Remembering Russ Anderson (Who Always Had a Joke)
Following is the second in a series of oral histories from the people featured in the book Faces of a Fish Empire. (Read the first story here.) Jim Laur (pictured above, left) remembered the following story about driving the Empire Fish truck with his co-workers Russ Anderson (right) and Tom Stocke (middle). The Faces of a Fish Empire photography exhibit opens at the Door County Maritime Museum on July 6 and runs thru October 28, 2018.
“At Empire Fish Company, we had a system where some drivers would take a truck home and park it in their driveways. Our garage didn’t hold all the trucks. We didn’t like them being exposed outside, so the drivers would take the trucks home.
Russell Anderson was one of the drivers that took a truck home. He lived the farthest away. Tom Stocke also drove and did maintenance on the trucks. He lived closer to Empire, still on the south side. And I lived closest to Empire Fish Company. So, we didn’t have to use our cars. Russ Anderson would stop and pick up Tom Stocke first and then he would pick me up and then we would all go to work.
One morning, Russ picked Tom Stocke up and then he picked me up. Tom Stocke was in the middle. I was on the outside in this three man cab. We were coming east on Vliet Street when you get off the freeway. Russ seemed to be okay. We were all talking and all of a sudden when we got to the stoplight on 35th and Vliet Street, we went right through the light. I looked over and Russ was slumped over the steering wheel.
Tom Stocke noticed it about the same time as I did. Tom put his foot on the brake, pulled over, stopped the truck and turned the ignition off. Needless to say, we stopped on the other side of the intersection. I quick jumped out and went around to the driver’s side. I opened the door and I looked at Russ and I figured it was really something bad. I ran to a restaurant across the street, and said, “Call an ambulance right away. I think a man had a heart attack.”
The fire department was on 37th and Vliet, so they only had to come two blocks. In the meantime, Tom Stocke was using CPR of some kind. He was trying to revive him and finally the fire department came with the paramedics. They checked him out and took him out of the truck.
Tom Stocke and I drove the truck to Empire. We went into the office and told Jerry that Russ Anderson had died of a heart attack in the truck. He asked us, “Are you guys all right?” and we said, “Yeah.”
Russ was a good driver and he always had the northeast side of Milwaukee, Mequon, Fox Point, Whitefish Bay. He got very close to the Asian restaurants, Golden Dragon, all those out along the lake. And also, he was really close to the Jewish people.
Now, here’s a red headed guy, red face, glowing face and he always made friends with whoever talked to and he always had some kind of a joke. Even when he came back from a hard day’s work, he’d walk in, the first guy he saw he’d tell him a joke. That’s the personality of Russ Anderson. We were devastated to lose him, not only as a good worker but as a friend.
In a way, if Russ was gonna go, as jolly as he was and as outgoing as he was, that was the ideal circumstance. If he was gonna pass away, rather than linger being sick or whatever, having a car accident or a truck accident. To me, that was typical Russ Anderson, in my mind and I took it not as a negative, I took it as a positive. You say, “Well, how can you take somebody passing away as a positive?” Because you have to look at their life, how did they lead their life and how did it end?
Did you have good memories with that person through their life with you? Or did you have bad memories? Or did you just have some gray areas? It was all good with Russ Anderson and everybody loved the guy and when they say celebrate somebody’s life, or celebrate somebody’s passing, that’s the celebration part of it.”
As told to Joe Kutchera by Jim Laur on May 9, 2018 at McDonald’s.