This past weekend, the Center hosted a celebration of the life of Craftsbury founder, Russell Spring, who passed away last summer at the age of 92. As we prepare to embark on the 2019 sculling season at Craftsbury, we asked Ric Ricci, sculling associate director, to remember Russell’s impact on the sculling program.
Russell and Janet took ownership of the former Cutler Academy in 1975, turning it into what would become the Craftsbury Outdoor Center. They both enjoyed being in the out-of-doors and believed that interaction with the natural world was enjoyable and essential for the development of body, mind, and spirit. Outdoor recreation in Vermont was all about skiing in the winter. But what to do in spring, summer and fall? Russell was aware of rowing as a sport, having spent his undergraduate years at Yale. His original idea was to make the Center available in the spring for rowing teams to train during their spring break. However, this wasn’t a viable idea, as spring training for college teams takes place in March when Hosmer is still frozen! Seeking professional advice, Russell reached out to Jim Joy from Wesleyan and Norm Graf from Trinity. Jim Joy answered the call and while skiing on the lake with Russell, Jim realized that Hosmer would be an excellent sculling venue because the hills along the lake protected the water from wind. In the summer of 1976, Jim Joy ran a two-week training camp for aspiring scullers – which subsequently evolved into the program that we know today.
Russell was an accomplished skier and instructor. He had limited knowledge of sculling but understood that sculling, like skiing, was most enjoyable when scullers learned good sculling technique. He also saw sculling as a lifelong sport with aesthetic qualities that transcended the competitive arena. Because Russell was not a sculler, he wisely did not try to micromanage the sculling program. However, he was a good judge of people, and because he had taught skiing in Europe, he hired coaches who had good teaching and coaching skills as well as engaging personalities. Russell also paid careful attention to the feedback from the guests and tactfully gave the coaching staff constructive feedback and/or sincere encouragement.
Russell had outstanding people skills and a high degree of emotional intelligence. Although Russell graduated from Yale, he was not comfortable promoting the traditional elitist connotations of sculling and rowing. To that end, he encouraged a broad range of diverse coaching styles and different ways of thinking about the sport. He also wanted the Center to serve a broad range of men and women with various levels of ability. The Center was not going to be solely for aspiring Olympians!
For Russell, life was all about the process and the journey. He loved to interact with guests at meals and was eager to get feedback from a variety of people. He was an excellent listener and a keen judge of people. He was an avid reader and loved to exchange ideas. He was a devotee of the philosopher, writer and psychologist Joseph Campbell and on many occasions encouraged his employees and friends to “follow their bliss”. He was fiercely independent, strong in his beliefs and loyal. Always an accommodating, gracious host but also an astute businessman, he believed in the business model that “small was beautiful”. Russell’s work laid the foundation for everything the Center is today, and his legacy is present in all that we do.
A 2014 interview with Russell on founding COC