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The Deer Park Community

Leaders reflect on Russo's legacy

Written by Bobby Vasquez. Posted in Community

RAlphRussoIN OUR COMMUNITY
A stalwart for community involvement and helping men break the chains of substance died Friday. Community leaders reflected on Ralph Russo’s life, humility and selflessness to Deer Park, its civic organizations such as the Rotary Club and The Wheelhouse. Services for Russo are set for Thursday.
RussoWheelhosueRalph Russo watches ongoing construction of the new Wheelhouse facility on Helgra Street in 2015. Russo, a staunch supporter of The Wheelhouse and many other local civic organizations died Friday after a battle with cancer. InsideDP.com file photo.

Ralph Russo, a tireless advocate for the Deer Park community and The Wheelhouse, died Friday after a battle with cancer. Services for Russo are set for Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at St. Bernadette Catholic Church.

In the 1960s, he served in the US Air Force while playing baseball in Hawaii. After graduating college in 1970, Russo became procurement manager for Diamond Shamrock, OxyChem and Rohm and Haas.

While working in the petrochemical industry, Russo became instrumental in helping local businesses work with industry partners.

With his wife Pat constantly at his side, Russo's inviting smile and demeanor always leads to an invitation for conversation, laughter and storytelling ranging from grandchildren to the hope for the men of The Wheelhouse.

Deer Park Rotary President Jay Stokes said Russo’s passing leaves a heavy void in the club, where he served as past president and the club’s membership chairman.

“Ralph was a Rotarian’s Rotarian and exemplified 'Service Above Self.' He was so special to all of us in Rotary,” said Stokes. “Everyone who came into our club for many years had to go through Ralph as he was in charge of our membership orientation. He always gave his time so selflessly to not just us in Rotary, but to Deer Park.”

While Russo was a supporter of many Deer Park civic organizations, his greatest passion was in The Wheelhouse, a home for men battling drug and alcohol addictions.

“It’s hard to summarize in words what he meant to The Wheelhouse. He took it in a new direction. We would not be here today without him,” said Georgette Ford, who is a board member of The Wheelhouse.

Ford said in The Wheelhouse’s darkest hours, Russo was often the light, literally.

“There were times when he would pay out of his own pocket to keep the lights on for those guys. Sometimes he would get donations from supporters just to keep things going over there,” she said. “That who he was. He came to Texas and loved it here and had a giving heart. He gave to everything that was here. You’ll never have another Ralph. We have so many great people, but he was a special person. He wanted to see people succeed from The Wheelhouse. We will carry on his legacy. We’re not going to let what he built go to waste.”

Through Russo’s efforts, he brought several entities together to launch a capital campaign to build a new facility for The Wheelhouse. Through his efforts and leadership he, The Wheelhouse board and other supporters were able to purchase the land and facilitate the construction of the building.

The Wheelhouse opened its new facility on Helgra Street in 2015.

In 2016, Russo, a New Jersey native, was honored as the Deer Park Citizen of the Year. When Russo was announced as the Citizen of Year, Chad Burke, CEO of the Economic Alliance described Russo as a man who took the lead in giving back to the community he loved.

"If there is a food pantry that needs food, you'll find him delivering boxes. If there is extra food from a meeting, he'll make a delivery to the commercial refrigerators at The Wheelhouse," Burke said at the time. "He has done so much more to make our community a great place to work, live, learn and play. He is a man of action and integrity, walking side-by-side with our mayors, council members, community college chancellors, school superintendents, industry leaders on many community improvement projects. He stands tall because of his commitment to serving our community.”