Jim Russ Honored at Roast & Toast

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By Doug Richardson, CO
Jim Russ, CO, thoroughly enjoys an animated remark from speaker Paul De La Torre, CPO. Seated to the right of the speaker are Tony Staros and Richard Lehneis, PhD, CPO.
Jim Russ, CO, thoroughly enjoys an animated remark from speaker Paul De La Torre, CPO. Seated to the right of the speaker are Tony Staros and Richard Lehneis, PhD, CPO.

Jim Russ, CO, was honored at a "Roast & Toast" March 7-8 at Mary Free Bed Hospital, Grand Rapids, Michigan, as a great man in the history of orthotics. For over 50 years, he has been a major contributor to the field as an advocate, innovator, and educator. By creating post-secondary programs, standardizing curriculums and establishing residencies, Russ elevated orthotics from a trade to a profession. In his 20 years as director of Orthotic Education at Northwestern University Medical School, Chicago, Illinois, he has perhaps trained more students for practitioner-level certification in orthotics than any other educator.

In 1976, Russ helped establish a state-of-the-art Orthotics Department at Mary Free Bed Hospital & Rehabilitation Center. Mary Free Bed's national reputation for excellence in rehabilitation, combined with the newly established Orthotics Department, led him to choose this location for the first residency program in the United States.

Hence, Mary Free Bed Orthotics was proud to host this event attended by over 100 guests, including Jim Russ's family and many friends and colleagues. The inspiration for the event originated with Becky (Weller) deLongpre, CPed, who studied at Northwestern University in 1981 under Russ. Gina Corazza, CO, a close colleague and also a Northwestern graduate, joined Becky to make it happen. They devoted countless hours to planning, organizing, and preparing.

Jim and Janice Russ with the new plaque hung near the Mary Free Bed Orthotics entrance.
Jim and Janice Russ with the new plaque hung near the Mary Free Bed Orthotics entrance.

Following a welcome by Bob Bosch, COO, administrator of Mary Free Bed Orthotics & Prosthetics, were tours of the newly renovated orthotics clinical and fabrication areas, the new prosthetics department, and other hospital facilities.

The event continued at the Marriott Hotel with a champagne and hors d'oeuvres reception and a sumptuous dinner, followed by the Roast &Toast, emceed by Mike Brncick, CPO. Russ's brother Jerry spoke first, sharing some of the details from the earlier years when Jim was still at home.

Tony Staros, engineer and assistant director of the World Rehabilitation Fund (WRF), commented, "To make the students fear, you have to have arrogance, and Jim is good at that." He expressed his appreciation for Jim, chiding him with descriptions like "tenacious pest" and "serious heckling."

Robert Rhodes, CO, University of Michigan Orthotics & Prosthetics department, said that he was inclined to "toast" more than "roast." He shared how Russ had inspired him to make a profession of orthotics and how Russ cared deeply about his students and staff.

Mike Burton, CPO, Prosthetic Research Specialists, Bushnell, Florida, thanked Mary Free Bed and the corporate donors. He noted how Jim Russ's name and influence are well known throughout the country and applauded him as a "warrior for professionalism within the field."

Paul De La Torre, CPO, of De La Torre Orthotics & Prosthetics, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, adeptly offered a number of vocal impersonations of Russ and described how his former instructor was "hard on those he really felt could do it."

Richard Lehneis, PhD, CPO, former director of Orthotics & Prosthetics at New York University, who taught Jim Russ in the early 60s, took the microphone and served up a run of humorous anecdotes, for which the emcee dubbed the speaker "PhD-stand-up comedian."

Don Shurr, CPO, PT, American Prosthetics & Orthotics in Iowa, and chairman of the National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education (NCOPE), was the final "roaster." He energetically reminisced about the number of humorous incidents from the orthotics class of 1986. Shurr wound up the evening a little choked up as he praised Jim Russ as "a true leader and pioneer."

Mike Brncick accurately observed that there was "a lot of love in this room," and invited Jim to make some personal remarks.

"I feel so humbled to have all of you come here. There's 3,000 other people out in the parking lot with machetes&but at least I've got a few friends anyway. Thanks, guys!" As Russ concluded his remarks, the audience gave him a hearty applause and standing ovation.