A True Statesman: “Looking Back”

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.

I am a list maker. So as I approached retirement last year, I made a list of things “to do” to get my house in order. One of the items on the list was to sort out all the mementos I had collected over the years. As I went through the boxes, one of the interesting things I noticed is that almost every time my name was in the newspaper, I got a letter or card from Senator Stanley Russ. He would include the newspaper clipping and a nice congratulatory note.

Taking the time to express congratulations or condolences has been a regular part the Senator’s life. He has not held political office since 2000 but as a true statesman, his care and concern for the people in his community and state has continued. This week, I want to pay tribute to Stanley Russ, my definition of a true statesman.

Senator Russ was born August 31, 1930 in Conway to O.S. and Gene Browne Russ. He attended the Training School at the Arkansas State Teachers College (now UCA) until he transferred to Conway Public Schools in the eighth grade. After high school graduation in 1948, he earned an associate’s degree Arkansas Polytechnic College (now Arkansas Tech) and attended Arkansas State Teachers College for a semester.

Russ then transferred to the University of Arkansas where he completed a Bachelor of Science in Education degree in agriculture in 1952. While finishing college, Russ married his high school sweetheart, Nina Benton of Conway in 1951. The couple had two children, Debbie Russ Merritt and Stan Russ, Jr.

After serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War from 1952 to 1954, Russ went to Officer Candidate School (OCS) at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma and rose to the rank of first lieutenant. After his discharge from army, he served as company commander of the Arkansas National Guard unit in Morrilton. In 1995, he was inducted into the U.S. Field Artillery OCS Hall of Fame in Ft. Sill.

Russ focused on building his life insurance business after he left the army. He maintained an insurance office in the Halter Building on the southeast corner of Oak and Front streets for over 40 years until the building was renovated about ten years ago. The office also served as his state senate office.

Senator Russ served in the Arkansas State Senate from 1975 until 2000. He first ran for the state senate in a special election to fill the vacancy left by Senator Guy “Mutt” Jones. Jones, who was convicted of income tax evasion and removed from the Senate, represented the 21st district which included Faulkner County, Van Buren County and part of Conway County.

Serving before term limits were imposed, Senator Russ became a high-ranking senator, leading several subcommittees and also serving as Senate Majority Leader. He served as president pro tempore from 1995 to 1997, occasionally serving as governor when the sitting governor and lieutenant governor were out of state. He was serving in this position when Governor Jim Guy Tucker submitted his resignation in July, 1996 after being convicted on conspiracy and mail fraud charges.

For his twenty-six-year career in the Arkansas Senate, Russ received several honors, including being named in 1981 as one of the Ten Outstanding State Legislators in the United States by the Assembly of State Governmental Employees. In 2012, he was named a UCA Distinguished Alumni and the building that houses the UCA Department of Mass Communications was named Stanley Russ Hall in 2001. In February, 2004, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Public Service degree from UCA.

Years ago, Conway named the road by his farm “Stanley Russ Road.” More recently, “Nina Russ Road” was created to provide an entrance on the north to the Meadows Office Complex where HP is located.

Senator Russ has continued to be active in the community in his retirement years. I have noticed that almost every time I have attended an event, reunion, visitation or funeral, Stanley Russ has been there. If you see him out and about this week, be sure and wish him a Happy Birthday. Happy Birthday, Senator Russ! Thank you for your service to this community and its people!

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