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Russell McKee

Russell McKee Obituary
Russell McKee East Lansing Russell Peters McKee, 85, passed away quietly at Stoneleigh Hospice in Lansing on May 19, 2010. He was born in Villa Park, Illinois, on April 20, 1925 to Ada and Robert L. McKee. Russell graduated from high school in nearby Glen Ellyn. He was married on Washington Island, Wisconsin on August 8, 1956 to Shirley Saunders, who died in 1992. On August 3, 1995, he married Martha Seaman, who was his beloved companion until his death. Immediately after graduating from high school, Russell joined the Army and received basic training and special language training with the 84th Infantry Division. The 84th entered France in October 1944, and Russell served as rifleman, artillery observer and radio operator for a forward cannon unit. He served in the campaigns of Central Europe, the Battle of the Bulge, and the Rhineland, and participated in the drive to the Elbe River to meet Russian Forces pushing west. He received the Bronze Star for "heroic service and courageous action" against the enemy. After returning home in 1946, Russell studied journalism and English, graduating from Michigan State University in 1950. In the summer before graduating and immediately after, he worked as a newspaper reporter for two small town newspapers. He spent the fall months of 1950 writing in a cabin in the north woods of Wisconsin before returning to another reporting job. In 1951 he became editor of the Mexico City News, an English language tabloid daily. In 1952 he returned to East Lansing where he took a post in public relations for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and in 1955 he began writing for the department's bimonthly magazine, the "Michigan Natural Resources." He became editor of that publication in the 1960s. He wrote hundreds of articles, speeches and news releases during this period. Among other accomplishments of his department was a statewide ban on further use of the dangerous chemical, DDT, which took effect in 1968, making Michigan the first state in the nation to develop and enforce such a ban. In support of the ban, Russell wrote a series of articles in the magazine which won a national award for "Best Environmental Campaign" of 1968. He also helped get the returnable bottle bill passed in Michigan. Upon request of the Thomas Y. Crowell Company of New York, Russell wrote a history of the Great Lakes region titled "Great Lakes Country" which Crowell published in hardback in 1966. It received good reviews, sold out, and was reprinted. In 1974 he was elected by his peers to serve as president of the American Association for Conservation Information, a national gathering of writers, editors, film makers and natural resource specialists from many venues -- state and federal agencies, corporations, and others - who were at that time attempting to cope with the emerging environmental movement. State wildlife agencies led this charge and were instrumental in bringing environmentalism into the forefront as a national policy issue. In 1974 he wrote a history of the Great Plains of North America, entitled "The Last West," again published in hardback by the Crowell Company. It sold out and later that year received the Spur Award from the Western Writers of America for Best Western Non-Fiction published in 1974. From 1972 until Russell's retirement in 1984, the magazine continued to build under his guidance as a semi-independent institution within the Department of Natural Resources, surviving without any income from state subsidies or advertising. By the early 1980s, there were 190,000 paying subscribers. During this period, the magazine grew in size from 6x9 to 8½by 11, and was always printed in full color, 48 to 64 pages of editorial matter per issue. All operating costs, including salaries, were paid from the subscription pool. The magazine's success allowed production of several full-color hard- bound books about Michigan and its peoples. "A Most Superior Land" detailed the history of the Upper Peninsula. "Ladies of the Lakes" told the story of Great Lakes ships and shipping. "Mackinac, the Gathering Place" gave accounts of the British, French, and American occupations of that region. "The Northern Lights" told of the story of Lighthouses and storms and wrecks on the Great Lakes. Russell conceived all these books and with his small staff brought them to publication. Russell retired from state service in August 1984, and for a time wrote articles for the "Audubon" and "Natural History" Magazines. He also wrote fiction, and in 2009 published "Up North, 14 short stories from America's Heartland," based on the countless conversations he had with people in the Upper Midwest over the years. During his full and productive life, Russell helped raise two children, supported Shirley in her work as art teacher and potter, sailed his old wooden ketch and friends' boats around Lake Michigan, and planted hundreds of trees. He was an excellent photographer and artist in his own right, creating such things as furniture, stained glass windows, and signs. He made and drank wine with friends and family. He loved cats and had an excellent rapport with them. In art as well as conservation, he helped many people get started. He and Shirley helped create the Art Yard in East Lansing and they were instrumental in starting the local Potters Guild, which still supports an active pottery community. He listened well to all he spoke with - hermits, beggars, governors, artists, tycoons, fishermen, farmers, and scientists. And he told stories. He was always telling stories, and always with great humor, intelligence, and a twinkle in his eye. Russell is survived by his beloved wife, Martha; his devoted children Rob McKee of Summit, New Jersey, and Linda McKee of Lansing, Michigan, and Rob's wife Virginia and their two sons Austin and Travis McKee; his sister Joanne Silberberg; and eight nephews and four nieces. His funeral will be held on Saturday, May 29, at 10:00 a.m., at All Saints Episcopal Church in East Lansing, with an interment at Evergreen Cemetery. Visitation will be held from 2-4 and 6-8 p.m. Friday at the Estes-Leadley Greater Lansing Chapel. Contributions can be made to the Michigan Parkinson Foundation, 30400 Telegraph Road, Suite 150, Bingham Farms, MI 48025 or Grace Haven Center, 5859 West Saginaw Highway, PMB 184, Lansing, MI 48917.

Published in Lansing State Journal on May 26, 2010
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