by BONNIE BARTEL LATINO
ELBERT PRESTON BARNETT played catcher on Atmore’s 1961 All Star Baseball Team that went to the
Sr. Little League World Series in Williamsport, Penn. During his Escambia County High School days, Preston was a popular athlete. He played baseball and football for three years and basketball, two. Senior year, his teammates elected him Blue Devil Football co-captain. His classmates elected him their Sophomore and Junior Class Favorite. He was elected all three years as a class officer and member of Who’s Who. Preston was in either Beta Club or National Honor Society all three years. His junior year, the ECHS yearbook’s celebrity judge, Pat Boone, selected from photos of seven male students and chose Preston as the #1 Most Handsome. Senior year, he was again chosen as one of ECHS’ seven Most Handsome, and the student body selected him their Mr. ECHS.
#FunFact: Never in the history of mankind has any teenage boy looked less like an Elbert. We are aware that Preston named neither of his sons Elbert. Just sayin’.
Graduating from Auburn University in 1968, he earned a Bachelor of Science in Building Construction. Preston soon enlisted in the US Navy. An assignment to the Navy Construction Battalion, (SeaBees or CBs) was a natural fit for Preston. Sometime after his initial training in Gulfport, Miss., he deployed to Viet Nam for a 12-13 month tour. After completing his enlistment, Preston was honorably discharged and began his career in the private sector.
Ultimately, he became owner/officer of Barnett Construction, Inc.; Barnett Industrial Construction, Inc.; and owner of B & W Excavating, Inc. As his businesses flourished, Preston made time to serve on various city and state boards, plus Escambia Academy’s Board of Trustees.
On January 9, 2001, the first of Atmore’s magnificent Boys of the Summer of ’61 unexpectedly passed away. Preston Barnett was only 55 years old. He was survived by his wife, Josalyn “Jo” Murph Barnett, two sons and a daughter. At that time, he had no grandchildren.
EDDIE FANCHER pitched for the 1961 All Stars before playing two years of football and a year of baseball at ECHS. Eddie graduated in 1964 and enlisted in the US Air Force. After Basic Training in San Antonio Texas, he eventually was stationed in Thailand and also spent time in Vietnam during his 18 or so months in Southeast Asia. When he had honorably completed his enlistment, he parlayed his military communications skills into a career with Bell South in Pensacola, Fla. An early retirement didn’t agree with Eddie. So he went back to work, this time in Grand Rapids, Mich., then to Tampa, Fla., and finally right back to Pensacola and Bell South.
On February 24, 2003, Eddie Fancher unexpectedly passed away, the second of the Boys of Summer to
leave this earth far too soon. He was 57. He was survived by his wife, Cynthia Gayle Kerton Fancher
of Pensacola, plus a son, and a stepson.
#Fun Fact: Leave it to Eddie’s brother, Bill Fancher, to find joy even at a profoundly sad time. Of Eddie’s
funeral, Bill said, “Eddie would have loved it. South Main Street looked like a FEMA Hurricane Relief Team had descended on Atmore. A fleet of Bell South’s big white bucket trucks was backed up for miles in front of Johnson Quimby because all the men who’d ever worked with Eddie loved him.”
The Boys of the Summer of ’61 thought Eddie Fancher was pretty special, too.
KEITH RUSSELL pitched for the 1961 All Stars. He grew up in nearby Florida and attended high school at
Ernest Ward High School in Walnut Hill.
#FunFact: Keith met former ECHS Homecoming Queen and his future wife, Margaret Robinson, while
playing tennis at the old City Park courts in Atmore. After graduating from high school in1965, Keith played baseball on scholarship at (then) Pensacola Jr. College. Keith married Margaret in 1967.
Keith joined the US Army, which after basic training, earned the couple a long, if slightly delayed, honeymoon in Germany.
Honorably completing his military service, Keith returned to Auburn to earn a Bachelor of Science
Degree in Business and later went back to earn an MBA in Business. Keith taught at a small college in
Georgia before moving again to teach while also pursuing his Ph.D in Accounting and Finance at the
University of Arkansas. Next the Russells moved to Mobile where he taught at the University of South
Alabama. In 1985 Dr. Keith Russell became an assistant dean and a tenured professor at Southeast
Missouri State University, where they stayed until 2005 when Dr. Russell accepted the position of Dean
of the Bill Greehey School of Business at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas. Dr. Russell quickly
became a popular professor with students and faculty alike.
On April 11, 2008, Keith Russell unexpectedly passed away at home in San Antonio. He was the third All Star removed from the earthly roster. Keith was survived by Margaret, his wife and tennis partner of 41 years, their five children, a son-in-law, a daughter-in-law, and three grands.
In 2014, after a brief illness, Margaret Robinson Russell passed away after a very brief illness at her
parents’ Atmore home.