Danny Newville – A talk with his dad

As I’ve gotten to know Russ Newville over the past year, I’ve figured out that he is passionate about four things:

  1. Finding his son
  2. Serving his country
  3. Vikings football
  4. Fishing

On Monday, August 6th, I had a chance to sit down with Russ and interview him for this article. Just two days earlier, on Saturday, August 4th, I had joined Russ and his family for the 5th Annual Danny Newville Memorial Walk.

**Download a flyer for the 6th Annual Danny Newville Memorial Walk on Saturday, August 3, 2019**

It was a rainy morning, and by 6 AM, I was worried that the sky wouldn’t clear in time for Danny’s walk, which started at 11 AM. I texted Russ to ask if there was a Plan B, and whether I should put out a post on the “Find Danny Newville” Facebook page, alerting people to whatever that Plan B might be.

“No Plan B,” Russ replied. “I think we’ll be OK.”

As it turns out, he was exactly right. By 10:00 AM, the steady rain had reduced to a drizzle, and by 11:00 AM, the dark rain clouds had moved off to the east, and we were ready to go.

**View all the photos from the 2018 Danny Newville Memorial Walk**

Russ had ordered neon yellow t-shirts for several of us with a photo of Danny and the word “MISSING” in red, and “In Memory of Danny Newville” across the top.

A group of 40-50 people gathered in the parking lot at New London Spicer High School to take part in the 5th Annual Danny Newville Memorial Walk. Many were family members and close friends who had attended the walk every year. Others had never known Danny or his family, but had come anyway, just to show their support.

Before the walk started, we gathered in a circle and held hands as Pastor Paul McCullough said a short prayer. He has been a good family friend to the Newvilles over the years, and has attended Danny’s Memorial Walk each and every year.

As the walk began, Russ took the lead, followed by two of Danny’s closest friends, Jamie and Morgan. They walked with pride and resolve as the line behind them winded its way out of the parking lot and onto Main Street. Cars stopped in reverence as we crossed the street, and people waved or nodded in support as we passed.

When we reached Old Grey Park, we gathered around Danny’s tree that had been planted five years earlier. Many marveled at how much it had grown, especially in the past year. Kathy, a mutual friend of both mine and the Newvilles, told me she had created the stainless steel memorial plaque at the base of the tree. In large bold letters, it read, “DANIEL NEWVILLE,” and underneath, “DANNY IS ALWAYS IN OUR HEARTS.”

Russ posed for a photo under Danny’s tree with his father and brothers, then he asked if I would mind sharing a few words. I said I would be happy to, although I hadn’t prepared anything. First, I thanked Russ and his family for trusting me with Danny’s story, and for sharing their memories with me. I also thanked Danny’s friends for being so open with me and supporting my efforts to keep the conversation going.

After the walk, we gathered at Red and Tara’s place on Henderson Lake for a BBQ and picnic. (Red is Russ’s dad and Danny’s grandpa.) As I sat and ate my brat, Russ explained to me that his parents had moved from Fairmont to Spicer when he was 12 years old. They had purchased this piece of lake property, turned it into a resort, and the whole family helped run it until 1978.

——–

Now, two days later, as I sat with Russ in his front yard in Willmar, I asked him to tell me about his only child, Danny. What kind of kid was he? What did he like to do?

“He always loved to go fishing,” Russ told me.

He told me a story about the first big fish Danny almost caught. It was a 12-13 pound northern that got away when they were fishing on the Crow River in New London.

Danny was only nine or ten years old at the time. “It’s too bad he didn’t get a chance to reel it in,” Russ said. “He would have been in for the fight of his life.”

Russ jumped up at that point, like he had just remembered something. “You sit there,” he told me. “I’ll be right back.”

When he returned less than a minute later, he was holding a fishing rod. “This is Danny’s” he said. “I used it this year in the northern tournament for luck.”

“Did it bring you luck?” I asked him.

“Nope,” he laughed.

It DID bring him luck though, back in June of 2001… the year before Danny went missing. He and Danny had registered as a team for the annual Crow River Fishing Tournament in New London. They arrived early for the 7:00 send-off, only to find out that the motor on Russ’s boat wasn’t working. Instead of forfeiting, they decided to just limp along using the small trolling motor instead.

They had a good day, catching several fish between the two of them. However, since it was a northern tournament, they could only keep three northern pike that went “over the stick” (i.e., were at least as long as the judge’s measuring stick). The winner would be determined by the combined weight of all three qualifying fish.

Russ caught the first two fish. One was just over 9 pounds, and the other not quite 8 pounds. It was around 1 PM, and they had trolled so far away from where they had launched, they were worried they wouldn’t get back in time with their little trolling motor. Russ flagged down one of the judges in another boat and asked if he could tow them back toward the landing so they didn’t miss their chance to enter their qualifying fish.

After the tow, they still had about 30 minutes left to fish, so Danny took a few more final casts. It was then that he hooked the third 8 pound northern that helped them win the tournament that year.

It’s one of the last pictures Russ ever had taken with his son. Danny is holding the first prize check for $300 in his mouth, along with the two smaller northerns in each hand. Russ is holding the larger northern, and a second check for $1,000. (He had also bought their team in the Calcutta the night before, and they won that, too.)

I asked Russ if this was the same fishing rod Danny had asked him to set out by the garage the day before he went missing.

“Yep,” Russ said. “This is the one.”

On July 31, 2002, Danny Newville had just gotten out of the county jail after serving 37 days for a probation violation. He and his friends had made plans to go fishing the next day, so Danny had called his dad and asked him to set his fishing rod out so he could swing by and pick it up later that afternoon.

Before he left for work that day, Russ set Danny’s fishing rod out against the garage door. When he returned from work, he noticed it was still there, so, he set it to the side, figuring Danny would be by the next day to pick it up. However, after a few days had gone by and the fishing rod was still sitting there, Russ started making a few phone calls. That’s when he realized no one had seen Danny for several days.

I asked Russ if this was the same house they’d been living in at the time Danny disappeared. He told me no. They were living on the north side of Willmar at that time, in a house on Lake Avenue.

“It was a big blue house with a big double garage,” Russ told me. “The last time I saw Danny was probably two weeks before he got out of jail. I told him, ‘We’ve got this nice house with a big bedroom upstairs. That will be yours when you get out. You come stay with us.’” But, it never panned out. Danny never got the chance to move back in with them.

——–

I asked Russ to tell me about the day Danny was born.

“Oh boy,” he said. “You want to talk about that?” he said with a laugh.

He went on to explain that Danny’s mom, Cyndy, was in labor with him for over 20 hours. “I think she called me every name in the book, plus she made up a few!” Russ said.

Danny was their first baby. He was born on May 7, 1984 at Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar.

“I was hoping he would hold out until my birthday on May 10th, but he couldn’t wait that long,” Russ told me. “He wanted out.”

Russ said Danny didn’t have a lot of hair when he was first born, but within a few months he had a full head of bright red hair.

“Did he get that from you?” I asked.

“I suppose,” Russ chuckled (whose nickname is Rusty).

Russ and Cyndy lived in a small cabin on George Lake in Spicer when Danny was first born. After about a year, they moved to a house on Medayto Drive and lived there until Danny was five. Not long after, the two of them decided to call it quits.

Russ was awarded custody of Danny in 1989. For a while, they both lived at his dad’s house on Henderson Lake until Russ had saved enough money to buy a small two-bedroom house on Harriet Street in Spicer. They lived there until Danny was about 13. Russ was working a night job in Willmar during that time, so Danny often stayed with his aunt Gail and uncle Ryan who lived nearby in Spicer.

——–

It had been over an hour since Russ and I had first started talking when Lidia (his second wife) came home from work. She had just stopped home to change clothes and needed to leave right away to attend a memorial service for a friend. We said a quick hello, and before long, she was off again.

I asked Russ how he and Lidia had met.

“I met Lidia in June or July of 1991. I gave her a ride home from the Armory in Willmar, then I didn’t see her again until October of that year. I happened to bump into her and found out it was her birthday the next day, so I asked her if I could take her out for her birthday. We ended up going out to Hi-Tops in Spicer to listen to the band.”

Lidia has four children: Daniel, Sonia, Jai, and Mari. Her youngest daughter, Mari, was just a few months younger than Danny and had plans to go to college for nursing after graduating in 2003. Unfortunately, with Danny going missing and a lack of college funding, her plans were put on hold.

Then, one day, Russ (a 17-year Army veteran) said, “Mari, do yourself a favor. Go down and talk to the recruiters. Not just one or two… talk to ALL of them… and do your own thinking. You don’t have to join, but just listen to what they have to say.” So, she went. She talked to all the recruiters like Russ had suggested, and then decided to join the National Guard. Russ and Lidia were both proud of Mari and happy that she would be able to pursue her goal of attending college and getting a nursing degree.

Mari got through Basic Training and went on to Advanced Individual Training (AIT). Then, around Thanksgiving of 2004, she came home and announced to Lidia and Russ that she was going to Iraq.

“Oh shit,” Russ said.

The constant stress of Danny’s disappearance was already taking its toll on Russ and Lidia’s relationship. Now, Russ worried that Mari’s deployment would cause even more conflict between them. After mulling things over for a few days, he came up with a solution.

“I decided to take my sorry old ass down to the recruiting office and see if they’d take me back in.”

Russ figured he’d be killing two birds with one stone. First, he was hoping Lidia would feel better if he and Mari got deployed together; and second, he thought it might help him sort things out in his own head so he wasn’t dwelling on Danny’s case so much.

He was 45 years old by this time and had been out of the service for 10 years. But, he had 17 ½ years prior service in both the Reserves and Guards, so he figured it was worth a shot. The recruiter told him he just needed to pass the physical exam. He passed and was enlisted into the National Guard.

“I was up in Long Prairie for about six months. The whole time, I’m telling them, ‘I want to go to Iraq,’ but nothing was happening. Then, in the summer of 2005, we were at Camp Ripley for two weeks. I knew who the commander was that was taking the Red Bulls over, and he happened to be eating breakfast in the mess hall at the same time I was. I said to myself, ‘Here’s my chance.’”

Russ quickly dumped his tray and ran the two blocks back to his barracks to get Danny’s missing poster that he always kept with him. He returned to the mess hall and waited by the back door until the Lieutenant finished his breakfast. When he came out, Russ saluted him and said, “Excuse me, sir.” The Lieutenant saluted him back, then Russ handed him Danny’s missing poster.

“Sir, I’d just like to say one thing. This is my son. He’s been missing for three years now. I was out of the service for 10 years, but I have 17 ½ years prior service. I came back in because I want to go fight for our country in Iraq. I’ve wanted to do that my whole career. I also think it will help me with my head. You know, since I got here, I see all these kids packing to go that are only 19, 20, 21. In college. Even married. With kids. Why do they have to go? I’ve got 17 years experience. One of them could stay home, and I can go in his or her place.”

The Lieutenant saw Russ’s name on his shirt and asked what unit he was with. He told him, then the Lieutenant said, “OK. Someone will get in touch with you.”

That afternoon, Russ’s Sergeant came to him and said, “Hey, Newville. At 9 AM tomorrow morning, you’re supposed to go talk to the Chaplain.” So, at 9 AM the next morning, Russ went and met with the Chaplain. They talked for about an hour, then he returned to his unit.

Later that afternoon, Russ’s Sergeant came to him again and said, “Hey, Newville. Tomorrow morning, you need to report to Psych.”

So, the next morning, Russ reported to Psych. He met with four different people that day… each for about an hour. After the last meeting, they led Russ into another room.

“So, now there are seven people in the room… the four I talked to earlier, plus three others. The head guy starts talking, and for the first 2-3 minutes, I thought, ‘Oh shit. This doesn’t sound good.’ Then, it changed. He said, ‘We’re all amazed at what you do. We don’t know how you do it, but we all commend you. You are fit to go to Iraq.’”

——–

As Russ tells me about his time in Iraq, he is animated and full of life. He rises to his feet and explains that he served as a T.C. – Truck Commander – for the 134th Brigade Support Battalion of the 34th Infantry Division, nicknamed the “Red Bulls.” He points to the emblem on his t-shirt and tells me about a photo they took of his whole division before they left for Iraq. He’s in the upper right corner of the number “1”.

Lidia’s daughter, Mari, also served with the Red Bulls as a Supply Clerk for the motor pool. Although they served with different companies (Russ with Alpha, and Mari with Bravo), their motor pools were located right next to each other, so they were able to see and visit with each other several times a week.

Russ served an 18-month extended deployment with the Red Bulls in Iraq. As the 4th anniversary of Danny’s disappearance approached, Russ wanted to prepare a letter for the local newspaper in Willmar. He had done the same thing each of the previous three years, but by year four, he was especially frustrated with the lack of progress on Danny’s case.

Two women from his convoy support team helped Russ write the letter. One was his driver; the other was his gunner.

“I’m not very good at spelling or typing,” he told me. “They were. So they helped me.”

On Monday, August 1, 2006, the fourth anniversary of Danny’s disappearance, the local newspaper published a front page article about Danny’s case. A friend scanned a copy of it and emailed it to Russ in Iraq. He was furious.

Rather than publishing Russ’s letter, the reporter had contacted the Sheriff’s Office and written what Russ felt was a very one-sided article about the investigation.

“All it did was make them look good and me look bad,” Russ said.

He ended up showing the article to his commanding officer in Iraq who, in turn, contacted the newspaper to ask why they hadn’t published Russ’s letter. It ran a few days later on the Opinions page (though Russ says several sentences were deleted).

I commended him for getting Danny’s article on the front page, and for following up.

“That’s my job,” he replied. “It’s the only real job I have in life is to find Danny.”

——–

As we started to wrap things up, I asked Russ if there was anything else he wanted to tell me about Danny.

“He was a great artist,” he told me. “With a pen, or pencil, or whatever… my God, he could draw.”

This was a surprise. In all the conversations I’d had with people over the past year, this was something I’d never heard before. I asked him to tell me more.

Russ told me that Danny was really into drawing the last couple years of his life. Russ even talked to him about the possibility of supporting him if Danny wanted to pursue it as a career.

“He brought this thing home that was in a magazine or something. It said ‘Draw this Pirate’ and then he was supposed draw it and mail it in. If they thought he had talent, it said they would get back to him. He drew the pirate and sent it in, and after a few weeks, he got a letter back from them. It said they wanted him to attend a drawing school, but he had no car, no money. That was probably six months before he went missing.”

I wondered about this. I sort of remembered the “Draw this Pirate” ad from back in the day, so I decided to do a little Googling. I found out that the ad originated from a drawing school based in Minneapolis called the “Art Instruction School.” Apparently Charles Schultz of Peanuts fame also saw one of their ads and submitted a drawing, equally curious to see if he had any talent.

As a high school senior in St. Paul, Minnesota, Charles Schulz knew he wanted to be a cartoonist. He also knew he didn’t want to go to college or pursue any formal art education, afraid of being told he couldn’t cut it. Instead, Schulz asked his father for $169 to enroll in Art Instruction Schools, a Minneapolis-based correspondence course that promised students they could become proficient in any number of artistic pursuits by taking a 12-step lesson via the mail.

Despite the exorbitant cost to his father during the Great Depression, Schulz enrolled. Thanks to the debut of his Peanuts strip in 1950, he remains their most famous alumnus.

(SOURCE: Could You Draw This Turtle? | Mental Floss)

I loved this story, and was so happy Russ shared it with me. In that moment, I could see that Danny was a kid with hopes and dreams, just like the rest of us. He was 18 years old and right on the verge of making that big leap into the great unknown… the leap that would catapult him into the rest of his life.

Danny had so much more to give to the world… so many more lives to touch. Today, Russ is left to wonder if Danny might have been a husband or a father by now. That would make Russ a grandfather… maybe with a whole brood of little gingers to teach how to fish.

He is convinced someone knows the answer to the question that has haunted him for 16 years.

Where is Danny?

He continues to hold out hope that one day… in his lifetime… he will find the answer.

Read next… Danny Newville – A few final thoughts


If you have information about Danny Newville’s disappearance, please contact Detective Kent Bauman at the Kandiyohi County Sheriff’s Office.

Detective Kent Bauman
Kandiyohi County Sheriff’s Office
Phone: 320-214-6700, x3315
Email: 3315@co.kandiyohi.mn.us
Facebook Messenger:
https://www.facebook.com/Kandiyohi-County-Sheriffs-Office-471311649587923

If you’d prefer, you may also contact me using the Contact form on this site.

You may also mail anonymous tips to:

Kandiyohi County Sheriff’s Office
2201 NE 23rd St, Suite 101
Willmar, MN 56201

3 Comments

  1. I so wish for the family this could be solved.
    Good read,

  2. The Newville’s story has touched me. I pray the family finds answers. God bless you, Joy, for all you have done. I am looking forward to your next story.

  3. Whoever knows the whereabouts or what was done must carry a guilty conscience. One day you’ll have to answer to your maker.

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