LACON - Ernest E. Russell died on Monday, March 18, 2013, at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria, Ill.
Ernie was born at Methodist Hospital in Peoria, Ill., on July 20, 1938, the eldest child of Earl W. and Mary Jane Moore Russell.
He was raised in Lacon, Ill., and graduated from Mid-County High School in Varna, Ill.
He served in the United States Navy at the Naval hospital in Philadelphia, Pa., as a corpsman from 1956 to 1959.
He married Sara Warrington in Peoria in 1961.
He joined the Peoria Fire Department in 1967, and served in every rank from Firefighter to Chief.
He graduated from Illinois State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Political Science in 1973, and with a Master of Science degree in Public Administration from Sangamon State University in 1975. He also earned an associate degree in Fire Science from Illinois Central College.
He was the city liaison during the construction of the Fire Training Academy on Galena Road and the construction of the Fire Central Station at Bryant and Monroe in Peoria. He served as Training Chief and Fire Prevention Chief during his tenure. He was named Chief of the Peoria Fire Department in 1994, where he remained until 2001, when he was appointed to the position of State Fire Marshal by the governor of Illinois. He worked for many years as a consultant with Resource Management Associates of Tinley Park, Ill. He was hired as interim Fire Chief by the village of Oak Lawn, Ill., in August 2008, and served through July 2009. He was appointed interim Fire Chief in Canton, Ill., and served there from November 2010 through June 2011.
He made many friends in both places and greatly enjoyed the time he spent in those positions.
He served on numerous boards and committees in Peoria, including the American Red Cross and the Boys and Girls Club of Peoria, where he also served as president.
Ernie was honored with the title of Fire Chief Emeritus in October 2011. This title is reserved for retired chiefs who have had distinguished careers and who have made significant contributions that set them apart from their peers. He ran for the Illinois State Senate in the 46th District in 2006. To say that endeavor was unsuccessful because he wasn't elected would be misleading. Ernie viewed that campaign as one of the highlights in a life filled with highlights. He so enjoyed meeting people, and he certainly met a lot of people during that time. He was very appreciative and grateful for everyone who supported him throughout that campaign, and there were many.
Ernie loved the game of golf. He hated the game of golf. He loved all you guys who played the game with him. You know who you are.
There was a special place in his heart for his great extended family of firefighters. He was, to quote his grandchildren, "the best grandpa in the world!" No child could ask, or even hope for a better one. Ernie never erred on the side of caution, but rather, on the side of hope. He was generous to a fault with anyone who needed help.
Ernie is survived by his wife, Sara; daughters, Kelley Russell of Dallas, Texas, and Joan Ott of Peoria; sons-in-law, Bill Ott of Peoria and Jay Duke of Dallas; granddaughters, Katherine Taylor Duke of Dallas and Isabella Maree Ott of Peoria; and grandson, Jeremy Russell Ott of Peoria; brothers, Raymond Russell of Indianapolis, Iowa, and Robert (Jackie) Grieves of Lacon; sisters, Crystal Russell of Chillicothe and Melody Grieves of Wataga; and several cousins, nieces and nephews.
We all love him and will miss him terribly. He was definitely one of a kind. His deputy chief in Peoria once gave him a plaque that read, "Leaders are like eagles, they don't flock. You find them one at a time."
Visitation will be from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Downtown Peoria. Funeral Mass will be at 10:30 a.m. Friday, March 22, 2013, at Sacred Heart Church. Franciscan Fathers officiating. Burial will be in Resurrection Cemetery.
The family would like to thank the staff and doctors at St. Francis for their excellent care of Ernie as well as the firefighters from Station 15 who answered our call so many times.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance-Camp "I AM ME", P.O. Box 911, Mt. Prospect, IL 60056.
Tributes and condolences may be submitted to www. wrightandsalmon.com.