MADRAS, Ore. - Wednesday marks the one-year anniversary of the death of Russell Bird. Russell was a colleague and friends to all of us at NewsChannel 21. It is a difficult anniversary for everyone who knew him, and viewers who loved him, but it's also a time to check in on a legacy project that Russell would have loved to see so close to fruition.
Russell was passionate about the weather. He always said that he had wanted to be a meteorologist since he was a little kid. He also loved to make people smile, bust out some silly dance moves, and was a self-proclaimed animal lover.
In his honor, NewsChannel 21 photojournalist Steve Kaufmann and reporter Samantha O'Connor checked in with one of his favorite places in Central Oregon, a shelter that is just a couple months away from building a lasting memorial to Russell and his memory.
Three Rivers Humane Society in Madras is an outdoor shelter and the animals are exposed to the elements of a every season. It's a news story we have covered over the years, but Russell was passionate to make a change.
"When he'd hear there was a story on us, he'd come out, because he loved the kennels," said Steve Drynan, one of Three Rivers' executive directors.
"We got to know him and feel very close to him," said Jerilee Drynan, Steve's wife and co-executive director of the shelter.
When Russell passed away, a bench was donated in his honor. The bright red bench sits in their biggest play yard, where dogs and their new companions meet for the first time.
Russell's family asked that all donations go to Three Rivers Humane Society when he passed away.
"I couldn't even speak -- I was just sobbing," Jerilee said. "I just couldn't believe that in that moment of need and that moment of grief, that they would say, 'What would Russell want?'"
Donations poured in for the animals he cared about, some he never even met.
"He cared about our animals and our need for a building," Steve said.
Their brand-new, 5,000-square-foot shelter will boast 41 indoor kennels and a room named after Russell.
"Live on in Russell's Place, which will be our indoor, 'get to know you' room," Steve said.
Jerilee added, "These dogs will be out of the heat, out of the cold, and it will because of Central Oregon and Central Oregonians who really cared -- and a big part of that will be Russell Bird."
Three Rivers didn't just receive donations. They have heard stories shared by viewers and friends alike. People who watched Russell and donated in his honor commonly visit the shelter just to say hello.
These visits and their stories can bring tears of both happiness and pain.
"If I knew he was struggling, I would have thrown him against a chair and said, 'You matter!' And he continues to matter," Jerilee said.
Russell's legacy, still sending ripples throughout the homes of Central Oregonians, with two legs or four.
"Russell had no idea the impacts he had on everyone," Jerilee said. "We think about him every day,"
In total, $52,000 was donated in Russell's name. The shelter has raised over $282,000, but still needs to reach the goal of $331,000 to build their indoor shelter. Still, they hope to break ground within the next two months.
If you'd like to donate, please visit: https://threerivershs.org/raise-the-roof-campaign/