Randy Russell, middle, stands with four members of the Springfield Junior League for a photo after he was named 2021 Humanitarian of the Year by the Community Foundation of the Ozarks
Randy Russell, middle, was named the 2012 Humanitarian of the Year by the Community Foundation of the Ozarks. On Oct. 14 he'll receive the Bucky Bowman Lifetime Achievement Award at the 38th Ozzie Awards, presented by the Springfield Regional Arts Council. (Photo: Springfield Regional Arts Council)

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This story is part of the Arts and Culture Reporting Corps, sponsored by the Springfield Regional Arts Council.

The Ozzie Awards are coming up on Saturday, Oct. 14. This annual celebration of the arts in Springfield honors the professionals, volunteers, patrons and businesses that support the local creative community.

New this year: One person will receive the Bucky Bowman Lifetime Achievement Award. The award is named for educator and arts advocate Bucky Bowman, who is remembered fondly for his gregarious personality and enthusiastic passion for the arts.

Springfield Regional Arts Council Executive Director Leslie Forrester remembers Bowman as “the embodiment of what it means to be creative. He lived creatively his entire life.”

In that spirit, the purpose of this award is to celebrate folks who have truly gone above and beyond.

This year’s recipient is Randy Russell, whose decades-spanning career and volunteer work showcase his passion for the arts and culture in Springfield.

“If you look back at the history of the arts in Springfield, Randy was right there at the beginning: Juanita K. Hammons Hall, moving Artsfest to Walnut Street, Any Given Child and the foundational arts education partnerships with the school district,” Forrester said. “If you really dive in and see who were the people who got things done, almost always Randy’s name is on that list, if not the name on the list.”

Long career includes work in arts education and administration

Russell spent 28 years with Springfield Public Schools both as an arts educator and an administrator, with a one-year leave to help open Hammons Hall as marketing director in 1992. Beginning in 2003, he spent 13 years with the Community Foundation of the Ozarks as the senior program officer, overseeing grants. Russell received the Community Foundation of the Ozarks Humanitarian Award in 2012 for his work in education and the arts.

In 2013, he was named director of Springfield’s Any Given Child program, an initiative of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. That program provides meaningful arts experiences to K-8 students, fostering awareness and appreciation of the arts from a young age. Russell was instrumental in bringing the program to Springfield and he continues to volunteer his time as the program liaison.

Randy Russell poses for a photo
Randy Russell is the 2023 recipient of the Bucky Bowman Lifetime Achievement Award from the Springfield Regional Arts Council. (Photo: Springfield Regional Arts Council)

His board memberships have included the Missouri Humanities Council, Springfield Little Theatre, Junior League Advisory Council and Community Partnership of the Ozarks.

Family, mentors close to Russell’s heart

While his list of professional and civic accomplishments is long, when Russell tells his life story, he begins with his family.  

The Springfield Ballet parents’ lounge, located near Russell’s office in the Creamery Arts Center, is dedicated to his late wife, Sandy Russell. She was also an educator and a fervent supporter of the arts as a patron and volunteer.  

He’s proud to say their two children, who grew up with exposure to the arts, went on to pursue their own interests. Russell’s family includes daughter Erin Lurvey, her husband Doug and grandchildren Max and Quinn; and son Scott Russell, his wife Emily and grandchildren Drew and Clay.

Russell is quick to credit his mentors and collaborators over the years, at every step of his career.

“It’s been an honor for me my entire career, to work with the people I’ve been able to work with, to learn from the people I’ve been able to learn from,” he said.

A short list includes Dr. Phil Jenkins and Dr. Julie Leeth at Springfield Public Schools, Jan Horton through the Arts Council and Artsfest, Donna Crosby through the KOZK telethon, and Rob Baird, whose vision helped bring the Creamery Arts Center to life.

While Russell’s desk is decorated with many awards and he sees the value of recognition, it’s the people who really matter.

“It’s way more meaningful when a person actually believes ‘you can do this,’ and you don’t know yourself that you can do it,” he said.

‘He wanted people to feel included’

Barb Baker, manager of the Downtown Community Improvement District and a longtime friend and collaborator, remembers Russell as an organized and effective leader, who kept meetings on-task but always managed to make things fun too.

A man and young girl stand outside near a tree, painting on an easel
This plein air painting session is part of the Any Given Child program, an initiative of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Randy Russell was named director of that program in 2013. (Photo: Springfield Regional Arts Council)

“He worked with so many different organizations and groups, and he wanted people to feel included,” Baker said. “And I always thought that was just a great thing.”

Russell sees how important it is for current leaders and professionals to pay it forward, investing in the younger generation who can bring their energy to work on what’s next.

“I love being part of when something starts, and I especially love it if it involves younger people, because who else is going to take this stuff on?” he said.

Russell still active in Springfield’s arts scene

When asked what inspires him to keep working toward big goals, his answer is simple: “To me, everything is exciting!” And he’s eager to share two current projects in the works: an upcoming Springfield Ballet performance and a film project from two recent MSU grads. It’s clear he’s excited to continue to promote and connect.

Leslie Forrester attributes Russell’s ongoing energy for the arts to one simple reason: He cares.

“It’s easy to do some of the hard stuff when you really care about what you’re doing, and he genuinely cares about the people who are doing the work; he cares about kids who are having the experiences, the performers on the stage,” Forrester said. “Nobody would work as hard as Randy does if they didn’t actually care and want to see it succeed.”

And the nominees are… 

The 38th Ozzie Awards will take place at Springfield-Branson National Airport. In addition to the lifetime achievement award, winners will be announced across four categories, adding the element of surprise and “the winner is…” moments of a true awards ceremony.

“This year’s new structure is an opportunity to celebrate different co-creators in the arts community at various points in their contributions, to honor more people from different areas of the arts,” Forrester said. “There’s a lot to celebrate.” 

The 2023 nominees are:

The Arts Ambassador Award

Highlights an individual or team that has taken an active role in building a sustainable and thriving ecosystem for the arts in the Ozarks.

  • Joshua Best
  • David Harrison
  • Samuel G Knox

The Arts Champion Award

Recognizes a corporation or organization that has made meaningful contributions to advance the arts in the Ozarks. 

  • Neosho Arts Council
  • Judith Enyeart Reynolds – The School of the Arts, Missouri State University
  • Springfield Symphony Orchestra

Excellence in Arts Education

Recognizes an individual or organization providing transformational leadership in arts education.

  • Gretchen Teague
  • Niki Kiruki
  • Steve Willis

Volunteer of the Year

Presented to individuals who have displayed outstanding volunteer service in the community within the last year.

  • Donald Smith
  • Genevieve Kroenke
  • Larry Askren

Want to go? 

What: The 38th Ozzie Awards 

When: Saturday, Oct. 14; 5:30-6:30 p.m. cocktail reception; 6:30 dinner; 7-8:30 Ozzie Awards show 

Where: Springfield-Branson National Airport 

Tickets: Individual tickets, as well as tables, can be purchased through the Springfield Regional Arts Council’s Ozzie Awards website

Sarah Jenkins

Sarah Jenkins is a freelance writer in Springfield who’s eager to share stories about our unique and far-reaching arts scene and the people who make it all happen. More by Sarah Jenkins