Oakdale has lost one of its all-time great cowboy ambassadors.
Russell ‘Russ’ Anthony Sousa, 87, died Thursday, Dec. 17 in Tyler, TX.
He was born in Santa Clara to Manuel and Amelia Sousa. He was a longtime Oakdale resident and active member of the Oakdale Saddle Club.
Mr. Sousa will be remembered for many accomplishments, with only a few listed here. He was a high school football legend at Hayward High School, earning a scholarship to San Jose State University, but World War II changed his plans. He enlisted in the U.S. Army and served his country in Japan and the Philippines, and was taken as a prisoner of war for nine days in Japan.
He studied opera, sang on the radio, and entertained troops overseas when war conditions prevented the USO from entering hot war zones. He also sang the National Anthem to open the Oakdale Rodeo for many years. He married Madeline Ledo in 1947 in Hayward and raised their four children in Oakdale.
He was well-respected as an honest and hard-working business owner in Oakdale, owning and operating a successful sign painting business for many years. He was actively involved in the community, working with kids through the 4-H club, and donating his time and sign painting services to various organizations.
He served as president of the Oakdale Saddle Club for six years. He was best known and appreciated for his 40-plus years as the Slack Announcer for the Oakdale Rodeo, and as the announcer for junior rodeos throughout California. He was honored as the Grand Marshal for the Oakdale Rodeo Parade in April 2009.
“He was a great guy. He was always there to help and he was a good friend,” said second-generation Oakdale Saddle Club member Terry McConnell.
He added that Mr. Sousa was always very supportive of his children and was also instrumental in starting the District 5 High School Rodeo organization in the 1970s.
He was also an accomplished artist and sculptor, with a bronze displayed at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, OK. His ‘open garage’ was always a favorite hangout for neighborhood kids, who would come to learn the art of painting and sculpting, while listening attentively to timeless American cowboy stories. His knowledge of the legendary cowboy stories of the past century landed him in front of a regular audience at the Oakdale Cowboy Museum.
“Russ Sousa was the Cowboy Museum’s volunteer extraordinaire. From April of 1996 until September of 2001, (he) told stories about our local western history to the many visitors that stopped by the Cowboy Museum,” said the museum’s Executive Director Christie Camarillo. “He had a big heart, a big smile and a big, friendly inviting voice. He loved Oakdale’s rich rodeo heritage and the contributions he made to the foundation of the Cowboy Museum will never be forgotten. He will be missed.”
He and Russ Santos together coined the phrase that labeled Oakdale as the “Cowboy Capital of the World,” proudly noting the highest number of World Champion Rodeo Cowboy residents.
He is survived by his children, Russell Sousa, Jr. of Denair, Linda ‘Lynne’ Jackson of Nevada City, Sheryl Jackson of Tyler, TX, and Lori Sousa of Tyler, TX; 15 grandchildren; and 22 great-grandchildren.
He was preceded in death by his wife of more than 60 years, Madeline Sousa; and grandson, John.
The first of two memorial services was held Dec. 19 in Tyler, TX for all his family and friends from the mid-west region of the country to attend. There will also be a memorial service in Oakdale in January 2010, at a place, date, and time to be announced. Look for the information in an upcoming issue of The Leader.