Keith Russell Was Jellystone Park Rising Star
Keith Russell, a rising star in the Jellystone Park network and a strong proponent of ARVC, died unexpectedly over the holidays while visiting with his newest grandchild.
Russell, 65, co-owned and operated the Jellystone Park Camp-Resort in Horn Lake, Miss., with his wife, Penny. He died Jan. 2.
“I counted Keith as one of my closest friends in the franchise system,” said Rob Schutter, who holds dual roles as ARVC chairman and COO of Leisure Systems Inc. (LSI), which franchises Jellystone Parks across the country. “I will greatly miss him, his sense of humor and his counsel.”
Russell built his park from scratch in 2007 and joined the Jellystone Park system in 2008. “He immersed himself in the ‘Yogi’ way of life,” Schutter said. “His facility was consistently rated in the Top 10 of our system in ratings for facilities and customer satisfaction.”
Indeed, the Russells were named “Rookies of the Year” in 2009 and won Leisure Systems’ Pinnacle awards every year since then as well. Their park also won Leisure Systems’ “Facility of the Year” award in 2010 as well as a “Landscaping Award” for park beautification in 2011.
“He just recently completed a major expansion at this property, which saw the installation of a jumping pillow, sport courts and 14 full-service cabins,” Schutter said.
Russell was well respected in the LSI system and was elected to LSI’s Franchise Advisory Board in 2010, just two years after joining the network.
“He was inspiring to the other franchisees,” Schutter said. “People loved to be around him. He was one of those unique individuals who captures your attention. His easy going nature put you at ease and you came to respect him as an individual and as a business person. He just had that ability to get you to like him, and you could always expect a phone call from him out of the blue. He was always looking for input from other individuals. He never thought of himself as being an expert in all things. He would absorb what he could and utilize other peoples experiences.”
Beyond his professional achievements, ARVC President and CEO Paul Bambei said Russell had the character traits that exemplify America’s private park operators. “For me,” Bambei said, “Keith represents what I like most about this industry. He certainly was an individual with a great sense of humor and great Southern hospitality. He worked hard and did everything he knew how to do to make you feel at home.”
Bambei met Russell in April of 2011. “He hosted the first 20 Group meeting I ever went to at his park in Mississippi, and during those couple of days we got to know each other really well. I just found him to be a great supporter of ARVC and just a genuinely nice guy, whom I will miss,” he said.
Russell also had another quality many admired, which was not to take life too seriously. Schutter remembers a joke Russell played on him when he first joined the Jellystone Park network.
“I called him in the morning and told him that Kelly Jones and James Eaton would be at his park in 45 minutes to begin on site training,” Schutter recalled. “Then, about five or six hours later, Keith called me and said they still hadn’t arrived. I apologized profusely and told him I would find out what happened right away. So I called Kelly and asked her where she was. She told me, ‘I’m sitting across the table from Keith, which is where I’ve been for several hours.’ Then I heard Keith in the background saying, ‘Gotcha!’”
Me-Me LeBlanc, who co-owns the Jellystone Park Camp-Resort in Robert, La., said she enjoyed Russell’s sense of humor. “He didn’t take himself too seriously, but he took his business seriously,” she said.
Russell is survived by his wife, Penny, his son, Jimmy; his daughters, Holly, Jessica and Amy; and eight grandchildren.