Jo Ellen Duennes Russ, of Fort Thomas, had a passion and talent for the written word. Though she was a colorful storyteller – an accomplished writer and editor who earned her bachelor's and master's degrees from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism – what gave her the most joy was her family. It is their story she cherished.
"She had such a strong connection to her incredible family and support network here in Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati. She decided real early on that this was her priority," said her friend Vicki Michaelis from Athens, Ga.
Mrs. Russ died Tuesday, March 5, at St. Elizabeth Fort Thomas from complications of influenza. She was 44.
She grew up in Independence and graduated from Simon Kenton High School in 1986.
Michaelis said Jo Ellen was the middle of three girls, but she was often mistaken for the oldest because she was so protective.
"We were only 14 months apart, and I was the oldest," said her sister, Danielle Bockman of Independence. "I always joked that I don't ever remember her not being there and telling me what to do. She called me every single day. She called my mother every single day. She called my sister every single day, just to make sure everyone was all right."
Following graduation from college, she became the senior editor at ST Media Group International in Cincinnati, where she met her husband, Jeff. They married in 1986 and resided in Fort Thomas.
She took a position with Batesville Casket Company as a marketing communications manager, commuting to Indiana each day.
After her children were born, Mrs. Russ decided to devote herself full time to her family.
Her husband said a friend left a message on the funeral home website writing how he was going to miss her extra long hugs, which made you feel warmer and loved.
"She was always very calm and never short with anyone. Those are the qualities that made for a wonderful mother," her husband said.
"She never strayed too far from a cup of coffee or the written word. After becoming a full-time mom, she continued editing, some for freelance pay and some for friends who needed her sharp eye on a resume or cover letter.
"Her straightforward style, her ability to spin stories, her unwavering loyalty to family and friends, and her chocolate chip cookies (the only authentic replication of her grandmother's recipe) will be as deeply missed as her long hugs and quick smile," Michaelis said.
Along with her husband and sister, other survivors include her daughter, Julianna, and son, Zachary, both of Fort Thomas; mother, Sandra Jo Leach Duennes of Independence; and her sister, Jenny Zurad of Union.
Visitation will be 11 a.m. today with memorial service following at 2 p.m. at Chambers & Grubbs Funeral Home, 11382 Madison Pike, Independence.
Memorials: Jo Ellen Russ Childrens' Scholarship Fund, c/o Fifth Third Bank, 859-441-0500.
Online condolences to www.chambersandgrubbs.com.
Published in the Kentucky Enquirer from Mar. 11 to Mar. 12, 2013