Saturday, April 13, 2002
He moves kids forward by taking them back
PORT ST. LUCIE – Every morning before announcements and the Pledge of Allegiance, thousands of St. Lucie County school children watch Retro Bill twist and shout in his faux leopard coat and jet-black pompadour, spewing safety tips at a frenetic pace kids eat like candy.
His daily helping of drug-prevention and safety messages is a tour de force of fun, color and street rods, delivering one part cartoon-style entertainment and one part education. On Friday, the national Drug Abuse Resistance Education spokesman arrived in Port St. Lucie for an annual march against drugs and violence, upstaging the mayor and police chief at a news conference before going on to meet his pint-sized fans at Rivers Edge Elementary School.
Do children really learn how to handle strangers and deal with peer pressure while having so much fun? Bill Russ, also known as Retro Bill, thinks they do.
“I was producing impact videos for D.A.R.E., and I was so captivated by the results that I decided to lend my character to the program,” said Russ, who was inspired to portray a flamboyant 1950s character after his introductions to Elvis and the motion picture American Graffiti. “It’s a celebration of America. It’s a very colorful way of capturing a child’s attention. Even the high school kids think it’s cool.”
Russ and former hockey great Clark Gilles will be the star attractions at a D.A.R.E. march today. Anyone can march in the 10a.m. parade from Midport Lake on Midport Road to nearby Lyngate Park, but the first 1,000 people who register beginning at 9 a.m. at Midport Lake will receive a free T-shirt and lunch. After the parade, children can enjoy free games and music at Lyngate Park, and helicopter rides will be offered for a fee.
Although most elementary-age children likely have never heard of Gilles, who led the New York Islanders to four Stanley Cup trophies in the early 1980s, D.A.R.E. officer Paul Griffith asked him to attend as proof that education and hard work triumph. Gilles said he’s never been involved with drugs and began a career as a financial adviser when he became too old for professional sports.
“We want kids to know sports is not the only thing they should focus on,” D.A.R.E. officer Gerry Cantalupo said. “Education is the number one thing.”
Port St. Lucie’s D.A.R.E. program is paying Russ for his appearance, but the actor donated a 44-minute safety video that is shown in 350,000 classrooms across the country. It’s part of D.A.R.E.’s curriculum, and segments are shown daily to St. Lucie County students in grades kindergarten through 4.
Copyright The Palm Beach Post 2002
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