Joe Russell: Pedaling the road to happiness

Joe Russell, 63, worked at Bill’s Bike and Run for 33 years before retiring Thursday. Despite being blind in one eye and deaf, Russell found a way to turn his passion for cycling into a full-time job. He rode his bicycle to work daily, where he swept up the shop and added accessories to bikes.

Joe Russell has had to overcome obstacles since the day he was born.

Russell, born in 1951, was one of a set of twins born prematurely. In order to survive, he was placed in an incubator for nearly two months. Complications with his birth left him blind in one eye and completely deaf. His twin died during birth.

“Joe was in oxygen for 66 days back in 1951,” his sister, Nancy Picker, said. “They didn’t know there would be complications from the oxygen. Between the premature birth and the 66 days in pure oxygen, there were effects with his sight and hearing. He’s been greatly affected with communication.”

Those issues haven’t stopped Russell from turning his hobby, bicycles, into a job. He retired Thursday after working 33 years at Bill’s Bike and Run.

Russell never was able to drive a car, so bikes became his mode of transportation early on. In his late 20s, he started hanging around Bill’s and over time, he forged a relationship with then-owner Stan Murdock. Murdock hired Russell for part-time work, mostly sweeping the shop and shoveling snow during the winter.

“He was just a good kid,” Murdock said. “He was always there, always worked hard. He was a really nice guy. He was there for years and years, always cleaning and shoveling snow.”

Eventually, Russell moved up and became a mechanic, which is something he said, through his sister, he enjoys thoroughly.

About three years ago Murdock sold the business to Gary Wright, who kept Russell on staff and moved him to full time. He still kept up with sweeping and shoveling snow, but mostly he added accessories to bikes after they had been purchased.

“When we get really busy in here, it’s not uncommon for us to sell 15 bikes a day,” Wright said. “Joe would put on the kickstands and odometers, he was real quick at it and real good at it. He’s really reliable.

“He’s really overcome a lot and he’s a really good employee.”

Now, with more time on his hands, Russell will be working on his house and gardening, Picker said. Picker helped Russell find a small home across the street from her. There, Russell can live independently but is close enough for Picker to help out.

Russell and Murdock remain friends. Murdock said Russell is the guy he contacts when he needs help.

“Sometimes he comes and helps me to work, if I need something moved or cleaned or snow shoveled,” Murdock said. “He will do anything. He’s very dependable.”