Eric Thayer / Special to The Star

Bill Russ, who goes by the name Retro Bill in his nationwide safety and self-esteem programs for children, makes a point with a plastic chicken during a performance Wednesday at Junipero Serra School in Ventura.

Retro Bill gives students a boost!
D.A.R.E. 'safety buddy' presents entertaining lessons in Ventura
By Erinn Hutkin

To demonstrate the importance of wearing a bicycle helmet, Retro Bill looked to his friend Mr. Potato Head.

As he stood on stage Wednesday at Ventura's Junipero Serra School, Retro Bill -- children's advocate and motivational speaker -- dropped Mr. Potato Head, scattering plastic potato eyes, ears and hands across the stage.

"Boys and girls, you do not want this to happen to you," he said, lifting Mr. Potato Head as a plastic arm fell to the floor, followed by feet. "He is a mashed potato."

With a Bill and Ted-like "Whooah," Retro Bill delivered messages kids absorbed with giggles -- be safe and make good choices. Lying and bullying hurt, he said. Drugs and alcohol are bad. Being an individual is cool.

Also known as Hollywood actor Bill Russ, Retro Bill is the official "safety buddy" of D.A.R.E. America, a drug and violence prevention program. Using $250,000 of his own money, Retro Bill created a D.A.R.E. safety video used in 350,000 classrooms.

He travels nationwide performing safety and self-esteem shows. He's talking with networks about his own program. Starting this week, he will be a regular on Leeza Gibbons' national radio show, "Leeza at Night."

"Whoooah," he repeatedly said in surfer-boy disbelief.

Retro Bill's visit was a year in the making. Serra parent Kari Pina learned about him online while researching 2003's Red Ribbon Week against drugs. She called Retro Bill's secretary, but it took time for his schedule to mesh with the school's.

On stage, Retro Bill wore a black leather jacket with flames crawling up the sleeves and matching, fire-patterned sneakers. His dark, pointy pompadour was part Elvis Presley, part Ed Grimley.

Using a flock of rubber duckies, a pink Hula Hoop, a plastic chicken and an electric fan, Retro Bill was part stand-up comedian, part plastic-faced Jim Carrey twisted into a message as wholesome as Mr. Rogers'.

If you are a good person, he said with hands on hips and a jutting chest, you are a superhero.

If you're not, he said, curling his hands and snarling his lips into a growl, you look like a monster.

"Eeewwh," he growled.

Retro Bill knows teasing firsthand. His own family didn't have a lot of money, so he went to school with holes in his shoes. When a bully made fun of him, he went home crying.

He told his dad what was wrong, and learned if he was a good person, he was rich.

Eric Thayer / Special to The Star

Retro Bill made his points about self-esteem, good choices and safety, using props such as this Hula Hoop, a range of facial expressions and humor, to an appreciative audience Wednesday at Junipero Serra School in Ventura.

"People who do bad things never walk around happy," he said. "They're usually angry, frustrated and trying to hurt other people."

Sliding on a boxing glove, Retro Bill told of bowling with pro boxer friend Evander Holyfield. Turning his voice into a revving engine, he re-enacted Holyfield rolling a ball, only to knock down one pin.

Instead of fighting when a nearby bowler insulted him, Holyfield rolled again and hit a strike.

"We were like, 'Duude,' " Retro Bill said, kicking into the air. "The guy who made fun of him said, 'Whooah!' "

Fighting, Retro Bill explained, belongs in a trash can. He spiked the boxing glove into a garbage bin like a football.

"Now stay there," he commanded, jabbing a finger into the trash.

Third-grader Olivia Dela Cruz, 8, said the show made her laugh, but she also learned something.

"He told you to do better for ourselves and for everyone around us," she said.

Meanwhile, a boy who spoke to Retro Bill said he wished his sister had seen the show. The boy said his house burned when his sister played with matches.

In the words of Retro Bill, "Whooah."


Copyright 2005 The Ventura County Star

RETRO BILL™ is a registered trademark of
Bill Russ Productions, Inc.
All rights reserved.

D.A.R.E. is a registered trademark of D.A.R.E. America.
All rights reserved.