Sunday, January 11, 2004

This anti-drug message comes with Silly String

By Anna Guido
Enquirer contributor

[IMAGE] Retro Bill, a national spokesperson and motivational speaker for the DARE program, appeared at Seipelt Elementary School in Milford.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
It's not easy to classify Retro Bill's act.

He looks like Elvis (the pompadour), acts like Pee Wee Herman (maniacal and loud) and presents a unique and serious message on the importance of making good choices.

Cap this with bouts of spraying Silly String on his young audiences and twirling a pink hula hoop, and you've got an act that transfixes students - and maybe, just maybe, gets across an effective anti-drug message.

"I don't drink, I don't do drugs and I don't smoke," Retro Bill (a.k.a. Bill Russ of Hollywood, Calif.) told about 100 fifth- and sixth-graders last week at Seipelt Elementary in the Milford Exempted Village School District.

Russ' Thursday visit to the Tristate was his first since he became DARE America's official Safety Buddy four years ago.

The message from DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) helps lay a foundation about positive life choices.

Bill Russ ("Retro Bill'') of Hollywood, Calif., travels 340 days a year promoting messages of safety, self-esteem and good choices. His DARE Safety Tips Video won awards in 2002 from the International Children's Film Festival and the International Family Film Festival. DARE officers in more than 350,000 classrooms annually use Retro Bill's video. For information, call (661) 257-1955 or go to
Russ learned the DARE message as a child in Aurora, Ill. By high school, he was known as "the boy who encouraged kids not to do bad things."

Before creating the Retro Bill character, Russ was a motivational speaker. Then in support of DARE, he produced a video on children's safety - starring Retro Bill - and donated it to DARE America for its use in schools.

"He's able to give the message of being different and having good behavior at the same time," said Milford DARE officer Kevin Petrocelli of the Miami Township Police Department.

The police department and school parent-teacher organizations paid for Retro Bill's visit. The total cost for six one-hour presentations Thursday and Friday at four public and two parochial schools was $350.

His Seipelt show started out with a bang. Retro Bill rushed into the cafeteria laughing, shouting and spraying Silly String all over the students.

From that antic came a message of sharing.

"If anybody didn't get a piece of Silly String, then those who did should give some to their neighbors, because sharing is cool," he said.

Retro Bill talked about his Elvis-like appearance, but emphasized that Retro Bill is alive and the King of Rock and Roll is dead, from drug abuse.

Russ' closing remark to students: "It's not easy growing up. But if you make good choices, it comes a lot easier."


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