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Letter - Erk’s bust a labor of love

Editor:

            It has been my privilege to be a part of that group whose efforts have resulted in a beautiful bronze bust being presented to Georgia Southern this past weekend; a gift which is a fitting tribute to the man and legend known to all of us simply as Erk. 

            The bust is a result of many meetings, discussions, designs and opinions being debated. All ideas had a common objective: to honor a man who had tremendous influence over not just our football successes but growth and economic development in Statesboro and Bulloch County as well. 

            I’d like to thank fellow members of the Erk Russell committee who gave their time and energy to see this project through; Bruce Yawn, Tim Durden, Paul Whitlock, and Tray Baird. I would also like to thank president Bruce Grube and the Georgia Southern Foundation for allowing us to pursue this project. Their support of this project has been enthusiastic to say the least!

            When the final design was determined and our needs identified . . .it was very obvious that two groups should be involved because of their ties to Erk and the love and admiration they still have for Erk and the Russell family:

            The Eagle Football Players Association wanted to be a part for obvious reasons, because of the life lessons that Erk taught them over the course of their football careers. You can still see the love in their eyes and hear the respect in their voices when speaking about Erk.

            The Park Avenue Bank advisory board had been interested in recognizing Erk since long before his death, and Paul Whitlock used his influence to gain not only a commitment from the advisory board but also a commitment from the corporate office in Valdosta to support this project. Erk was a organizing director of Eagle Bank and Trust. He loved the bank and played a significant role in its successes. The bank loved Erk as well.

            When approached both PAB and the EFPA enthusiastically committed to fund this project at 100 percent of the amount needed to make the project become a reality.  I’d like to personally extend my heartfelt appreciation to them for making it possible to honor Erk Russell. Through their generosity we have the opportunity to link his traditions to all Eagles past present and future, and all Georgia Southern fans will experience Erk’s legacy as a part of the game day experience for years to come! Thank you.

            I would be remiss if I did not recognize Pat Steadman, a tremendously gifted artist and retired GSU art professor, who agreed to turn our vision into a truly beautiful work of art. I watched him take and old black and white photo and transform it into this very real and life like portrait of Erk (literally using his bare hands!)

            As the project began taking form and Pat began preparing a clay model, photos were taken and shared with university officials and the Russell family. We wanted everyone’s endorsement of this project and being able to show them the bust in its early stages certainly helped us gain approval. One member of the Russell family told me that a bust of Erk at the GA-FL football Hall of Fame in Jacksonville lacks the detail and quality that this work by Pat Steadman displays. Pat did an outstanding job, and we appreciate him so much and we are fortunate to have such talent in our community

            And now, Erk is back down in the end zone where he typically could be found on game day in the years following his retirement. A new tradition has been born as the players now rub his bronze head or give him a loving head butt prior to taking the field of play. Erk’s presence will help inspire our Eagles to come up with that big play when we really need to dig down deep!

            GATA Eagles!

Bill Olliff

Chairman

Erk Russell committee

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