By Dennis Minich
I have been thinking a lot about an extraordinary individual, my oldest brother, Russell. Folks who have lived in the Cass and Bates county area for a while may remember him. It had always been his desire to own a farm, so when he retired from Southwestern Bell he packed up and moved to a farm near Amoret. He worked a cow-calf operation as well as an orchard for several years. He also was the coowner of a shop on the Butler square for a couple of years.
Some folks also might recall him as a DJ at KMAM and KOME FM in Butler. He started out working part time, but ended up working full time, including a special show from 5 to 10 p.m. on Saturdays called “Country Classic.”
But most people in these parts who remember him, will remember him as the singer and emcee of various country music shows including the Rich Hill Opry and later the Cass County Opry. For many years, the Cass County Opry, located in the old Lee Theater, was the place to be on Saturday nights.
But his music career with local musicians predated those shows. Starting in the late 60s, Russ teamed up with Cass Countians Buddy Ford, Jack Ford and Buddy Crook, among others to provide the entertainment at a variety of venues throughout the Kansas City area.
Anyone who heard him realized the guy could sing. Whether it was really old-time county and western or what equaled contemporary in the 1990s, Russ, surrounded with his talented friends, could put on a show you would remember. One local comedian also commented how Russ could play the perfect straight man without even rehearsing how the jokes were to be set up.
After leaving the Opry, Russ still joined up with his gang on occasion for a small gig or jam session. Music remained his passion.
But when he decided to leave the farm, he moved to Springfield where he took up an entirely new career as a driver. He worked with a company that provided both bus and limo service. So every week there were interesting stories of where he had driven or what he had seen.
Most stories included interesting respites about trying to park or dealing with a passenger who thought they were a human GPS. He can tell a story.
But even more remarkable were some of his limo guests. He was somewhat of a regular chauffer for both Tony Orlando and Andy Williams, both Branson stars. He also hauled around a variety of politicians, entertainers and other celebrities. He did manage to bring me an autograph of Stan Musial, but he left me very perturbed to learn he had spent an afternoon with James Pankow of the band Chicago and he hadn’t thought to get a picture or an autograph for me. But I guess discretion is part of being a good chauffer. He was also on one season of the TV show, “The Bachelor,” which featured a Springfield businessman. Russ was the driver for the show’s namesake and can be seen opening doors and driving in several episodes.
Ah, the claims to fame. But again, he understood discretion and never revealed who the winning bachelorette was until after the finale had aired.
Russ is much older than I am. My mother was literally eight months pregnant with me when she attended Russ’ high school graduation.
There were four of us siblings, Russ; my late sister, Carole; my brother David; and me. We were spread out in nearly perfect six-year intervals so how our lives intertwined was unusual to say the least. Two were married and raising families before I finished grade school. But we were all still close.
One of my favorite memories was Russ coming to our house when I was very young. I loved baseball and had never been to a professional game. Since TV games were black and white, I could only imagine what real uniforms looked like. Russ could take out my box of crayons and draw me the latest Kansas City A’s uniforms. I asked him every time he came over and every time he complied.
I also remember when he enlisted in the Navy. The first time he came home in his dress whites, it was one of the coolest things I had ever seen. Russ and I might not have related in many matters for years because of the age difference, but as the years passed, we became even closer.
Russ is having some medical issues now. He is in the midst of treatment for liver cancer, which appears to be working as he is holding his own. But unfortunately, he recently fell in his home and is now in a nursing home in Springfield, where we hope he will recover.
But right now he is struggling to regain strength and mental acuity. It is hard to watch this guy, who was always biggerthan-life to his little brother struggle, but we are hopeful for a good outcome.
For those of you who remember Russ, I hope the memories bring you a smile. I would also ask for prayers because there’s still more entertaining to be done.