On Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018, John Macauley Russell, beloved husband, father, grandfather, uncle, son and “Menomonie’s Native Son,” passed away. His family was with him.
John was born June 23, 1925, in Menomonie. Other than the two years spent as a naval photographer during World War II and several years attending UW-Madison, he lived his entire life in his cherished Menomonie. John was the eldest of four children born to Doris E. and Cecil M. Russell.
As a Menomonie High School Junior, John was chosen to attend Badger Boys State. A dance was held and teenage girls were brought in from towns around Ripon. It was there that he met Flora Lou Amthor, a tall 15 year old beauty from Waupun, Wis. They began a correspondence which lasted through John’s service in the Navy, in World War II.
John was a ship’s photographer, serving on three aircraft carriers, including the USS Shipley Bay. John often talked about his navy experience, including aircraft carrier life and taking pictures upside down from planes.
Upon the end of the war, John studied journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, before graduating with an M.S. in art education. On June 19th,1948, John married Flora Lou, also a UW-Madison graduate and they resided in Madison, for three years.
In 1952, John and his family moved back to Menomonie and purchased a cottage on Tainter Lake. The first of Russell’s photography studios opened in Menomonie. For more than 50 years, his photos documented all aspects of living in the area. Well respected in the world of photography, he and Lou were presenters at numerous state and national photographers’ conventions during the 1960s and 70s.
John’s talents and passions extended far beyond photography. He was a columnist, a playwright, an author, an artist, an actor and a historian. He was a founding member of the Menomonie Theater Guild, wrote the Scenes of Yesteryear local history column in the Dunn County News, authored the Wisconsin Lore and Legends series that appeared in newspapers across the state (and collections of the series that were published in two books), the Wisconsin Lore and Legends Journal and wrote Black Friday, a play based on the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Black Friday was produced at the Mabel Tainter, as well as theatres around the country. He also published Wiscomical, a bound collection of his own cartoon creations depicting Wisconsin history and crafted the Wisconsin history-based card game, Wistory. He co-authored a book, Where the Wild Rice Grows, that celebrates the foundation and history of Menomonie and Dunn County.
John was a past president of the Dunn County Historical Society (DCHS) and conceived and designed the history museums in Downsville and Menomonie. He was on the board of curators for both Circus World Museum and the Wisconsin Historical Society, and was a founding board member of the League of Historic Theatres. For decades, he was asked to speak to local groups and schools, sharing his love of Dunn County and Wisconsin history.
John loved Dunn County and was always looking for opportunities to showcase its history and riches. His passion for promoting Menomonie, led him to send a telegram to the Johnny Carson Show suggesting that Carson perform his magic act at the Dunn County Fair. Carson read the telegram on his show!
After a fire destroyed the Tainter Lake home in 1963, John designed the first A-frame home in the county in which the Russell children grew up. The family enjoys memories of 20-foot Christmas trees, swimming and canoeing and singing around the campfire on the banks of Lake Tainter. He will be remembered as a beloved father and grandfather, who, along with Lou, taught his family the joys of life; love of nature, music, history, art, theatre, creativity and travel. He and Lou instilled in their family the importance of benevolence, diversity and open mindedness.
Founded in family and church, John and wife, Lou, provided rich opportunities for their family that included annual camping trips, Grace Episcopal Church events, Red Cedar 4-H activities. John and Lou were steadfast partners in all they did, demonstrating an unfailing loyalty and commitment to their community. They were exemplaries in demonstrating leadership, loyalty and dedication to their community.
John is survived by his children, Linda, New York, N.Y., Jeff (Linda), Madison, Cindy Russell Smith (Stephen), Sobieski and Steve (Kobi Shaw), Colfax. He is further survived by five grandchildren, Mackenzie (Platteville), Hallie (New York), Andrew (Oshkosh), and Tate and Quinn (Colfax). In addition, he is survived by several cousins, nieces and nephews. John is preceded in death by his parents, Doris E. and Cecil M. Russell; and his beloved wife of 50 years, Flora Lou Amthor; son-in-law, Paul Stotler; his sister, Barbara Denke; and brothers, Joel and Charles.
Services for John are scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 5. Family will greet visitors from 9 to 11 a.m. at Grace Episcopal Church, E4357 451st Ave., Menomonie. A service will follow at 11 a.m.
In addition, a special event, “John Russell: Celebration of a Life Well Lived,” is planned for 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, at the Dunn County Historical Society Museum, 1820 Wakanda Street NE, Menomonie. All are welcome.
The family expresses gratitude to John’s Grace Episcopal Church family, The Rev. Jacalyn Broughton, The Neighbors of Dunn County staff, Dunn County Historical Society staff, Inclusa of Dunn County staff, and Sridhar Thirumalai, MD. Mostly, the family expresses appreciation to Menomonie and Dunn County citizens—all who supported and valued John’s efforts to keep Dunn County history alive.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Dunn County Historical Society or Grace Episcopal Church.
Olson Funeral Home in Menomonie is serving the family. To share a memory, please visit obituaries at www.olsonfuneral.com.