The man of the year
Albert “A.B.” Russ wasn’t surprised when he learned he had been selected as this year’s Blue Earth Chamber of Commerce Community Service Award honoree.
“I wasn’t surprised I was shocked,” Russ says. “Totally shocked. I thought there must be some mistake, and that there must be a lot of others who should get this award, not me.”
He recalls being at Ankeny’s Coffee Shop one day when Bruce Ankeny snuck away and, as Russ found out later, called Chamber executive director Cindy Lyon, alerting her to Russ’s presence at the shop.
“Mrs. Lyon came in and told me she had a surprise for me, that I was this award winner,” Russ says. “Yes, that was a shock.”
This year’s honoree says he thinks his father, Dr. H. Russ, received a similar community honor in about 1940.
“Now, he deserved it,” Russ says with a smile. “He did a lot for the town. I’m not sure I have.”
And, he adds, with some dry wit, anything he has done is because someone else talked him into doing it.
It was 11 years ago that Russ and his wife Vicki moved to Blue Earth. Both had grown up here, but they had not met until their first year of college in Mankato.
The couple was living in rural Waterville when Russ retired at age 59 from 35 years of teaching in the Mankato Public School System and from about 20 years of coaching wrestling there. He had, after all, been a state heavyweight wrestling champion when he was a student at Blue Earth High.
Their kids were grown and Vicki Russ wanted to move back to Blue Earth so she could take care of her mother, Ruth Krusemark.
“We had bought this townhouse (on Main Street) for her to live in two years earlier, so when we moved here, we moved in with her.”
Russ says he decided he wasn’t going to just sit at home doing nothing but watching TV.
“I had been on the Cannonville Methodist Church cemetery board in rural Waterville,” he recalls. “In fact, I did everything there, including mowing, hand digging the graves, selling cemetery lots and setting the stones (monuments).”
So, one of the first things Russ did after moving to Blue Earth was to attend the Riverside Cemetery annual meeting.
“There were three of us in the ‘audience,’ and three board members who were getting off the board,” Russ explains. “So they asked the three of us to be on the board and I said yes.”
Two years later he became president of the cemetery board.
Shortly after getting himself on the cemetery board, in fact later that same fall in 2006, he says Lorraine Arends ‘recruited’ him to join the Faribault County Historical Society.
“It’s been OK (being on the historical society board),” Russ says. “It is a very diverse board, with some very talented people on it. We’ve got Bill Paul as our president right now, and he is doing a good job.”
Board members are each in charge of one of the many buildings the society owns around the county, and Russ says he was ‘assigned’ to take care of the Church of the Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Blue Earth.
“I have tried to do a variety of projects with it,” Russ explains. “We’ve painted the whole building, replaced the front steps, cleaned out the basement, tuck pointed the foundation, things like that.”
Although, Russ says much of the funding for the projects came from the Minnesota Historical Society, and he has learned that now he cannot do more projects on the building without first checking with the state historical society.
“They take control of what can and cannot be done now,” Russ says. “That can become a problem.”
Russ is a veteran, having served in the U.S. Coast Guard. So, another organization he became involved in is the American Legion Post 89 in Blue Earth.
“I serve as the post historian,” Russ says. “Since that is something I enjoy doing.”
His community involvement does not end there. Another board he serves on is the BEA Community Education Advisory Board.
“It was Randall Pemberton who got me on that one,” Russ says. “Because of my education background, I guess.”
Then there is also the Blue Earth Sertoma Club, of which Russ is a member and serves on its executive board.
Of course, there is also the most recent group that Russ joined up with, which was highlighted in the Faribault County Register just two weeks ago.
The Blue Earth Charter Commission.
“I was at coffee at Ankeny’s again, and (Blue Earth city administrator Tim) Ibisch came in,” Russ recalls. “He said he was looking for someone to volunteer to serve on this Charter Commission. So I asked him, ‘How often does it meet?’ And he says, ‘Usually just once a year.’ ‘Once a year?’ I replied. I could do that, I told him.”
That is one more bit of community service for this year’s Chamber honoree to add to his list.
“I guess I?do think you should do what you can for your community,” he says. “And this is my town. You can let everyone know that the rumors are not true I am not moving to Albert Lea or Mankato. I am staying right here in Blue Earth.”
Russ says the rumors started after his wife Vicki passed away not so long ago.
“Blue Earth is still a pretty nice town,” he adds. “True, it is not the same as it was when I grew up here, but then, what town is? In fact, my dad would probably have a heart attack if he saw how the downtown has shriveled up since the time he was here. But it is still a nice place to live. Why would I want to go anywhere else?”