EL PASO — Friends, family and fellow rodeo-goers gathered at the Crossroads Cowboy Church in El Paso for the inaugural Russ Campbell Memorial Rodeo on Saturday.
Heavy rains and strong winds did not deter the hundreds of individuals who attended the first-ever memorial rodeo that was held in Russell Bailey Campbell's honor Saturday evening.
Campbell was described by friends at the evening rodeo as a man "who knew no stranger."
The Damascus resident was 19 years old when he died in a car crash on Mother's Day 2018 alongside his friend Tyler Smith. The crash occurred in Boone County. Campbell was passenger.
Family and friends worked together to create a memorial rodeo in Campbell's honor. The inaugural fundraising event was held Saturday evening.
"Rodeoing was dang sure something he loved," close friend Nathan "Punchy" Powers said.
Penny Howze Plath Campbell, who is Russ' aunt, said the fundraising memorial rodeo will help support local riders who cannot afford to get into the sport on their own.
Russ graduated from South Side Bee Branch High School in 2016. From there, he attended the Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College, where he studied ranch and equine management. However, in 2017, he decided to pursue his dream and "make his own path in life and started working, rodeoing full time and living the cowboy life," family members said.
He made a lasting impact on the local rodeo community. Russ most being outdoors and being a good friend.
"Everyone knew Russell," close friend and former roommate Johnna Walls said as tears filled her eyes. "He was the life of the party, and he was always there if you needed anything -- if you were feeling down, needed a shoulder or at your best."
Russ was introduced to the rodeo community early on. He was introduced to rough stock and soon showed an interest for mutton busting.
"Russ would occasionally ride sheep at a family friend's home and entered his first rodeo in the mutton bustin' event at the age of 7 in the Rodeo of the Ozarks in Springdale," family members said. The young Campbell ventured into other sports — specifically baseball — before venturing back to what became his passion — Saddle Bronc.
Todd and Cindy, Russ' parents, and his brother, Riley, each said they were pleased and also excited to see a great turnout in Russ' honor Saturday night. The memorial instead will be held the Saturday before Mother's Day next year to coincide with the tragedy that stuck the Campbells' lives.
Family and friends banded together to create a nonprofit organization in Russ' honor: the Russ Campbell Foundation. The memorial rodeo helps financially support the organization, which support young individuals who need help pursuing higher education and also those who wish to get into rodeoing. Family members said they hop to help other individuals get their start in life.
Close friend Casey Whittle said he was grateful for the turnout that showed out for "such an awesome guy."
Powers, a friend who was particularly close to Russ, said he will move on later this week to pursue "a life of cowboying."
When he learned the news that Russ had died, Powers said he had to hold himself together so he could call others and let them know. Russ was "the closest thing I had to a brother," Powers said.
The two often talked about "working a wagon together." And, if Russ were here to hear of Powers' soon travels, he would be on board to go as well.
"Russ lived in the moment," Powers said before describing the respect he had of his late friend. "To know him was to love him."