Dr. Russell Hill was born in Virginia, Minnesota, on September 26, 1926, in the middle of the Mesabi Iron Range. When he was three, his family moved to Eveleth where he spent three happy years. The Hill family moved back to Virginia in 1932, where they still had a home on Seventh Street. There they stayed for six years when the family moved to Michigan for several years before they returned to Eveleth where Russell attended high school. Despite living where hockey was the regional pastime, Russell enjoyed basketball—some might say a little too much.
In 1943, Russell joined the Navy, and during World War II he served in Naval Intelligence, receiving several prestigious medals for his service. Although he attended officer’s training school at the University of Utah, he knew military life was not for him and in 1946 he moved back to Eveleth to attend Eveleth Junior College. It was during his time there that he met JoAnn Matchefts, the love of his life and the woman he would marry four years later. After transferring to St. Cloud State Teacher’s College he received his Bachelor of Arts and began teaching English, History, and coaching basketball in Battle Lake, MN.
In 1956 Russell began graduate studies in Educational Psychology and School Administration at the University of Minnesota. He earned his masters in 1959 while teaching at Eveleth High school. During the summer months he worked in the mines to help support his bustling family of five children. After graduation he moved the family to Minneapolis to begin studies for his doctorate while working as the Assistant Principal at Robbinsdale High School. His dissertation involved the innovative use of computers to analyze data—back when a computer required an entire floor of a university building.
After completing his doctorate in 1963 he began a series of jobs that saw Russell rising through the educational ranks. He was the first principal at Wheeling High School in Wheeling, IL. In 1965 he joined the faculty of the University of Iowa, becoming the assistant Dean of Students. The following year the Minnesota College Board asked Russell to return to Minnesota as the President of Willmar Junior College. Shortly after arriving in Willmar, however, Russell moved to White Bear Lake to become the first president of Lakewood Junior College. In 1968, after half a lifetime of moving Russell and JoAnn finally settled in Mahtomedi, MN, where they stayed for the next 35 years.
Russ envisioned merging Lakewood Junior College with a local vocational school so that more students would be able to earn a liberal arts education. This dream became reality when the two schools became Century College. Eventually Russell became the Curriculum Consultant at Concordia College in Morehead, MN, and then Training Directory for the State of Minnesota before his retirement in 1991.
Throughout his career, Russ was devoted to students and to teaching. While a school administrator he would often “sneak” into a classroom to teach for a period here or there. He loved to nurture his student’s critical thinking skills, often engaging them in rigorous debate on the hottest issues of the time. He believed all children regardless of their race, religion, financial status, or sexual orientation should receive a first-class education, and he put his beliefs into action as he defended the hiring of minorities and LGBT faculty at a time when those policies were supported by few.
In August, 2011, Russell passed peacefully in Albuquerque, NM, surrounded by his beloved family.