May 14, 1919 - April 12, 2016
Downey resident for 95 years, one more from the Greatest Generation, Don Russell, passed just one month shy of turning 97 on April 12 at his home in Downey within 4 weeks of a diagnosis of bone cancer.
Born on May 14, 1919 on Coeur d’ Alene Lake in St. Mary’s, Idaho near where his mother’s family worked the sawmills in Harrison since 1891 having left Missouri via train and covered wagon. Many of the family relocated to Long Beach, California in the late 1910’s where Uncle Henry Scheuer was subdividing downtown Long Beach with friends, the Bixby’s. In 1921 at the age of 2 in his father’s Maxwell, Don with his sister Katherine (Kitty), half-brother and -sister Robert and Jeanette Briggs, and parents, Allison and Pearle (Diehl) Russell moved to Downey to begin a chicken ranch with their roadside stand that was maintained by his mother during the Great Depression after the loss of his father when Don was 8 years old who is buried in the Downey cemetery. Don attended Downey Elementary school, and was the first class to attend the new junior high school on the Downey High School campus (the buildings remain on Brookshire Avenue). Don graduated from Downey High in 1938. Don’s memories of the 20’s are of vaudeville shows before the featured silent movie, all for a dime, at the Meralta and Avenue Theaters. Don would reminisce about the days driving through the orange groves with his brother and their friends, the Tweedy’s, without getting caught.
During WWII, Don was stationed at Fort McArthur where he drove a Willy up and down the west coast as part of the communication motor pool; then, was shipped overseas to support the Battle of the Bulge. It was during his 5 year tour of duty that he would daily swing through Downey to get his personal car to drive to the South Gate roller skating rink where he was tripped up “unintentionally” by the young girl, Janice Lucken, that would soon become his wife of 69 years before her passing four years ago. After their marriage January 1943, she moved to and worked on the base with Don until he was shipped overseas. After the War, he designed and built their home in Downey where they raised their five children. They were partners in business throughout their married life, she attending to the bookkeeping of his milkman, Helms bread-man, street sweeping, and broom winding businesses, and he continued to run their apartment business until his passing.
For over 30 years Don and Jan worked tirelessly searching through microfiche to research their family genealogy and discovered Don’s ancestry traced back to the American Revolution, were the first white settlers of Ohio and Michigan where Johnny Appleseed was a regular visitor, were family friends of George and Martha Washington, and that Don is related to Princess Diana/Prince William by their grandfather, the Third Earl of Sunderland.
In the 1950’s, Don and Jan enjoyed taking their family on vacations in their travel trailer to all parts of the western United States and beyond. The two of them began traveling the world extensively in 1966 reaching all continents and hundreds of countries, some multiple times including 6 trips to China and to Alaska, and have traveled several times across the continental United States by various means, including in their motor home reaching every state including Alaska, and had been on 54 cruises together. All of these trips were joined with the couple’s dozens of friends. Don continued to travel after Jan’s passing including taking his children, great and grandchildren on 12 more cruises.
Don is survived by his children, Gayla Rudolph-Emerson, Patty Russell-Rohrer and Kevin Russell, and 7 grandchildren: April Wolf, wife of Brian Wolf; Amy Wolf; Markie Rudolph; Rebecca Marrs-ElGharib and husband Bas ElGharib; Matthew Marrs and wife Rachel; Kimberly Fleck; Kelly Russell; Allison Rohrer; and 2 great grandchildren: McKenzie Wolf and Logan Wolf. Don was predeceased by his wife Jan, their daughters Cheryl Marrs and Debbie Russell, and grandson Downey Fire Department Battalion Chief Brian Russell Wolf.
A memorial service celebrating his life will be held at St. Mark’s Church in Downey on Saturday, May 7th at 10:30 a.m.