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The man you didn’t know – an intimate letter following the death of Russell Quaas | By Aron Rodman

May 30, 2024 – West Bend, WI – Russell Quaas is known or known by most in West Bend, WI. Very few have gone without an interaction with him.  If you don’t know the name, you most likely would recognize his iconic weathered face and red beard which has long since turned white.

Quaas

If that doesn’t ring a bell, you would recognize him with his best friend, a Jack Russel, at the farmers’ market. If you still can’t place him, a very tired old truck overflowing with his recently found treasures making you wonder “how on earth does he not get pulled over in that thing” might help you place him.

Russell Quass has been known by many things in his 69 years of life in West Bend, but to my family he has always been known as Mr. Quaas.

I met Mr. Quaas about 20 years ago when he stopped by to pick up some free lumber I had out front of our home and business. Incidentally, my young family and I lived in what all the Ol’ Timers knew as “The Old Quaas Farm” on S.18th Avenue.

I think it originated from a great uncle of his or something close to that.  Unfortunately, at that time of my life, I didn’t listen to details of peoples stories as well as I do now.  I was busy with my family, busy growing a business, busy with church, busy with the American Dream.

As I write this, I am beginning to wonder if this is more a story about Mr. Quaas, or a story about me.  It seems that maybe it is a story about both.

How one man, Mr. Quaas, has affected me so much.  But also, it could be about you.

Did you make your mind up about Russell Quaas without ever really sitting down with him? Maybe just off of what you saw in the paper or the news?  Maybe a poor interaction with him at the farmers’ market?  Maybe going all the way back 50+ years ago to high school?

I’ve learned in life that if you want to be meaningful friends with someone, you are going to have to look past a lot of things to find out who they truly are.  Often, there is a very detailed past that really shapes what you see in someone today.

Even things like Autism and Social Disorders that were not handled well in the 1960’s when a man was young.  For some people you have to choose to look deeper into than others to find out who they truly are.

If you are not willing to forgive an offense or occasionally look past it, you will never get beyond a shallow relationship.  My friends all know they’re going to have to look past a lot of rough edges to find out what my heart is really like.  I’m thankful many have chosen to do this for me.

I decided to do this with Mr. Quaas, and it introduced me to a person so few would recognize as the same person they know or have heard about.

First and foremost, Mr. Quaas loves Jesus and does his best to follow Him.  He knows his Savior, to his own abilities follows Him, encourages others to do the same, and is resting with Him today.

He knows the Bible as well as anyone I have known and strives to follow Gods Word.  Mr. Quaas is extremely observant and shares much with me about following Christ, parenting my children, making my way through this world, and slowing down.

Mr. Quaas loves to give gifts. Almost weekly we come home to find something left on our picnic table.  A music box for Allison, a doll for Annie and hand-carved hiking stick for Liza, some blaze orange for the boys, 5 gallons of raw honey for Tiffany.

These are some of the good ones.  Often it is junk, but to him it is something he thinks could help us out.  That’s what he wants to do, help us.

What is all that junk in his truck?   It is mostly gifts he just hasn’t figured out who he should give them to yet.  How do I know this?  Because I asked him.

Again, if you take the time to figure out a man’s heart and motives to see what the true intention is, things begin to look so differently.  Some of his gifts were not objects, but lessons.

He has taught me to slow down, to not be rushed.  That a hard day’s work doesn’t always have to be at your job.  There are many ways to work hard and have a fruitful day.  Mr. Quaas taught my young men how to shoot archery and respect elders.  He helped us track several deer, raise chickens, find ice fishing bait in the fall and respect our elders.

I don’t want to make it look like he is perfect and friendship with him is easy.  It’s not.

There are some not-so-great dealings we have with Mr. Quaas.  I do not recall if there was ever a “thank you” offered to my wife for her years of kindness.  Sometimes he said something mean, other times it is interpreted that way because of how poorly it is worded.

God’s Word says, “It is to one’s benefit to overlook an offense” and “to forgive 7 times 70.”

At times he has shown humility when confronted about how his direct speech is hurtful to others.  Occasionally he has shown humility in the correction, and I see him try harder when moving forward. This does provide my family with the opportunity to practice Christ’s love and forgiveness, but more importantly to realize that EVERYONE is worthwhile. EVERYONE is valuable.

The best gift he gave us is our friendship, however, it is something many in West Bend claim they can’t afford to give.  He gave us his time.  He taught me to do the same for him and others.

Mr. Quaas has no qualms about calling me out about always being in such a hurry and rushed.  It was humbling to realize he was right.

When I finally put down the things I believed I should have been doing and just sat and talked and listened with him I learned so much.

I learned how sad he is about his father’s failing health in the nursing home.  I learned how difficult his life had been in several different ways.  I learned there are mental limitations that will limit his understanding of a few things, some of which he is being berated by picketers.

I heard what it is like to be a grown man and literally have people throw actual rocks at you because you are different.

I learned much about the Bible.  I learned he is not a saint but still a human worthy of dignity and compassion.  I saw humility in a man who would not show it normally, but had begun to, as he began to feel safe with our family.  I learned how it sounds when he laughs and when he cries.

I have written in present tense even though he is no longer with us because I wish I would have done so while he was still alive.  And now I will never see Mr. Quaas again on earth.

I have comforted a 7-year-old girl he nicknamed “Singer,” bawling her eyes out about how she just loved “EVERYTHING” about him. I have broken the news to the rest of our children (whom he gave great nicknames also).  I will never see his tired old truck pull into my driveway again or sit and have a glass of sweet tea with him.

At 69 years old, when a man should long since be done being bullied like a middle schooler, many of our community have made his failings more important than his humanity.

He is responsible for all his actions, every last one.  Mr. Quaas is responsible for the pain left behind by those who cared about him. He alone will be judged by God for his actions with the same scale that God uses for every last person ever created.

Aron Rodman
West Bend, WI

Editor’s note: Aron Rodman contacted washingtoncountyinsider.com out of concern following reports of the death of Russell Quaas. Rodman requested an opportunity to offer balance and some insight to the man’s story. Please keep the Quaas family in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. I knew Russell Quass from local area ballrooms back then. Amerhan’s mostly it was a close venue that held great polka bands then.

    Years later I recall he and one of his friends stopped at our home 3253 Paradise Drive.

    he was out rummaging treasures at neighbors and thought he recognized me.

    He came over and asked if I was Harold and Eileen Bonlender’s daughter and I said yes!
    I was Mary their youngest daughter.

    He knew lots about nature, trees, and different things to eat in nature for survival as he talked back then!

    I would see him at Farmers Market when I venture down on Saturday mornings, sitting in a booth and just say hi.

  2. Aaron, I’m glad you were there for him. He was mostly estranged from his own family, he had 3 brothers and 2 sisters, he did stay somewhat in contact with is father. Thee old Quaas farm belonged to the grandfather. I was married to his brother, Jerry, for over 50 years before he passed last year. I don’t know why he wasn’t in contact with most of his family, I think, mostly, it was on him. Russ was mostly anti social because he lacked social skills and often said inappropriate things to people, including his family. I thought he was for the most part, homeless and he was always trying to find ways to make a quick buck. These are my thoughts and not necessarily those of the rest of the family. Laura Quaas

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