Among coastal jet-setters, Iowa has a reputation as a “fly-over” state, a boring place young people can’t wait to leave. Fast forward a few years, however, and you’ll find a striking reversal: a notable percentage of Iowans return to the state later on. Some are searching for more affordable housing or safer cities, for others it’s better schools. For a real-world example, you need look no further than our Business Manager, Kirk Russell. His profession has taken him all over the country and even overseas, yet here he is, half an hour away from where he was born.
Sac City, Iowa, Kirk’s birthplace, is home to the world’s largest popcorn ball, a fact that probably doesn’t do much to dispel Iowa’s fly-over reputation. Still, Sac City is a prosperous small town, a good place for Kirk and his three older siblings to grow up in the 1950s and ’60s. Orville Russell owned two filling stations and was a Texaco Oil jobber who supplied other stations. He kept his sons busy pumping gas and washing windows at the family stations on Main Street. A talented student-athlete, Kirk graduated from the local high school in 1965.
After a year attending Drake University in Des Moines with the idea of pursuing a legal career, he transferred to the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, graduating with a degree in sociology. While there he met and married Debbie Herbrandson, a music major who grew up in the nearby town of Alcester, S.D. They moved to San Antonio, Texas, so that Kirk could do graduate work at Texas Christian University. After completing two years of a three-year program, they switched gears and moved back to Iowa, where Kirk served as Director of Financial Aid and Placement at Briar Cliff College in Sioux City and Debbie received her degree in accounting. Following this, the Russells held positions in business and accounting, moving through various cities in the Midwest, on to Trinidad, West Indies, and ending up eventually in Visalia, California. When the older of their two boys was five, they realized that they wanted their children to attend better schools than were available in California, and they chose to move back to Iowa.
Shortly after returning to his home state in 1990, Kirk saw a tiny classified ad in the Des Moines Register advertising a business manager position at a small manufacturing company in Lake City. Among other requirements, the ad said, “Must be familiar with Macintosh computers.” Since he had once turned on a Mac, he figured he was qualified. Fortunately, he had solid business skills that filled our needs, and he and his family soon moved to Lake City.
It was unusual for a company of our size at the time to employ a full-time business manager. In smaller shops, the owner often runs everything out of his back pocket. Though few, there have been several failures in the industry, often involving people who were fine craftsmen but found themselves at sea when managing customer deposits of hundreds of thousands of dollars for projects spanning several years. Lynn Dobson determined that in order to focus more fully on the artistic aspect of building organs, someone other than he should be responsible for daily management of the business.
As the Business Manager of Dobson Pipe Organ Builders, Kirk would be the first to say that nothing he does is very glamorous. Paying the bills doesn’t draw admiring attention from organ aficionados as might carving pipeshades or voicing reeds. Still, clients and suppliers quite reasonably expect that all business dealings with us will be handled promptly and correctly. In the thousand unsung details of running a business, from dealing with bankers and insurance agents to making budgets, doing payroll, controlling inventory, cost accounting and arranging maintenance of company vehicles, Kirk carries out his duties efficiently, effectively and with good humor.
To his wide-ranging business experience must be added Kirk’s service to country and community. He was in ROTC, and after moving back from Texas served as Executive Officer of his local Army Reserve unit, attaining the rank of Captain before going on inactive status. More recently, he served on our local school board, on the Calhoun County Ambulance Commission, and on the board of the Domestic/Sexual Abuse Outreach Center.
When his sons moved away from home and his wife was named Chief Financial Officer of Friendship Haven, a retirement community in Fort Dodge, Iowa, Kirk and Debbie moved from Lake City to be closer to her job. Kirk now has an eighty-mile daily commute across some of that fly-over farmland. For him, relaxation always involves activity, and it frequently leads him to the mountains: he has conquered the summits of Mt. Whitney, Long’s Peak, Pike’s Peak and others, and has hiked rim-to-rim through the Grand Canyon.
Climbing a mountain: not a bad analogy for the business of building an organ. Kirk helps us keep an eye on the goal while managing our resources to meet that goal, which also allows us to enjoy the view along the way.
drawn from The Organbuilder, Spring 2007
Dobson Pipe Organ Builders, Ltd.
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