Russells named grand marshals for Ox Cart Days parade
This is a story about high school sweethearts still together after more than 50 years who raised three sons on a small hobby farm just outside of town and ran a successful business just off the river who are about to be honored as the Grand Marshals in the 47th Annual Ox Cart Days Grand Parade on Sunday, Aug. 21.
“They probably couldn’t find anybody else,” laughed Gloria Russell.
Garry Russell spotted Gloria during their junior year at Eleva Strum High School in farm country south of Eau Claire. They have been together ever since.
“I spotted her and asked her cousin, ‘Do you think she would go out with me?’” She said, “Oh yes, she’d go out with you,” remembered Garry.
Two years out of high school, Garry proposed and Gloria accepted.
Gloria initially went to school to learn bookkeeping and Garry went to technical school to learn drafting. Following graduation and a brief stay in Huntley, Ill., Garry applied for a job at Doboy Packaging and in December of 1963 the couple made the move north to New Richmond.
Having both grown up on dairy farms, it is not surprising that after living for eight years in the metropolis of New Richmond, Garry and Gloria gave into the tug of their farm roots and bought a small five-acre hobby farm just over the Polk County line north of the Village of Star Prairie.
Before they knew it, they had a cow, then a calf, and eventually sheep, goats, rabbits, chickens and three sons.
“We tried everything, but nothing lasted, except the boys,” recalled Gloria.
The farm ended up being the perfect place to raise their three sons, Darren, who works for Phillips; Eric, who is the Baldwin Woodville High School principal; and Corey, previously the owner of Russell’s Sport N’ Bike and now working as an RN in Stillwater.
After 22 years of employing his drafting skills and engineering instincts for Doboy, Garry resigned to pursue a dream he’d had since high school, to own his own business. Turns out that business was a bait shop.
In 1985, after considering a move to Green Bay and on the advice of their youngest son, Corey, Garry and Gloria decided to purchase the bait shop on Jewel Street, turning it into Russell’s Sport N’ Bike.
“We kicked around moving to Green Bay but then Corey thought we should buy this place. We’d sold bicycles out of our farm for years. Even coming out of high school, I’d always wanted to do something like that, have a shop where we could fix and sell bikes,” said Garry. It turned out to be a good fit, according to Gloria.
“He can repair anything. He’s just one of those guys,” said Gloria.
By the time they purchased the bait shop, Darren and Eric were in college and Corey was juat starting high school.to help part-time at the store. The family lived briefly above the shop until they built a new home just behind the store on the shore of the Apple River.
Garry and Gloria worked the shop together, with part-time help from Corey. Gloria kept the books and helped run the store when Garry left on bait runs. She learned the bait business on the job.
“He’d go get bait. Then I’d have to watch it. Of course somebody’d come in and I didn’t know what they were talking about,” said Gloria.
Over the next 15 years, Gary and Gloria built a local legacy one customer, one neighbor, one friend at a time.
“It’s a lot of time, if you’re going to do it right. We worked seven days a week for a long time. If the weather cooperated, all seasons were good, but if you got a bad winter with no ice ... Usually it worked out,” said Gloria.
“You’ve got to know everybody when they walk in the door. I loved it, It was a great 15 years, ” said Garry smiling.
Eventually Gloria embarked on her own adventure.
“I was sick of working over there in the shop, getting all this crap from these guys, so I went to nursing school at WITC and became an RN,” said Gloria.
After 15 years and several additions to the store, Garry decided to devote more time to his other passion — softball — and he sold the business to son Corey and his partner, Rick Connor.
Today the sweethearts spend their time in their mobile home traveling with their miniature K-9 sidekick Gus, back and forth spending winter months in Arizona and returning to their house on the Apple River for the rest of the year. In between catering to six grandchildren and logging miles on their Can-Am Spyder motorcycle, Garry still finds time to participate in his other love, fastpitch softball.
With nine national championship rings, Garry is serious about his softball. From his roots as a kid in the 4-H league, he has competed successfully at every level and currently plays at the Triple A level in leagues in Arizona and Minnesota.
“I play senior softball on a Minnesota team right now. We play in Roseville twice a week for league with 350 people of all ages. We use about 16 diamonds on Tuesday and Thursday. The league starts at 50 years old. Our nationals are in Vegas at the end of September. We’re going and we’ll see how we do,” said Garry.
With the lure of winter softball and now a two bedroom home in a village in Arizona, Garry and Gloria have nearly as many friends there as they do here in Star Prairie, but this is home.
“It’s hard to change. We’ve lived here so long. You know people and you know the area, it’s home,” said Gloria.
“We love this spot. Would hate to give it up, That’s kind of why we’ve hung onto this house,” said Garry.
Of course nobody warned them they were going to be this year’s grand marshals.
“Nobody said a thing and of course, I didn’t know we had to do this [interview]!” said Gloria with a chuckle.
They haven’t decided whether or not to ride the Spyder in the parade, but it would seem fitting.
As I loaded my gear into my car, I thought I saw some practice waving going on. It should be a great parade.