The People’s Entrepreneur

Fall/Winter 2024 Saint Michael's College Magazine

February 20, 2024
Susan Salter Reynolds

Jack Russell is a people person. He’s a humble guy, but he knows what he’s good at.

“I’m good at relationships. I’m good at bringing people with varied talents together,” he said. “When people ask what business I’m in, I say,‘survival.’”

Fifty years in real estate, nine offices, a 100-employee company that manufacturers pet supplements, property management—the list of his entrepreneurial endeavors goes on.

Jack Russell ’70 (Photo by Jerry Swope)

“Thinking differently, seeing what’s needed, that’s what business is about,” he said. But these days, Russell really gets a lot of joy out of his role as honorary wing commander for the Vermont National Guard Honorary Commanders. He also enjoys support- ing the Vermont ABA pro basketball team he helped start. Sports writer Alex Wolff had suggested creating a team to motivate young players and bring a high level of professional basketball to Vermont. Russell helped put together a group of funders, with the goal of donating the team to their fans in two or three years. The team won two national titles in three years.

Russell grew up in Jersey City—you can still hear it in his voice—and he thinks that the Jersey City streets may be where he learned to negotiate, read body language, and listen, as he worked in the projects.

“I came from the streets,” he said. “Basketball opened more doors than anything else. If I didn’t have basketball …”

Russell came to Saint Michael’s College on a basketball scholarship in 1966, and he has lots of fond memories. He played basketball all four years and was one of three captains on the team. (He continued playing pickup basketball right up to 2020.)

The Edmundites had a profound effect on Russell, particularly Rev. Ray Doherty ’51 and Rev. Brian Cummings ’86 (who also hails from Jersey City). It was the Edmundites who taught him that leadership is really about service—”adding something bigger to your life than you are, something that gives meaning to your life and lets you dis- cover who you are.” Russell sees his liberal arts education at St. Mike’s as a “gift” in his career. It was here, he said, that he learned “not what to think, but how to think.”

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English, Russell stayed in the Burlington area and taught at Missisquoi Valley Union High School.

Jack Russell ’70 visits with members of the Vermont Air National Guard in November. As an honorary wing commander, Russell acts as a community relations liaison between the Guard and the local community. (Photo by Jerry Swope)

He began to pursue his M.A. in Education, but left academia to work in construction. “I was making $6000 a year teaching. I began to see other possibilities, things I could do.” He started selling real estate in Milton, Vermont, but the local realtor organi- zation made it hard for new compa- nies to come in—and they wanted him to write a 1000-word essay before allowing him to join. He decided to go it alone. Soon, he had so much business the organization let him join. His company, Jack Associates, was a Century 21 company for over 40 years, before joining Berkshire Hathaway Home Services and changing its name to Vermont Realty Group.

“Real estate is easy,” he laughed. “People are difficult.”

Russell understood early on that real estate is more than a numbers game. It concerns people, their personal goals, dreams, and ambitions.

Jack Russell ’70 jokes that he often works out of his truck rather than one of his nine real estate offices. (Photo by Jerry Swope)

Clients gravitated to him.

Russell talks in stories. His memories are vivid, full of people he is grateful to have met and the experiences he has had along the way: the elderly woman who owned the valuable land next to the Burlington airport, and would allow only Russell to broker the deal for her to sell it (the other guys “never asked me what I wanted,” she said); a recent conversation with the head of the Armed Services; the time he brought 25 kids from an orphanage to a basketball game; trips to France with his wife, Lynn, to trace the life of St. Edmund; the couple Russell helped establish a daycare center; the Gold Star families; the honorary commander program; the 300 men and women about to deploy to Syria, and many more.

So what’s next? Retirement is not for Russell. “Something with charities,” he mused. “Something I can feel good about.” Jack and Lynn Russell have been helping people with their dreams and projects for years. But the projects must provide a meaningful service and demonstrate a profit. He’s been a steadfast and innovative supporter of Saint Michael’s over the long haul, serving on a wide range of committees, including the committee to redo the athletic department, and serving as a board member for Saint Anne’s Shrine for 14 years, for example.

“How do you do all these things?” he said he is often asked. “The word I learned late in life was delegate.” Over the phone, I could almost hear him shrug. “There’s always more to do,” he said. “Every day I see opportunity.”

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