The Dunn County Historical Society has asked the city of Menomonie to rename a north Menomonie street after John M. Russell, a well-known Menomonie historian, author, columnist, photographer and actor who died in 2018.
The historical society is proposing renaming the approximately 1/3-mile Wakanda Street, which connects 21st Avenue to Game Park Road, to John Russell Road.
Russell, a Menomonie native, World War II naval photographer and former president of the historical society, died at 93 in August 2018.
The city Plan Commission expressed interest in renaming the street at a Jan. 27 meeting, said Lowell Prange, city administrator. But the city is first reaching out to Wakanda Elementary School, which is also located on Wakanda Street, for its opinion before the commission votes on the name change.
The Plan Commission will likely take up the proposal again in March. The name change would not require approval from the City Council, Prange said.
“Ultimately, I think there will be something approved by the Plan Commission,” Prange said. “It’s probably a six-block stretch ... It would be fairly easy to change if (the Plan Commission) moves ahead.”
The two other buildings on Wakanda Street that would be affected are the Historical Society and Russell J. Rassbach Heritage Museum, 1820 Wakanda St., and a city park maintenance shop, 1901 Wakanda St.
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Russell was well-loved and well-known in Dunn County, said Melissa Kneeland, director of the historical society.
“I think everyone knew him as ‘the Menomonie historian,’” said Dustyn Dubuque, president of the historical society’s board of directors. “When he passed away two years ago, we were trying to come up with a way of commemorating him in some way.”
Russell was intimately acquainted with Dunn County history and the Menomonie community.
A longtime columnist for the Dunn County News, Russell also led the Dunn County Historical Society and helped create the Russell J. Rassbach Heritage Museum in Wakanda Park, Kneeland said.
Russell also had a hand in growing Menomonie’s theater community: He worked to help restore the the Mabel Tainter Theater, was a founding member of the Menomonie Theater Guild and wrote “Black Friday,” an original play about the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, according to Leader-Telegram records.
“It really seemed like a natural way to honor him, considering so many of the streets in Menomonie are named after other people who have had large impacts on our community,” Kneeland said, pointing to Wilson, Knapp and Stout streets. Those streets are named after Capt. William Wilson, the city’s founder and first mayor; and John Knapp and Henry Stout, the founders of the Knapp, Stout & Co. lumber company, respectively.
If the historical society’s proposal is approved, the city would likely aim to change the street’s name this summer, after classes at Wakanda Elementary end in the spring, Prange said.
Costs to change the street name would likely be “fairly minimal,” he said — the city would add new signage at the street, and would need to change the address of its park maintenance facility.
“I think it’d be a very worthwhile recognition, and we’ll see if we can make it happen,” Prange said.