Pubdate: Sat, 21 May 2005
Source: Bozeman Daily Chronicle (MT)
Copyright: 2005 The Bozeman Daily Chronicle
Author: Brook Griffin, Chronicle Staff Writer
Bookmark: (D.A.R.E.)
Bookmark: (Youth)


GARDINER -- Move over Elmo and Barney, Retro Bill is in the

The nationally known children's speaker took center stage Friday at
the Gardiner Elementary School's Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or
DARE, graduation. He put on a show with everything from silly-string
to rubber chickens. In between hi-jinks, Retro Bill taught students
about strangers, bullying and conflict resolution.

If you are not familiar with the high-haired antics of Retro Bill, ask
your elementary school children about him. Chances are they have seen
one of his safety videos, which are shown in schools all over the country.

But once you see him, he is hard to forget. He sports a 4-inch
pompadour, black Chuck Taylor All-Stars, black pants and a black shirt
- -- all with flames shooting across them.

He is a cross between Elvis and Ace Ventura, almost a cartoon
caricature of a 1950s greaser.

"The look and the hair is my wild factor," Bill says. "It's my

The hair, which requires an hour of careful hair-spraying before the
show, is just a prop, one of many Bill uses to get his message across.

The message is simple: treat yourself and others with respect, and
stay away from things that will keep you from your dreams.

"I'm just trying to inspire kids to be good," Bill said. "Life is
awesome, but if your putting drugs in your life it can get pretty black."

Retro Bill's visit was a special treat from the Yellowstone National
Park rangers who run the DARE program in Gardiner and Mammoth.

"We usually bring someone in local," said Ranger Scott

But this year they wanted to do something extra special. So when Nancy
Martinz, another Yellowstone DARE officer, met Retro Bill, whose real
name is Bill Russ, at a conference in Nashville, she asked if he could
come to Gardiner. She was surprised when he said yes.

"You never know until you ask," Martinz said.

During his show, Retro Bill had more than a 100 elementary students
falling out of their seats with laughter.

He gets the kids to pitch in, too. Fifth-grader Justin Koel, 12,
helped demonstrate how to deal with peer-pressure by riding a fake
horse down a mountain.

"He was really cool, I hope he comes back," Koel said.

Sixth-grader Brendon Renkin,12, said he would like to hang-out with
Retro Bill.

"If he had his car, I'd ask to take a ride in it," he said. "Or maybe
be in one of his films."

Retro Bill has wanted to help children ever since he was their

"When I was a kid I used to flip through Mr. Rogers and I said, 'Cool
guy, nice message, but kind of boring.'"

Russ produced his first safety video for $250,000 of his own money,
then donated 40,000 copies to law enforcement agencies around the country.

"It got bleak," he recalled. He maxed out credit cards and had to
borrow money. "But I committed my life to making a positive impact on
our world."

Now he is on the road 300 days a year. And he still gets excited,
despite the pounding schedule.

"The thrill of it never wears off," he said.

His popularity is growing, but whatever happens, Russ said he wants to
stay grounded.

"I'm not doing this to get rich," he said. "The day my ticket gets
punched I want people to say that Retro Bill truly tried to make a

 From the looks on the faces at Gardiner Elementary, Retro Bill has
already done that. 
- ---
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