John William Russell Upton Community, Elida, NM
December 5, 1970 Born in Alaska, IN and raised in Eminence, Indiana

Eulogy     Rev. Homer Akers

Obituary  Ray J. Lofton

Mittee Lee Kite Russell  Grandma Russell Rush Springs, Ada OK to Upton about 1906
 

Mr. John was a born teacher. He taught primarily algebra and Latin, with a hefty dose of literature and poetry. He said that he was a teacher when the teacher, to gain their respect, had to be able to outrun and out jump the best athletes in the school. He always loved to discuss the literature, mainly Dickens, and quote the poetry he studied while in college at Angola, Indiana in the 1899 -1902 time frame.

During the time he was in college, he earned his bed and board by firing the furnace and sleeping in the basement at the home of the president of Tri-State College. After the death of his mother in Eminence, the family moved to Oklahoma Territory about 1902. There, he taught Sunday school for a while, until his interpretive stories cost him the favor of the literal constructionists of the Rush Springs area.

He married Mittie Lee Kite and moved with his family to the homesteading community of Floyd, NM about 1906. His father was Thomas Gresham Russell. Gresham had served on the Union side in the Civil War. From that service, he had acquired dysentery, and was plagued by it until his death in March, 1907. He had ongoing correspondence with the War Department, trying to persuade it to pay him a pension for his disability because of the dysentery. He was finally successful in 1903, and received about $5.00 per month until the end of his life. He was one of the first to be buried at Floyd Cemetery. He had been advised by his doctors to move to New Mexico for the dry climate to alleviate his tuberculosis.

Mr. John taught school for a time at Upton and Elida and other schools in the vicinity of Upton, the community where he and his sisters had homesteaded. Upton School existed in 1918, and there was a store and churches in the community. The valley had people on almost every quarter section at that time, and Mittie was the postmistress for the post office in their home from 1907 until 1930 when it was disestablished.

As Mr. John's sisters and brother starved out and left, he bought their quarter sections. He and his family planted an orchard and grapevines, and raised cattle, chickens and pigs on the home place. The home place was doing well until 1918. That year, the summer was dry, and the winter was so cold that cattle froze to death standing up. The summer of 1919 was also a drought year. In later years he would joke about it, saying that after the grasshopper hits a windshield, he doesn't have the guts to do anything again.

As the boys got older, the family went into raising sheep, leasing land between Floyd and Melrose, some of it on what is now the Melrose Bombing Range. Johnny and Wiley were especially coming into their own about this time, in the 1935 - 1937 time frame. In 1938, the bank forged a note of sale for a warehouse full of wool at a ruinous price, and the family went broke again.

Mr. John was a prime mover in the fight to consolidate the schools in Roosevelt County. Five schools around Floyd were consolidated into the one at Floyd. The Upton School was #49 in the Roosevelt county registry. Mr. John must have taught there, but I have no recollection that he said very much about it. According to Jean M. Burroughs book, "Roosevelt County History and Heritage", seventy-one schools that existed in 1918 in Roosevelt County were consolidated to twenty-nine just ten years later. He believed that it was necessary to consolidate the small rural schools in order to have the resources needed to educate the children properly. There was a court battle for that, which he and his backers won, and Roosevelt County Consolidated Schools became a reality. He instigated the consolidation and was the prime mover behind the court battle to provide schools large enough to pay the teachers and conduct schools for the full term rather than just for a few months in the winter, as had been done. After the court battle, it was made legal to spend county money on transportation for schools.

Mr. John and a group of men went to Detroit to bring back the Model T buses that would collect the children from their homes scattered around the second largest school district in the United States. He was later inducted into the New Mexico Teacher's hall of Fame for his role in providing modern schools for the children of New Mexico. On that trip to Detroit the other men drank coffee, but he drank only water, never having acquired the taste for coffee. As a result, he contracted typhoid fever and was in delirium for days after the return from Detroit. Ever after that when he had fever, he would have hallucinations.

He taught in the Floyd school until about 1922, when he fell out with the administration over the usage of some of the sports money. He lost that battle, and never taught again. He did run for the County School Board, and served from 1922 to 1955, much of that time as president of the school board. He spoke many times of his friends in the school community: Ray J. Lofton, Agra Jones, Leroy Pinnell and many others of the pioneers in the county schools.

Mr. John was always an excellent impromptu speaker. He had a stock of Biblical tales, intended to illustrate lessons of life, as he thought of them. He had polished these stories from the Bible and related them to life's situations and morality. He never associated himself with any particular denomination, but felt that it was every person's duty to live his life as a Christian. He loved to talk with people, and sought out educators in every level of school from grade school through college. Although he never talked about it, I felt that he was deeply hurt by the rejection from the community that had removed him from teaching.

He was neither a good farmer nor a business man, but had the ability and a hunger for teaching that was never satisfied. One time in later years, he perceived that some of his grandchildren were not understanding the algebra lessons they were assigned, he organized a group of them to come to his garage once or twice a week. There, he tutored them and answered their questions until they did understand the material. Several of that group became teachers, at least one of them with a doctorate in education. When I was in college at Purdue University, he came to Indiana for a reunion of his high school, about 100 miles south of where I lived. I went with him to visit the people there, and found that many of them still remembered him. He showed me a bridge he had built when he was in his teens, and the dam where they swam. While we were there, a couple drove up with two teenage children. Although they had never met him, within ten or fifteen minutes the husband was taking Mr. John's picture with his arm over the wife's shoulders, the lake in the background.

He loved to play dominoes with his cronies. It was an intellectual challenge, and he was most comfortable in that setting, with a mental challenge to work on. He often told the story of the time when he was trying to prove that teachers needed more training in mathematics. While interviewing a new teacher he would pose a question: use the base 12 to solve a long division problem. Needless to say, most of them had no idea how to begin. His point was not to embarrass them, but to make them realize that they needed to get more training if they intended to become mathematics teachers. He also wanted to prove to the Board of Education that it needed to provide those teachers with more opportunities for the training they needed. While he was visiting me there in Indiana, he posed a mathematical riddle. He said he only knew one person who had solved the riddle, which was to divide the digits from 1 through 0 by 26 using long division without changing the form of the numbers. I solved it in ten minutes, with one false start. He guessed that the taxpayers were getting their money's worth by educating me as an electrical engineer, and said that I should have majored in mathematics.

Mr. John felt that it was part of his duty in life to try and rehabilitate some old boozers he would meet on the streets. He would bring them out to the farm to dry them out. He would put them up in the garage, have Mrs. Russell feed them, and put them to work hoeing and tending the garden, paying them a few dollars a week and their board. Mrs. Russell, of course, lived in fear that he would bring a murderer out to the place. I found them a constant source of stories about faraway places, and an example of how not to live my life. In later years, I realized that was probably part of his purpose - to show me how alcohol and drugs or the lack of a proper education and direction could lead to total waste of my life. These old guys would work for a few weeks, then get a chance to go into town, buy as many bottles of Vitamin B1 as they could afford, and would disappear.

Mr. John and Mrs. Russell raised six children of their own and took in three more assorted grandchildren and a nephew. There was plenty of work and love to go around, and plenty of moral teaching, too. In 1943, we started a grade A dairy operation, milking by hand at first, then with a mechanical milking machine. Finally, in 1949, we got electricity courtesy of REA. Wiley farmed up to 1900 acres of land, and the dairy sat on 640 acres of poor farmland and pasture. They were partners; Wiley was the farmer and mechanic, while Mr. John was the go-fer and money negotiator. When Walter Upton died, his farm went up for sale, and they bought it. That was one-half section of farm, and two quarter-sections of pasture. Since it had a house on it, Wiley moved into the house and fixed it up to live in until 1948, when he bought a quarter section of land with an irrigation well, built a house, and moved his family there.

 Mr. John was a declared Republican. He told us in private that he only took on the label of Republican because of the history of the Republicans who had come into the South during Reconstruction, after the Civil War. Since he was from the North, he wanted any good that he could do to be done in the name of the Republican party, to try and atone for the damage the carpet-baggers had done the South. He spent his life trying to build up the school system and the name of the Republican party in New Mexico.