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Spring has arrived with great fanfare, with warm winds, a dearth of daffodils and the assurance that as seasons change, the heart of Champion remains very much the same.   Part of the sameness is the shared loss of dear friends and neighbors.  Added to that long list now are Neil Schudy and Russell Upshaw.  They welcomed strangers with their friendly smiles and good humor.  With their warm hearts they embraced their precious families with the kind of specialized love that endures long past their own passing–true Champions who never strayed long far from home.

In recent days Russell was back around the stove in Henson’s Store enjoying the stories and reminiscences of the whittle and spit crowd.  (They don’t really spit in the store.)  With Dean and Dailey by his side, he was present at every major event in Champion—every wagon train, trail ride, jam session or get together of any kind.  He loved the place and the place loved him.  He would have liked what happened the other day.  Almartha’s bard came sauntering in with an arm load of stove wood and about an equal measure of charm.  He said there is nothing colder than an east wind.   He says turkeys will not gobble in an east wind.  And when it comes to fishing he says, “Wind out of the east, fish bite the least.  Out of the west, they bite the best.”  Texas Phyllis would interject her favorite quote here from John Buchanan that fishing is the “perpetual series of occasions for hope.” Phyllis has two pairs of earrings—one in the shape of the great state of Texas and the other a matched set of fishing lures.  Hopes are that she will make it up to the beautiful Ozarks and dip her line in the Bryant.  She can hold her own around the stove as well and would have loved to have been able to put her spin on this yarn as it unfolded Wednesday.  Russell would have liked it too:

A prominent citizen had a large dead tree next to one of his stock ponds and engaged a neighbor to help take it down.  He wanted it to fall just so, but it was leaning well out over the water and every twig pointed to the probability that the humongous ranking of wood would empty the pond with its enormous splash.  With every drop vital in these dry times and more winter on the way, the judicious farmer knew he was treading a delicate line.  He had clean fresh water and a mountain of fire wood on one hand and on the other– a gurgling quagmire of sucking mud slowly seeping into every fiber of the ancient behemoth oak rendering it useless as well as a great liability.  The plan was set.  The position of the notch and the kerf were discussed, debated and decided upon and at last the big honking, roaring, growling chain went screaming around the bar and into the bark of that big old tree and tore with relentless vengeance into its primordial heart.   It stood.  It stood.  And continued to stand as the smoke filled the air and the saw whined and moaned and droned on and on through centuries of growth.  The farmer’s dear cowered near, safe in the cab of her truck.  She had planned to film the entire the affair but she lost her concentration just at the crucial moment, just as the die was cast, just as the balance was tipped –the wrong way.  Instantly alert to the danger and quick as a wild Ozark panther flash, the nimble footed farmer scaled to the highest of the main branches and flung more than the weight of his body—the weight of his very will—against the fulcrum to over edge the tree’s desire just by a feather’s weight.  As it hesitated in its new course the farmer seized the second and lunged to the limb below.  On his way down he grabbed the limb upon which he had been standing and gave it a powerful jerk then let go to land his sure footed might on the limb below.  The force was like that of a dead-fall hammer and the double blows continued and the tree succumbed.  The farmer rode that skyscraper of a tree down like an escalator, stepping off on to his own firm ground with all the panache of a well healed, big time, up-town CEO in high polished Florsheim shoes and a custom made three pieced suit.  The events did not all make it to the video as the farmer’s dear abandoned her desire to record it in favor of relishing the moment live in rapt admiration.  “My hero!” she sighed.  The diameter of the downed tree was just about the same how high as that young lady–something to remember.

Russell Upshaw was the hero of the Vanzant bluegrass jam.  Folks had gone to Mansfield for a long time to hear and play music, but that venue became unavailable.  Then they took to Plummer’s Junction and had a good go of it there for a while until it changed hands and the new owner did not prove to be a great appreciator of the local music.  About that time the Vanzant community put some good energy into the old school house to make it a meeting place, a party and event center for folks living in the middle of nowhere.   The next thing you know the Vanzant Thursday night pot-luck jam became a tradition there.  It happened because at every step along the way Russell and Sue were there to encourage and make the way open and do what needed to be done so that the music could go on.   Thank you, Russell.    Last Thursday night was a good one with two dobros and all the regulars plus a novice fiddler who sat in for the first time and did a good job with the “Irish Washerwoman” and “Danny Boy.”  The dobros were swinging with “The Rose of San Antone” and then Jerry Wagner did one of those old time pieces that can bring tears to your eyes.  Norris will laugh at you if he catches you crying, but that’s ok.  He smiles most all the time anyway.

Birthdays bring smiles to young and old alike.  March 27th Jazmine Baker will have her birthday.  She is a second grader at the Skyline School.  Ted Storie is one of the bus drivers for Skyline and his birthday is that day too.  They are lucky to be affiliated with such a vital school.  Thursday evening they had their “Wellness Night.”  Attendance was good and the wellness coordinator, Joy Beeler, and the rest of the staff made a great presentation.  One of the most impressive parts was a display of a variety of sodas, juices and drinks with a bag under each containing the exact amount of sugar that is in each beverage.  It was an eye opener.  The kids had a wonderful time with the many activities and prizes.  The Missouri Ozarks Community Health Department was well represented and had a great deal of pertinent health information available.  They make a trip to Skyline on the first Tuesday of each month to do blood pressure checks as well as a number of other screenings.  They go to Big Ed’s Store on East 76 on the second Friday of each month.  In both cases they are there from 8:00 to 10:00 a.m.  It is a great service for people who live a long way from town.

Go to the March 10th post at to see that exquisite black and white photo of Frances and Wayne Sutherland when their love was new.   Share your tall tales and your love of music and your reminiscences of dear old friends at The Champion News, Rt. 72 Box 367, Norwood, MO 65717 or ..  Come down to the wide and wooly banks of Old Fox Creek for a dose of tranquility in one of the world’s beautiful places Champion—Looking on the Bright Side!

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