Fan ushers U football games for 72 seasons

By By Jed Brinton

By Jed Brinton

Jim Russell went to his first U football games the old-fashioned way-he sneaked into the stadium. The plan worked until he was 12 years old, when he was caught by the stadium director and dragged out.

“He said I had two choices-he could call the police, or I could start working for him,” said Russell, who is 87. “I said ‘When do I start?’ and he said ‘You start right now.’ They took me up into the stands and showed me how to usher.”

Russell has been ushering for home football games at what is now Rice-Eccles Stadium for more than 70 years.

“Apart from my years in the army, and a year when I had an automobile accident, I’ve worked every season for 72 seasons,” he said.

After working at the stadium for many years, Russell began ushering at the U Pioneer Memorial Theater when it opened in 1962. He has also served as the head usher at Kingsbury Hall, managed ushers at the Salt Palace, and ushered for the Crimson Club and at the Huntsman Center.

“People know where Jim is, and they will only go in his door at the Huntsman Center,” said Dave Wakefield, U Guest Services manager. “It’s not an athletic event if Jim’s not there.”

“He’s always been Mr. Dependable,” said Craig Carter, former supervisor of ushers for University Services.

Besides being an usher, Russell has held a variety of other day jobs, including working for a florist shop, Utah Power & Light, the Deseret Morning News, The Salt Lake Tribune and volunteering in leadership positions with Salt Lake area Head Start programs.

“If I didn’t have something to do, I’d wither right now,” he said.

One of the highlights of Russell’s years as a devoted Ute fan was the undefeated 2004 football season. Although he didn’t think he would be able to go to the game, friends talked Russell into going, and he says it was well worth it.

“(The 2005 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl was) one of the biggest thrills of my life-all those red jerseys in the stands,” Russell said. “It was a Utah crowd, I’ll tell you. That was the thrill of a lifetime.”

Russell laughed as he remembered the game.

“I was sitting behind the Pittsburgh band-they were so cocky as the game started, but they didn’t say much on the way out. We really enjoyed it.”

In contrast, Russell also recalls the U’s loss to BYU in 2006 after an 11-yard touchdown pass on the final play of the game. “It’s hard on my heart when they do those things,” he said.

Russell said that he’s hopeful the football team will do well this year.

Russell has never attended the U himself, but his two daughters both graduated from the U. He started working full-time when he was only a half-credit shy of finishing high school.

Russell went back to school five years ago and received his diploma.

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Anna Kartashova

Jim Russell has worked as an usher at Utah football games for over 70 years. Russell also works events at the Huntsman Center, Pioneer Memorial Theater and Kingsbury Hall.