Rancher, philanthropist putting out first album and is giving back with each song release

Chris Roark
Waxahachie Daily Light
Refel Rushing, left, and Ed Mestyanek, who led the mural painting project at the Waxahachie Baseball League's Optimist Fields.

For years, Refel Rushing had kept his love ballads close to the heart.

But now the world can hear his music.

And Waxahachie can see his giving nature.

Rushing, 75, has spent much of his life giving back to the community through philanthropic efforts. But recently he took his lifelong love for music and turned into another avenue of service.  

Rushing, who lives in Italy, has been working with highly decorated musician Jay Hinson to produce his first album called “Love Over Time.”

To date, Rushing and Hinson have recorded six songs on the nine-song album, and eight have been written. All of the songs are written and sung by Rushing.

Once a month, Rushing plans to release a new song from the album, and he will accompany the release of each one with a charitable act in the community.

To coincide with the album’s most recent song, “Never Been Here Before,” Rushing is sponsoring a mural for the Waxahachie Baseball League to be displayed at the Optimist Fields.

Ed Mestyanek of ELM Custom Art in Waxahachie, along with local artists Jessica Chaney and Trevor Riley, painted the mural.

“Ed had mentioned to me there was an opportunity here, and I said that I had intended to be more involved in the community,” Rushing said.

The mural features the images of Babe Ruth, Nolan Ryan, the American and Texas flags, the Waxahachie logo and the words, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

“He wanted it to be baseball related, and it was important to have a hometown feel,” Mestyanek said. “It’s about Texas, which is why it has Nolan Ryan on there. And then there’s historical significance, so that’s where Babe Ruth comes in. We have the American and Texas flags, so that’s patriotic. We wanted something to last ages like Babe Ruth has and like Nolan Ryan will.”

For Rushing, funding the mural made perfect sense. He played Little League Baseball in Harlingen between the ages of 5 and 12.

“Naturally, I was drawn to Little League Baseball,” Rushing said. “So it seemed to fit.”

Mestyanek said the mural took five days to complete.

“It was great having the kids come up and guess who the ball players were going to be,” he said. “Even before they were recognizable the kids guessed it right. So I guess we picked the right ones.”

Also in conjunction with the song’s release, Rushing plans to donate a calf from his personal stock to an Italy ISD student to show at the Ellis County Youth Livestock Show.

The music

While “Love Over Time” is Rushing’s first album, music is far from being a new interest.

Rushing said his interest for music began early in life when he sang for his church choir. He soon discovered he had a talent for coming up with his own songs.

“I composed it but never did anything with it,” Rushing said.

The songs in his head had a common theme.

“The songs I was hearing were about love,” Rushing said. “It occurred to me that what I wanted to focus on is the relationship between two people. The beginning, middle and end of it.”

He said while each song sounds different, they are in many ways tied together.

“It’s about relationships,” Rushing said. “How people are connected, fall in love or don’t stay in love. All of the dynamics of being in a relationship.”

In fact, he and Hinson have a plan to connect them even more. Rushing wants to add a prelude, interludes and a postlude to the album to create a full storytelling experience, which he said would be similar to music from “Phantom of the Opera.”

“It will be almost like a play and will be an hour of music,” Rushing said.

A nice way to wrap up a project that has been years in the making.

“I didn’t share my music for a long time,” Rushing said. “But it’s time to share it and complete the final product.”

The ranch

As Rushing is completing his first major musical project, he is already thinking of another way to provide for the community. And this one involves his ranch.

In 2007, Rushing moved from Waxahachie to Italy where he bought a 260-acre ranch. Rushing said he bought the property from a family who had owned it for a year, but before that, the ranch had belonged to the same family for 150 years.

Shadow R Ranch has a small cattle operation and lots of wildlife.

Rushing said he sees a lot of beauty when he’s on the ranch, and he also sees an opportunity to share it.

“I’m at the stage where I want to share the ranch in a non-economic way,” he said.

Rushing said he is considering opening up the ranch to provide a place for people to share their poetry and air painting. It may also be used for classical music events.

“The idea is for people to come to the ranch, at no charge, and create something for the community,” Rushing said.

The ranch may also serve as a prime location to teach people about rejuvenation ranching, another of Rushing’s passions.

Philanthropy

Rushing said his interest in helping others began in the 1980s when student loans were hard to come by.

Early in his career he served as president and CEO of LoanSTAR Funding Group, Inc., which made strides in providing student loan financing for students seeking a higher education.

He also helped create the Greater Texas Foundation, which helped increase postsecondary education access for Texas students from underserved and socioeconomically disadvantaged communities.

Rushing said the foundation has provided more than $104 million in grants since its inception. The foundation has also led awareness campaigns for minority groups and grants to Texas school districts.

Rushing has also raised $150 million for student loans and tuition.

He also created scholarship endowments for first-generation and underserved students from South Texas.

What’s next

Rushing plans to release the album’s fourth song, “Secret Places,” on Nov. 15. In conjunction with that, he plans to host a fundraiser at the newly built pavilion on his ranch. Money from that is expected to go toward the Wounded Warrior Project, which funds programs, services and events for veterans wounded in action following Sept. 11, 2001.

In the coming days, Rushing also plans to record an audio reading of 26 poems that he has written over the years.

He said he and Hinson also have plans to record Christian music in the future.

And even ideas for a new album are beginning to take shape, Rushing said, though he said he won’t start on those songs until the current album is complete. After all, it’s been a long time coming.

“I had kept my music just for family and friends,” Rushing said. “But I decided to raise it up a level, especially with the new stuff I’ve been working on. This has been in the making for a period of time.”

For more information on Rushing's music go to RefelRushingMusic.com.