person by name. He was active in the community of Fulton as an elder at First Presbyterian Church, and was a member of the board of trustees at Westminster College, the board of education for Fulton Public Schools and the Fulton Board of Public Works. His wife, Martha Lou (Nichols) Bell, also had a large impact through the endless volunteer hours she spent with their church, Ecumenical Ministries, Meals on Wheels and Callaway Hospitals. The Bells raised their three children – Mary, Jane, and John – to value service and involvement in the community, and the whole family was involved in local Boy and Girl Scout troops.
In 1977, John O. Bell began working alongside his father at The OBP. He soon began to operate as president of the company, and he became CEO of The Ovid Bell Press after his father’s passing in 1998. John O. Bell loved to be around the employees of The OBP and continued his father’s tradition by walking the offices and production floor twice daily and often on weekends to ensure he could greet each employee, all of whom he knew by name.
The legacy created by the Bell family is marked by stalwart diligence and exceptional kindness, both as the owners of a family business and as members of the Kingdom of Callaway.
Acquisition to Integration
In preparation for his retirement, John O. Bell decided to sell The Ovid Bell Press to Walsworth. As a fellow family-owned company, Walsworth finds much value in the history of the Bell family’s impact on Fulton. John O. Bell remained CEO with The OBP for a few years before officially retiring, and the business continued to operate as a wholly owned subsidiary of Walsworth with the same name and founding principles.
In 2020, The Ovid Bell Press integrated into the Walsworth brand. The integration allowed for enhanced printing capabilities and available services across all Walsworth facilities, and more efficient service for clients with broader capabilities across platforms.
The decision to integrate into the Walsworth brand was planned long before the pandemic in 2020, and as Customer Relations Manager at Walsworth – Fulton, Sara Baysinger, commented, “The integration ended up being a wonderful thing in light of the pandemic – being a family of printers helped to level out the work between facilities as work was shifting. Becoming a part of a whole in our daily operations served us really well.”
The Future of Fulton
In 2018, the Fulton location installed a state-of-the-art Muller Martini C12 Corona Binder to offer a higher level of productivity and diversity to the company’s product mix. This installment allows for better overall bind quality and broader binding potential. One such advantage is the ability to perfect bind thinner books, allowing customers a wider range of publications we may not have been able to bind before.
With ever-evolving customer needs in mind, significant investments like this perfect binder work to ensure the facility remains competitive in the industry and launches the plant to the next level of production capacity.
The Walsworth – Fulton location is also looking forward to the installment of a press in 2023, which will again expand the capabilities of the printing operation, offer faster run times and will aid our press operators with a smoother workflow.
When asked what most excites him about the new equipment, Kevin Werdehausen, Plant Manager for Walsworth – Fulton said, “I am excited to know that our company is willing to spend money on new technology and therefore investing in our employee’s futures. This will give us the competitive edge we need to give our customers a superior product.”
The production focus of Walsworth – Fulton today is mainly on monthly, bimonthly and quarterly titles and additional special issues for four-color magazines, journals and newsletters, and the plant remains a leader in the regional publication market. Since the early days, the Fulton operation has experienced remarkable growth and expansion, incorporating the latest technology and building upon the strong foundation of honesty, integrity and printing excellence.
From the Founder Ovid K. Bell of The Ovid Bell Press, the leadership in the Fulton print operation has always been family-oriented and community-focused.
“The Callaway Chamber of Commerce appreciates and supports businesses in our community such as Walsworth. Walsworth — Fulton, formerly The Ovid Bell Press, has such a longstanding, rich history in our community, providing jobs and resources county-wide. We are excited to see even more growth from Walsworth — Fulton in Callaway County,” said Tamara Tateosian of the Callaway County Chamber of Commerce.
The Bell family was heavily involved in organizations like SERVE, Inc., the United Way of Callaway County and the Fulton YMCA. They held and sponsored many kick-off events, fundraisers and food drives to help those in need. The Fulton location works with their local SERVE, Inc., which provides food, clothes and transportation to those in need, and has donated to the YMCA Fulton to aid in building an indoor swimming pool for the community.
The people of Walsworth — Fulton are committed to bettering the lives of those around them. “Over the years we have had a lot of fun coming up with ways to challenge ourselves and each other to continue or better our donation efforts to SERVE. However, each year our most treasured food drive is in honor of a long-time employee, Beverly Lepley. Bev’s generosity lives on in the annual food drive that her co-workers organize each year,” Customer Service Manager Sara Baysinger said. Lepley was a beloved Fulton employee who was known for her kindness and friendly demeanor.
As a family-owned company, Walsworth sees how the purpose-driven values the Bell family instilled in The Ovid Bell Press, and the history of their impact on the town of Fulton, is a legacy Walsworth – Fulton strives to uphold. In the words of Ovid K. Bell from A Short History of Callaway County, “From the town and county have gone many men and women who have done, or are doing, splendid work in the world.”