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With an Elvis hairdo, a foam finger and a rubber chicken, inspirational speaker Retro Bill gets through to kids about issues such as self-esteem, drug abuse and violence.

"If it doesn't entertain, it doesn't inspire," he said Tuesday while at Meadowbrook Elementary School in Rapid City.

Retro Bill, whose real name is Bill Russ, is based in Hollywood, Calif., but spends most of his time traveling the country speaking to students from kindergarten to 12th grade about the issues that affect them. He has traveled doing his show for the past 10 years.

As a film student in Chicago, Russ was discovered by Steven Spielberg, who gave him a scholarship to attend film school in Hollywood.

Russ made safety videos for schools which were used by police officers teaching Drug Abuse Resistance Education throughout the country.

"I was so impressed by what they do," Russ said of the officers. "They weren't concerned about going out there and making the arrest. They were concerned about preventing kids from getting involved in drugs and alcohol."

Russ then decided to spend his life savings taking the Retro Bill show on the road.

Retro Bill is now the official D.A.R.E. safety buddy, a celebrity spokesman for Kids Peace, the host of National Kids Day and an on-air contributor to Leeza Gibbons' national radio program.

His show is sought throughout the country so much that appearances must be booked a year in advance.

Retro Bill uses a different approach to get through to kids.

He used a rubber chicken at Tuesday's appearance to tell students how to deal with bullies or people offering drugs and alcohol. He used a hula hoop to show that "what goes around comes around" and a foam finger to make negative situations positive.

Retro Bill varies his show to appeal to different age groups.

Russ said he is inspired by the kids.

He said he once received an e-mail from a middle school student who was considering suicide before Retro Bill got through to him.

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"It shows that little things can lead to big things," Russ said. "What leads to suicide and drug abuse is often the little things in someone's youth that become big things."

Rapid City Police officer Brian Blenner, a school liaison officer, said he has worked for the past couple of years to book Retro Bill to speak at Rapid City schools.

Blenner reached that goal Tuesday at Meadowbrook Elementary.

Retro Bill will make more appearances today at Black Hawk Elementary, Corral Drive Elementary, Southwest Middle School and Dakota Middle School. The public is invited to attend the appearance at Dakota Middle School, which starts at 7 p.m.

The visit was sponsored by area PTA groups and elementary schools, Sam's Club, the Rapid City Police Department and the Elks Club Does Drove 33.

The visits to schools outside of Rapid City were sponsored by the National Park Service, Custer and Hill City Schools, Custer All-Drug and the Southern Hills Leadership and Resiliency Initiative.

Contact Katie Brown at 394-8318 or katie.brown@rapidcityjournal.com

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