Dan Russell defines a legacy
Earlier this year Dan Russell announced he will retire as the executive director of the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center after 27 years of service. This announcement came as a surprise to many, as Russell has been a constant backdrop in an ever-changing landscape that is Duluth.
I have had a unique perspective to both the building and the man that started nearly 28 years ago when I was 16 years old. As with many in the area, my first job was at the DECC. Entering the workforce for the first time brings many lessons that stay with us throughout our chosen professions. I started as a busser and prep worker in the kitchen and moved into various jobs including short order cook, bar back, bartender and manager. My job at the DECC helped pay for my degree at the University of Minnesota Duluth and was how I paid the bills until I found my career working for the city.
Upon first starting at the DECC, I knew Dan Russell as simply "the boss." Even though he was responsible for a multimillion dollar budget and a facility that employed hundreds of people, Russell would often stop and talk with even us new bussers and ask how our day was or if we needed anything.
The role of the DECC was beginning to change about the same time I was hired. The first building expansion, the William A. Irvin, renovations to the Duluth Curling Club, the development of Bayfront Park and the Omnimax Theatre all occurred while I was employed there. Many of us were excited about the growth of the DECC, but at that point in our part-time jobs it was hard to grasp the enormous effort and success that was occurring around us. As teenagers and young adults we were not fully aware of the impact of Dan and the DECC. The projects Dan was spearheading continued to build and become an important part of the foundation for the flourishing tourism industry that the city benefits from today.
During my tenure at the DECC I got to know the administrative staff and realized that they were a special group of people. This impressive team was led by Dan and the operations director, Bob Hom. Their passion and enjoyment for the job was evident even to a part-time bartender.
When the Omnimax Theatre was completed, I was selected as manager and had the opportunity to meet an incredible woman who worked for Dan. Anna was the sales and marketing director and one of the many talented individuals working in the DECC administration. Eventually I was able to convince her to become my wife.
It was at this point in my life that I was able to get to know Dan on a personal level and began to see the impact he had on the many people in both his personal and professional life. I have had a front row seat to watch Anna develop professionally due in large part to the friendship and mentoring from Dan. Both Dan and Anna have shown me a larger view of the world and given me tangible lessons on leadership that I use daily in my career.
The personal impact that Dan has made to both individuals and the community often gets lost in the long list of accomplishments. My relationship with Dan has moved from employee to acquaintance and finally to friend. Throughout all of these, I have seen Dan treat those around him with kindness and respect. I have witnessed him deal with personal hardship and professional criticism with humility, grace and humor.
The term "visionary" gets tossed around casually and often these days but this is an accurate description of Dan Russell. He has the skill to lead in the present combined with the imagination and tenacity to look to the future. Dan has been able to provide stability to the DECC and the community without sacrificing innovation. Dan's greatest success is how he empowers and cares for the community and the people around him. The legacy of Dan Russell and the DECC is not in the buildings or property but the lasting impact they have had on so many people in this community.
Jason Tanski is a 20-year veteran of the Duluth Police Department currently assigned as a sergeant of the Patrol Division. He is a lifelong resident of the area with strong family and professional ties to Duluth. He is married to Anna Tanski and they live in Hermantown.