Robert Edgar Russell was born in St. Paul, Nebraska on May 11, 1941, the son of Mae and Kenneth Russell and younger brother of Ronnie. By the time he was 9 months old, Bob was a sun-loving California boy. He lived in Los Angeles until third grade; then Solvang, where his dad, Ken would take him on his truck to collect milk from the dairy farmers; and then on to Oakland. Loving these periences, it’s not surprising that he chose to accept a football scholarship to UC Berkeley (as quarterback he led his Castlemont H.S. to Oakland city champs). Unfortunately, an injury led to his transfer to UC Santa Barbara. With his surfboard stored at his residence hall, and his history on track and baseball teams (his Babe Ruth team was Champs), Bob had a successful college career. He had been Student Government President in high school and found Political Science was an exciting major (it was the ‘60’s, after all!); however, realizing he wanted to teach, and needing to fulfill California’s fifth year education for certification, Bob moved to San Francisco State University. He sure enjoyed the throbbing aliveness of the big city, where he met his future wife, Gayle Payne!
Proudly willing to serve his country during the Viet Nam Conflict era, Bob enlisted in the United States Air Force. Stationed at Lackland AF Base, San Antonio, Texas, he could immediately use his new teaching skills as Orientation and Marksmanship Instructor at the Officer Training School. Captain Robert Russell was honorably discharged on January 1, 1970. Using his time in the military productively, Bob was also able to earn his Master’s degree in Education, with emphasis on Physical Education, from Our Lady of the Lake University, San Antonio.
Moving to a more suitable climate, Bob, an especially athletic PE teacher, established a K-12 skiing program in the Durango, Colorado schools. During his teaching time in Durango, he had obtained his Education Administrator’s Certification from Adams State University, Alamosa, Colorado, and was ready for the next step. Believing that Physical Education was more than just “Recess”, but rather an important step in teaching young students gross and fine motor skills, he enrolled for his doctorate at Colorado State University, Fort Collins.
By this time, Bob was married to Gayle Payne and they were contemplating a family. They adopted a wonderful, adorable baby boy, Aaron Robert! As a new father, Bob made a difficult choice to provide more fully for his family. Although he had finished all his course work, the practical research, and the development of a classroom teachers’ handbook, he decided to halt work on his thesis. When Track Coach Larry Heidebrecht asked him to follow to New Mexico Junior College, Hobbs, NM as his assistant, Bob moved his young family. He and Larry were very successful with the Cross Country and Track teams, winning several championships and national notice. Personally, Bob won several marathons in his age range, and even qualified for the Boston Marathon!
Quickly, the necessity of long-distance travel and training for the team meets, time for personal races, and extensive time for preparation for classroom academic classes took a devastating toll on a wife who was left at home with the responsibilities of an infant and a household in a new community. The marriage dissolved. Afterwards, Bob recognized the problems he had caused, quit coaching, reduced his personal running time and length of races, but he continued his dedication to his classes in Sociology, Psychology, and American Government, where his students appreciated his interesting and amusing presentations. Some of his students may not have appreciated that his standards were quite high, being a University of California graduate, but at least they were prepared for a four year college! Hopefully they have looked back fondly on the time in his classes.
Still missing the warmth of family, Bob married Carol Levine on October 3, 1980, in Lovington, NM, and again on December 21st, in front of her family, friends, and Ethical Culture clergy in Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY (Carol’s hometown) at the beautiful brownstone home of her brother, Robert Levine, sister-in-law, Kathy Sonderman, and their 2 year-old, Brian. After a brief honeymoon in Carol and Bob’s favorite city - NYC, of course, the newly re-weds returned to Hobbs to welcome Bob’s parents from San Leandro, California and to continue the celebrations!
As much as Bob and Carol loved their students in Hobbs, they had another vision for their future. During the summer breaks they were preparing to be Park Rangers! Their family camping trips, their service volunteer work at Ghost Ranch Conference Center, Abiquiu, NM and Bandelier National Monument, Bob’s extensive woodworking and handyman abilities, and their teaching experience led to them being hired! After Bob’s retirement from NMJC in 1994, they worked at many National Wildlife Refuges in the west: Santa Ana and Laguna Atascosa (both in the Rio Grande Valley, TX), Bitter Lake (NM), Buenos Aires (AZ), Stillwater (NV), and Red Rock Lakes (MT). They also worked in Grand Teton, Carlsbad Caverns, and Yellowstone National Parks. Rangering was lots of fun, but also educational: Bob was chosen to be a US Fish and Wildlife Officer, and sent to FLETC (Federal Law Enforcement Training Center) in Georgia to learn the LAW! He loved it, and was surprised that an old guy like him could excel at it. Fighting wildland forest fires turned out to be another thing he really enjoyed, even sleeping on the ground in his 60’s! The firefighters were sent wherever they were needed. He also trained to be an EMT, in order to help on park ambulances. He was very proud to do these special assignments!
After the summer of 2010, Bob and Carol decided they had seen the best of the west, and decided to travel further afield. Mostly cruising, they visited Australia and New Zealand; Japan and Indonesia; Mexico, Central and South America; Africa; many Mediterranean countries; and went frequently to Alaska. Bob placed his feet on all the continents, except Antarctica! What an incredible life they had together!
Bob succumbed to Neuroendocrine cancer on Friday evening, December 16th, as the day was fading, having fought this very aggressive, broadly metastatic, rare form of the disease for close to a year. He tried to hide his illness until the end, still trying to keep active and vibrant. He is survived by his loving Wife Carol Levine; his Son Aaron’s and Daughter-in-Law Jean’s family, including his four amazing Grandchildren - Lizabelle, Brylee, William-Robert, and Kessler; Aunt Betty Pettis; Brother-in-Law Robert Levine; Niece Emily and Nephew Brian Levine; many cousins; and friends with whom he worked throughout the west. He thanks them all, as well as his many Hobbs friends and coworkers, for the many loving times together. Special thanks to Dr. Vallabhan, Dr. Wagner, Barbara Lane, and all the medical professionals at Nor Lea Cancer Center and Gentiva Hospice for giving him love and respect and listening, even when it was too late to help.
Bob loved flowers, but mostly the wild or garden variety that would feed the hummingbirds, the bees, the butterflies and their caterpillars. We loved sitting in the backyard over early morning breakfast watching the critters come. He would love it, if rather than sending flowers, you plant pollinator ones next spring and think of him.
Bob especially loved presenting environmental education talks to the children and adults, fighting wildfires and enforcing laws to protect the wetlands and forests of this beautiful America. He now is, and ever has been, part of the interdependent web of life of which we all are part; and may we think of him when we see the wild animals and the breath-taking scenery around us. In keeping with his desires to preserve wildlands, the family requests memorial contributions be made in his name to: The Nature Conservancy, 4245 N Fairfax Dr, Suite 100, Arlington, VA 22203, or, for a local charity close to his heart for their good work with children: The Palmer Drug Abuse Program of Lea County, P O Box 5185, Hobbs, NM 88241.