Russell Charles Neff passed away Sunday, March 2. He was born on July 5th, 1926 in Tacoma to Russell and Ione Neff, and was joined in the family several years later by his sister JoAnne.
Education played a central role in his life, beginning in Tacoma, where he was a proud graduate of Stadium High School.
Russ received a bachelor’s degree in Zoology from Texas A&M, earned his principal’s and superintendent’s credentials from the University of Washington, a master’s degree in education from University of Puget Sound, and a doctorate in education from the University of Idaho.
While in College Station, Texas, Russ met his best friend, first and only love, Margaret Medbery. They joined in marriage on June 7th, 1947.
Russ lived most of his life in Washington, spending his first 17 years in Tacoma, three plus years in the Army, two years in College Station, Texas, another year in Seattle, and then starting a family in Lakewood, where his career in education began at DuPont-Fort Lewis. After spending 17 years there, his career took the family to Moscow, Idaho for two years; then it was off to Oroville for seven more, to Ocean Shores for five years, before finally settling for good in Olympia 32 years ago.
Dr. Neff served in the US Army late in World War II, where he received training in civil engineering at both Texas A&M and at the University of Idaho. He served as Troop Clerk and an armored car driver while stationed at Camp Campbell, Ky. He loved to recall his time playing on the base softball team with their bright red uniforms.
The DuPont-Ft. Lewis school district saw Russ begin his career as a junior high teacher, then Principal, and was later named Superintendent. He taught for two years at the University of Idaho while simultaneously obtaining his doctorate. He then served as Superintendent in Oroville, and in the North Beach school district on the coast . He finished his career as the assistant Superintendent of Educational Service District 113 in Olympia.
Volunteering was a way of life for Russ. He was active and held leadership positions in several Kiwanis clubs and served on the Greater Lakes Mental Health board, an organization he helped found. He spent 18 years serving on several supervisory committees, then the board of directors with Twin Star Credit Union. He also served on the board of Capital Clubhouse. He was on the board of the North Central Washington Boy Scouts of America advisory committee, which tied back to his time in Scouting when he became an Eagle Scout.
The church has played a critical role in the life of Dr. Neff. Spending time in small communities around the state meant that denomination of church was not as relevant, but that the people were. He was an elder with the Little Church on the Prairie (Presbyterian) in Lakewood, was a lay speaker at the United Methodist Church in Oroville, and was president of the congregation at Galilean Chapel (Lutheran) in Ocean Shores. In Olympia he has been a proud member of the First United Methodist church in Olympia, serving in several positions and being chief paint “toucher upper.”
Russ has always enjoyed do-it-yourself projects, gardening around the home, and he loves sports, baseball and especially the Mariners. He can also lay claim to the title of best fishing story in a group by catching 35,000 salmon in one day while working on a fish trap in Alaska as a teenager.
Russ is survived by the love of his life, his wife of 66+ years Margaret; daughter Suzanne Davis of Snohomish, son Tom of Warrenton, Va.; son Russell Jr. (Rusty) of White Salmon, sister JoAnne Cross Jurin; eight grandchildren; 13 great-grandchildren; five nieces and five nephews.
He always lived by the rule that God is first, others second and himself third. His unfailing politeness and integrity are treasured by many.
A memorial service and celebration of Russ Neff’s life will be held Saturday, April 5 at 11 a.m. at the First United Methodist Church of Olympia. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that gifts be directed to a memorial fund in his name at the First United Methodist Church of Olympia, 1224 Legion Way SE, Olympia, WA 98501.