Herald & Review (Decatur, IL)
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Author: By THERESA CHURCHILL ; H&R Senior Writer
United Way leader Russell dies at 93
DECATUR - Surviving eight months past his 93rd birthday, Norman E. Russell outlived most of the people who knew him in Decatur.
Yet the United Way of Decatur and Mid-Illinois remains at the forefront of the community largely because of the way he ran the agency from 1958 to 1981, tripling the amounts raised annually from $500,000 to $1.56 million during his tenure.
"He had the top leadership - it wasn’t the 3rd lieutenants, it was the top - serving on the board and working with the campaign," recalls Orv Graham, the close friend who successfully nominated Russell in 1998 to the Decatur Hall of Fame.
"Norm was the man who made the United Way a top priority for the Decatur community."
Russell , who had been living in Sebring, Fla., died Saturday. He divided his time between Decatur and Florida after retirement and didn’t sell his house on Cherry Drive until 2001.
Among the executives Russell recruited was Jack Strong, now of Huntley, the retired president, chairman and CEO of Federal Kemper Insurance Co.
"Norm was one of the first two gentlemen to call on me after I moved to Decatur in 1974," Strong said. "He was a good salesman and a very good friend."
Barbara Dunn, executive director of the Community Health Improvement Center, was the director of Volunteer Action Force at Russell ’s retirement and remembers him being as passionate about controlling costs as he was about raising money.
"He had gotten an old copier and said it worked just fine," Dunn said. "The only problem was it would overheat, and everyone was expected to stand there and watch it even if you were making 500 copies."
Russell ’s background with the United Way was extensive and included a stint as director of training for the United Fund in Philadelphia from 1955 to 1958 and as president of the United Way of Illinois from 1966 to 1967.
He also was an avid fisherman and golfer, but it was clear his leadership style was influenced by his 27 years with the Navy and Naval Reserve.
Graham likes to tell the story of how merchants in Norfolk, Va., once posted signs saying "No Dogs or Sailors Allowed" until Russell arranged for the sailors to be paid with $2 bills. After the merchants learned where the unusual currency came from, their attitudes changed and the signs came down.
Russell told the Herald & Review in 1981 that he judged programs seeking United Way funding on their management and service. "I don’t care how good of a service you have," he said, "if you have poor administration, you’re just putting good money after bad."