Everybody in the Heartland has a Story: Joan and Ron Russell - KFVS12 News & Weather Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Poplar Bluff

Everybody in the Heartland has a Story: Joan and Ron Russell


In the hustle and bustle of life, it would be easy to zoom right past Joan and Ron Russell's place.

The small, white house is on a busy street in Herrin, right next door to a Casey's General Store.

But Ron doesn't care.

"It doesn't bother me at all," he insists.

Ron and Joan like hustle and bustle, coming and going, buying and selling. It's who they are. But you gather that by looking at their front yard where you see birdhouses, all for sale, hanging from a single post.

"We redid our dining room and had extra wood so I started making birdhouses," Ron remembers.

Down on the sidewalk, propped up against a fence, sits a hand painted sign advertising the availability of hens and chicks. Not the fluffy, yellow, chirping ones, the smooth, green, silent ones.

"Lots of people think they're animals when they see the sign but they're not. I live in the city," Ron says with a laugh, "These are plants. They're part of the cactus family, or so I've been told. I grow them and sell them."

Ron's been looking for ways to make a buck since he was a kid.

His dad made a living as a mechanic and provided the basics for Ron and his sister, but not the extras. For those, Ron went to work in they hay field.

"There was one man who cut hay and when he was done, they'd say, 'Go get that Russell boy,'" remembers Ron.

Ron worked in the fields that stood where Carbondale's mall, car dealerships and restaurants are today.

"I made a buck an hour," he says gruffly, "One day I stacked 1,000 bales of hay and made eight dollars."

Stacking hay kept Ron in shape to play tackle for the Carterville Lions football team.

Football kept Ron in school.

"If I didn't have football, I probably would have quit. Football kept me in school," he says.

Two years after he graduated, Ron married Joan. He was 19 and she was 17.

A couple of years later they were thrilled to be pregnant with their first child. Sadly, Joan gave birth to a stillborn baby. A little girl they named Nancy Joanne.

Doctors encouraged the young couple to have another child.

"When you get pregnant the second time, you're nervous," recalls Ron, "You're nervous until you see its ok because the first one wasn't."

Kathi was born healthy and a few years later, so was son Rick.

Ron was working as a machinist at Caterpillar in Montgomery, Illinois, when in 1979, they decided to move home.

When they arrived back in southern Illinois Ron had a job, but needed another.

"I lost $3.50 an hour and insurance. That's a lot of money," he says.

That's when the couple discovered junking, or as Ron likes to call it, "merchandising."

He remembers going to a Carbondale flea market with a car full of stuff for the very first time.

"I brought $10 worth of stuff and left with $100 in my pocket. That was the start of it," he said.

Joan and Ron set up their wares at big shows all over the Midwest, peddling things like glassware, they bought at auctions.

At 72, Ron's not interested in doing big shows anymore. They're too much work and require too much heavy lifting. Besides, he thinks the business isn't what it used to be.

"You've got young buyers. They don't know what is what. I told Joan, we're done," he said.

But mixed in with the blood running through his veins, and just as important in keeping him moving, is his need to sell.

Yard sales happen once, maybe twice a year, in the driveway of his little white house, on the busy street in Herrin, next to the Casey's. And there's the birdhouses. And the garden variety hens and chicks.

No matter how far we go in life, where we travel, or who we marry, it's hard to change the essence of who we are.

Nearly 60 years removed from the hay fields, 40 years removed from Caterpillar and 10 years into retirement, Ron is still looking for a way to make a buck.

It's who he is.

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