Dick Russell wasn't looking for an alternative lifestyle when he first visited the commune, but the Shawnee Mission-reared journalist, the product of an upper middle-class upbringing, ended up becoming a member of the Fort Hill Community.
In March 1972, Russell explained in a telephone interview from Boston, he returned to Kansas after rambling around the world for a year and a half. Before that, he was a staff writer for Sports Illustrated, a job he looks back on as "my dream job" that went sour when he started questioning the merits of corporate journalism.
The 1969 University of Kansas graduate was anything but an activist on campus in the turbulent '60s. "Until my junior year in college, I hardly knew what was going on in the outside world except sports. I dreamed of being the world's greatest sportswriter."
The closest he came to exploring alternative lifestyles was when a friend became a hippie and Russell free-lanced an article about him.
His contact with the commune also was motivated by his work as a free-lance writer. He read about the group in Rolling Stone and inquired around Kansas about them. "There were rumors that they were hippies," Russell said, "that they had a nudist colony, and that they planned to have a rock festival."
He decided to write a story for a Topeka newspaper.
What he found was neither nudists nor a rock festival. A family member, Wayne, invited him to watch basketball on television, then the men talked.
"I just knew at the end of my first day there," Russell recalled, "that these were nice people. They had something I was drawn to."
He returned to the farm several times, bringing his girlfriend, who eventually joined the family, and other friends. They helped with farm work, shared meals, music and ideas.
"In October 1973," Russell said, "I decided to move in. These people had become my best friends."
Russell's home base was then, as now, Boston because of his contribution to the group's publishing efforts in putting out U and I magazine, a collection of essays and conversations that he calls "pieces from the heart." The magazine is available at several Wichita bookstores or by sending $5 to U and I, P.O. Box 1583, Manhattan, Kan. 66502.
For a time, Russell lived in the family's Los Angeles compound while he was a staff writer for TV Guide, writing celebrity profiles. Since he has been in Boston, he has free-lanced articles to several other magazines.
Since 1983, Russell has been active in a campaign to save the striped bass on the East Coast, where overfishing and pollution have diminished the species to a dangerous level. He has influenced legislation that has forced conservation laws in several states and a moratorium on striped bass fishing in Maryland. Ninety percent of the fish on the East Coast come from Maryland's Chesapeake Bay, he explained.
"It's not a Utopian existence, by any means," Russell, 38, said of his chosen life. "It requires hard work and certain sacrifices."
Yet he has no regrets. "I think that through living this life," he said, "I have a far richer life and deeper sense of life than I would ever have had if I had not found my family.