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A Renaissance Man: Dunn County Impact

Lifelong Dunn County resident John Russell ’50 thrives on creativity and staying involved in his community.

John Russell ’50
Photo courtesy of John Russell

Artist. Photographer. Businessperson. Columnist. Playwright. World War II veteran. Friend of Robert Gard. Proud holder of a UW degree. There are many more ways to describe the long and distinguished career of John Russell ’50, a lifelong Dunn County resident and a man who thrives on creativity and staying involved in his community.

“I see things that should be done, and I do them,” says Russell. “I don’t just ask other people to do something. I just do it.”

One of the things Russell jumped right into was the renovation of the Mabel Tainter Center for the Arts. Along with another volunteer, he spearheaded the process of resurrecting this historic landmark in Menomonie.

His involvement with the center didn’t stop there. For the center’s inaugural performance, Russell brought together three directors to lead productions. Those performances helped to prime the community for the launch of the Menomonie Theater Guild, which has gone on to perform hundreds of plays and musicals.

“I see things that should be done, and I do them.”

In part, Russell credits Badger Boys State — a weeklong summer camp on the Ripon College campus where male teens learn about government and leadership — for helping to instill in him the importance of community involvement. The 92-year-old recently visited this year’s Badger Boys State and spoke to some of the boys.

Another influence on his life was the time he spent in the navy during World War II, traveling to bases and battles throughout the world as a photographer.

“I was very lucky that I was selected to be a photographer during the war,” says Russell. “I got to take pictures when everyone else was shooting people.”

After a life of community involvement that spans countless hours of service, thousands of pages of writing and illustrations, countless photographs, and numerous performances and productions, Russell has some simple advice for people: “Just have a passion for what you do. Just get involved. Then step aside when it’s time to give other people a chance.”

Thank you, Dunn County, for John Russell, whose creativity and energy inspire us and the youth at Badger Boys State.

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