“I liked Russ from the moment I met him,” said Jeff Hansen, CEO of Iowa Select Farms. “He was a big-hearted guy who everyone loved.”
Russ Hinders was well-loved across the community of Ackley. He was known for his friendly nature, incredible work ethic and bright smile. Today was his celebration of life at the Sietsema Funeral Home. He passed away on Jan 26.
Jeff and Deb Hansen knew Russ and Bev for years. “Russ and Bev were neighbors to my parents and longtime friends,” said Deb. “Our families enjoyed being neighbors and at times Jeff and I traveled with Russ and Bev.”
When Jeff was in high school, he worked for Russ. Russ was working the night shift at the Maytag plant in New Hampton at the time, but also had several other ventures.
“I was doing odd jobs like shingling roofs, custom anhydrous application and helping with Russ’s feeder pig business,” said Jeff. “He was a working machine, always taking on opportunities so he could help people out and also support his growing family.” They were very family oriented, close with their children and grandchildren.”
After high school, Jeff and Deb started their own business, but Russ and Bev were never far, given Iowa Falls is 14 miles west of Ackley. Deb recalled, “It’s a close-knit community and Russ and Bev were always there, always supportive of our family and in our circle of friends.”
As Jeff grew his businesses, Russ took a job selling feed for Moorman’s when the Maytag plant shut down. One of the customers he called on was Jeff Hansen.
Twelve years at Moorman’s had passed when Jeff and Deb, by happenstance, ran into Russ and Bev at a casino in Las Vegas, “Why I am buying feed from Russ when I’d rather have him working for me?” Jeff hired Russ on the spot, in the lobby of the New York New York hotel. It was 1997.
Jeff and Russ were back together again, now with roles reversed. Jeff had Russ work his way through much of the operations, first feed and logistics, then environmental services, and finally the special projects team, which was a perfect fit for Russ. He took care of those unique, one-of a kind projects perfect for his work ethic and fortitude.
The special projects team was deployed to farms to replace worn out slats, curtains, and feed pads. They would also distribute meat packs and Christmas gifts to employees.
Ardy Allen was on the team, but he knew Russ well before they worked together. “Socializing in Ackley meant a fun time with Russ,” said Ardy.
Ardy always appreciated Russ’s light-hearted pranks, even when he was the unsuspecting target. “He really loved his job and the people he worked with. He went out of his way to make work fun.”
Brian Nevenhoven worked alongside Russ for years and took over most of his responsibilities after Russ retired. “Jeff depended on him for a Russ for a lot. He was the one who got the call when there was a tough job that needed done.”
Another team member, Carland Siems, now a low voltage technician, said Russ did not want to do any shortcuts. He wanted it done right the first time. “I think he just really loved working,” he said. “He was getting close to 70 and we kept asking, ‘when are you going to finally retire?’ and he’d just shake his head.”
Patty Meyer-Ellingson said Russ was always there to help people, no matter how busy he was. He was a good man—a man of faith and family. “He’d make a point to stop and visit, share stories about his children and ask about mine.”
The special projects assignment Russ loved the most was easily the grilling team. “It really was the early years of our community outreach and Foundation work,” said Jeff.
Russ drove all over Iowa, preparing his legendary baby back ribs and slow-cooked pork loin at company golf outings, charity fundraisers and employee picnics. He and his crew would always “spiff up” in slacks and company polos, rolling out the red carpet to whoever was lucky enough to have been invited.
The World Pork Expo was extra special for everyone, when Russ would mark a job well done with a round of strawberry daiquiris for the team.
Russ work for Jeff for 15 years before finally retiring at the age of 69.
But when one door closes, another opens. More time to spend with Bev, his children and grandchildren. And, a new morning routine. Up to the Ackley Civic Center to meet up with a few of his close friends to play his favorite game—cribbage.
“Cribbage helped him concentrate,” said Bev. “He just loved to play.”
Many would not know, though, that in his later years Russ was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
“He never had the physical symptoms or any visible signs,” said Bev. Ardy said in all of the years of tough, manual work, he never noticed any difference in Russ—he was strong, in incredible shape.
Bev said that, aside from being around his children and grandchildren, what brought him comfort in his final years was a Parkinson’s support group he formed with his good friend, Alan Keninger.
Before COVID prohibited then from gathering, the group had grown to 16-18 people which met monthly, back at the Ackley Civic Center.
“More than anything, he wanted to hear his friends’ stories,” said Bev. “They were all there for one another, helping support each other as they lived with this terrible disease.”
In honor of Russ, the Deb and Jeff Hansen Foundation is donating a new seating arrangement to the Ackley Civic Center. Once COVID is past us and the furniture is in place, the Parkinson’s Support group can carry on as Russ would have wanted. Gathering comfortably and to enjoy the fellowship and friendship. And a game of cribbage.