Person of the Week
Bob Russo: On St. Patrick’s Day, Everyone is Irish
After a decade of service on the Essex Parks & Recreastion Commission, including five years as chair, Bob Russo will be sent off in style as grand marshal of the Essex Go Bragh parade on Saturday, March 21. (Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Some people are Irish all year; others, like Bob Russo, are Irish only on St. Patrick’s Day. And Bob will be Irish with a flourish as Grand Marshall of Essex Go Bragh, the Essex St. Patrick’s Day parade on Saturday, March 21, organized by the town’s Park & Recreation Commission. The parade will step off from Essex Town Hall at 10:30 a.m. and follow a route along Essex Main street.
Bob recently retired from the Park & Recreation Commission after 10 years, the final five as chair. In addition, he taught archery as part of the commission’s program of activities.
At the last meeting of the commission that he attended, there was some discussion about who this year’s grand marshal should be.
“I made a couple of suggestions,” Bob recalls, “but I never thought it was going to be me.”
The parade will feature Essex’s fife and drum corps, the Sailing Masters of 1812, along with a new musical addition, the Middletown Police Benevolent Association Bagpipe Band. There will be marchers, floats, and, new this year, the mascot from the Hartford Yard Goats baseball team—not a live goat but a costumed representative.
“This is an event for the whole family. By March everybody is ready to get out of the house and celebrate,” says Park & Recreation Director Mary Ellen Barnes.
Barnes has moved the date of the parade from the Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day to the Saturday following, March 21. The change means the parade will no longer compete with larger events in Hartford and New Haven.
“That helps us get more groups and more spectators,” she says.
Though he will not longer serve on the Park & Recreation Commission, Bob plans to continue teaching archery, and, because he now has some extra time, and plans to increase the number of communities in which he provides instruction.
Bob got interested in archery when his older son Peter, then 10 or 11 years old, wanted to get involved in the sport. Peter is now 26 and Bob’s younger son, Daniel, is 22. When Peter was 14, he wanted to qualify as an instructor, so he and Bob took an instructor certification course.
Archery, Bob notes, is an excellent activity for someone who prefers individual sports.
“It is a much quieter. Not everyone wants a group sport,” he says.
Among the keys to success, according to Bob, are the correct form and posture in shooting. Still, he adds, becoming a good archer is about far more than correct form.
“So much is between the ears,” he says, of the concentration required.
Bob grew up in East Hampton, first on the farm owned by his aunt and uncle and later in a home just across the street.
“It was the boonies, even for East Hampton. We could only see two or three other houses,” he says.
His 5th grade teacher was the wife of former the late Connecticut governor William O’Neill, also an East Hampton resident.
Despite the agricultural heritage, Bob never wanted to be a farmer. He recalls a summer when his farming relatives, who never before took a summer vacation, went away for a week. The rest of the family pitched in to keep the farm running.
“When the family pulled back in the driveway, we were the six happiest people in the world,” he recalls.
As close as he gets to farming these days is the large vegetable garden he and his wife Carol, an administrator at Yale, cultivate every year.
Bob, who did his undergraduate work in biology and psychology at Wesleyan and his master’s degree in environmental studies at Yale, is a soil scientist. His work involves identifying areas that qualify as wetlands where construction is not permitted. For him, it combines a love of engineering and science with his love of being outdoors.
“I spend a good portion of my day outside with a hand augur taking soil samples,” he says. “Not having wetlands is a negative situation for wildlife, for vegetation and for humans.”
Connecticut, Bob points out, has programs that enable builders to preserve rather than destroy wetlands in the process of construction.
The state, he adds, has had challenges in water management. In a drought in 2005, wells to supply the University of Connecticut at Storrs took so much water from the Fenton River that one-quarter of a mile of the river ran dry. The university, at that point, reduced water consumption and restocked the river with brown trout, which had been killed when there was no flowing water.
Bob is no stranger to the Essex St. Patrick’s Day Parade. As a member of the Park & Recreation Commission, he was on duty in the parking lot behind Town Hall as the parade assembled. But then in those days he wore a yellow traffic vest.
For the upcoming parade, he will be appropriately dressed in green, but not without some advance planning. When he realized his wardrobe had very few suitably green garments, he took corrective action: He ordered some on Amazon.
Essex Go Bragh, the 10th annual Essex St. Patrick’s Day Parade, will be held on Saturday, March 21, stepping off from Essex Town Hall at 10:30 a.m.