He’s into history…
Who says you can’t go home again?
Well, Thomas Wolfe wrote a novel with that title, but Albert ‘A.B.’ Russ is a prime example that it isn’t necessarily true.
Russ was born and raised in Blue Earth and was a star athlete at Blue Earth High School.
However, right after high school he left town for a stint in the Coast Guard, college at Mankato State University and a career of teaching school in the Mankato School System.
But 10 years ago, in 2006, Russ returned to live in his old home town. And, he has been keeping active in Blue Earth organizations ever since.
At the Faribault County Historical Society Omelet Benefit Brunch on Sunday, April 3, the Ambassadors Club of the Blue Earth Area Chamber of Commerce presented Russ with its Area Ambassadors Award to salute him for all the things he has done in the past 10 years since he moved back to town.
“It was quite a shock,” Russ says of the award. “I couldn’t believe they were giving it to me. There are so many other people doing so many things.”
However, Russ believes in staying active during his retirement years.
He and his wife, Vicki, joined the historical society right away when they moved back to Blue Earth. And, Russ has embraced being involved with the society and its work. He volunteers to help keep the Wakefield House Museum open during the week, as well as being the main caretaker for the Church of the Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, which the society owns.
Russ is also the president of the Riverside Cemetery Board, the official historian for the Blue Earth American Legion Club, serves on the Blue Earth Community Education Council, is the sergeant-at-arms for the Blue Earth Sertoma Club and is a member of the flag detail for the annual Memorial Day program.
His main passion, however, is history. Local history. He spends hours and hours doing research and writes stories for the historical society’s newsletter and the Mankato Free Press about local history.
“I now know more history about my home county than I?ever dreamed I would ever know,” Russ says. “I just enjoy doing the research.”
One of his passions ties his work with the historical society and the cemetery board together. Russ is working with Veterans Service Officer Dave Hanson and doing research on all the veterans buried in cemeteries in the county.
Their goal is to make sure every veteran has a decent headstone honoring them for their service to their country.
So, who is A.B. Russ?
He was born in Blue Earth in 1939 in the old hospital which is now a rental property on Sixth Street, across the street from the former funeral home.
His father, Dr. Homer H. Russ, came to Blue Earth around 1930-31.
“Dad had been a doctor in Swea City, Iowa, and his uncle, John Russ, was a doctor in Blue Earth,” Russ recalls. “But, it was the depression and my father wasn’t getting paid by a lot of his patients they just didn’t have any money.”
When Dr. John Russ got cancer and died on the operating table, Russ’s father, Dr. H. H. Russ, came to Blue Earth and took over his practice.
“It was a clinic above the old post office, about where Breen’s Hardware is now,” Russ recalls.
Russ’s mother, Yvonne, taught for 34 years in the Blue Earth School System.
“I have two brothers and two sisters,” Russ says. “I was the baby of the family, a fact my siblings constantly reminded me of.”
His older brother, Bob Russ, has cerebral palsy and has lived in a special home in Wisconsin for many, many years. Despite his affliction, Russ says his brother Bob might be the healthiest of the bunch.
In high school Russ was a star wrestler, winning the state heavyweight title two years in a row, 1956 and 1957. He feels he should have won it in 1955 as well, but was narrowly defeated in the Region by a wrestler who did go on to be the state champ and who Russ had defeated earlier in the season.
“It was the hey-day of Blue Earth wrestling,” he recalls. “The team won state when I?was here and did it again in 1958. We were dominating the sport.”
After high school, Russ did not feel ready for college and so he went off to join the Navy. However, an uncle, who was in the Coast Guard, convinced him that branch of the Armed Forces was a much better deal.
“So I signed up and gave up the next four years of my life,” he says. “I spent two years in Honolulu and two in Traverse City, Michigan, in the Coast Guard.”
While on duty in Hawaii, Russ did not actually spend much time on the islands. He would go way out in the Pacific Ocean on a ship for 21 days at a time, bobbing up and down, as he calls it, monitoring the weather in the days before satellites.
“It was pretty boring duty,” he says. “But sometimes it was broken up with a distress call.”
After his discharge he attended Mankato State University and was a member of the wrestling team there.
“I was 22 and not quite the wrestler I had been in high school,” he recalls. However, he was good enough to help the team to a college championship, and be named to the MSU Wrestling Hall of Fame.
“I met my wife, Vicki, the first day I was there (at MSU),” he says. “It was at pre-registration day, and I dropped my papers while standing in line. She was in line, too, and she picked up my papers for me. She has been picking up after me ever since.”
Vicki (Krusemark) Russ is also a Blue Earth native, the daughter of a long-time former Blue Earth Police Chief, Leslie ‘Les’ Krusemark.
Russ became a teacher in the Mankato School System, which he refers to as being very lucky.
“The senior high principal went to bat for me,” Russ says. “He was a very strict disciplinarian and I was, too.”
Russ taught 12th grade civics for several years, then changed to junior high geography which he taught for 20 years at several different Mankato schools, ending up at Dakota Meadows.
He retired at the age of 59 under the Rule of 90.
Vicki Russ taught for one year, then switched occupations and went into architectural drafting. She owned her own architectural design firm in Mankato.
It was due to her mother’s failing health that the couple moved back to Blue Earth in 2006.
Ruth Krusemark was living in her home in Blue Earth which had many steps, so the three bought a townhouse on Main Street with no steps on the main floor.
That is when A.B. Russ came back to his old home town. And, when he decided to go out and do something, and not just sit idly around being bored.
Volunteering and researching history keeps him out of trouble, he says, with a smile.