The staff at Three Rivers Publishing said farewell to a former coworker, friend, and all-around wonderful person last week. Russ New, who worked at the Cuba Free Press for more than 37 years before retiring in 2009, died as he lived—in service to others.
Russ, who was 76, passed on July 31 after suffering a bee sting. He was stung while mowing a yard for a woman at his church. She tried to get him help after he told her what had happened, but it was too late by the time emergency responders arrived.
Everyone who knew Russ, especially those who worshipped with him at the First Baptist Church in Cuba, are aware of what a tremendous servant he was. If you needed help, Russ would be there and that was not just for his friends. He would help anyone any way he could.
Russ was also a tremendous joker and several funny stories about his antics were shared at his funeral, even some coming from his pastor. We also have some great memories like that.
One that stands out for me happened early on in my career as a journalist at the Cuba Free Press. A few days after I had covered a bad wreck on the old Highway 19 bridge between Cuba and Steelville, Russ told me I had a phone call.
When I answered it, I quickly encountered a “woman” on the other end of the line who was, let’s say, more than a bit upset about my wreck coverage. “She” had been in the wreck and threatened to sue me for taking pictures of the scene and reporting about it.
As I was trying to explain to “her” that I had the right to cover the wreck as it had happened on a state highway and that it was well within my rights as a journalist to publish both pictures and a story about it, I noticed some giggling in the back office. It was then I realized I had been talking to Russ the whole time.
Tracy Brandenburger Miller, who works for Three Rivers Publishing in Cuba and was one of Russ’ coworkers for many years, said he always asked, “What did you break?” whenever she would call him shortly after he retired. He was right, we needed him to fix the tying machine or cutter and he would come to the office and fix it.
After Tracy got married, Russ got a cedar log from her family’s farm chiseled out “Miller,” which is her husband Joe’s last name. Tracy came home from work one day to find this awesome creation displayed in her front yard. She called Russ to thank him and tell him just how cool it was. Jokingly, she explained that she had kept her maiden name too, so now it was Brandenburger Miller. You could almost feel him pale over the phone, she recalled, but in true Russ style, he quickly replied, “The log wasn’t long enough for that.”
Tracy’s mom, Joy, also works at the Free Press and worked with Russ for about 30 years. She remembered a time when former owner Percy Pascoe thought the employees were using too many paper towels to dry their hands in the bathroom so Russ hung the used paper towels on the clothesline that was used for drying photos and turned the fan on the towels to dry them.
If someone around the office needed a phone number and asked Russ, Joy said he’d rattle one off. It was always the same number, a local business he did printing for. They would call and, of course, it would be the wrong number. It became a joke anytime anyone needed a phone number to always rattle off the number of that business.
Dori Mar, who recently retired from the Free Press, recalled another time when Russ tormented his former boss. The CFP employees found an old mannequin outside in the back alley and brought her in and named her Gloria. Gloria was only the bottom half so they stood her up wherever they wanted and she became part of the fixtures in the old building. One Wednesday afternoon when the paper was done and Percy was leaving for the printers, Dori and Russ decided to put Gloria upside down in the toilet and take pictures. Suddenly Percy came down the hallway and found Dori taking a picture of Russ with Gloria in the bathroom. “We just froze,” Dori recalled. “Percy had forgotten something and had to come back. I don’t remember what happened because I probably chose to block it out, but I assume we got a Gorilla Gram the next day.”
Russ lived and breathed the newspaper industry and printing specifically. He had ink in his blood, so much so that he always said when he died, he wanted to be cremated and then have his ashes added to the ink the newspaper would be printed on the next week so little bit of him could be in the newspaper that week along with his obituary.
Was that his final joke?
Rest in peace Russ.