Josephine Russell has lived through two world wars, the Great Depression, the Cold War and the civil rights movement in her 102 years.

Karl Maasdam, Gazette-Times (File)

The following article originally ran in the Saturday, Jan. 1, 2000, edition of the Corvallis Gazette-Times.

Josephine Russell was born into a world that only a handful of other Americans can understand.

She entered a society that was not linked by the World Wide Web.

Going to work didn't mean holding down a 9-to-5 job — it meant working from dusk to dawn and often more.

When Russell was born, women couldn't vote. Racism was a social norm. Television, video games and digital computers didn't exist.

Forget about convenient transportation. Russell arrived in the world more than 20 years before the automobile.

At 102, Russell has survived two world wars, the Roaring '20s, the Great Depression, the Cold War and the civil rights movement.

Now, as the end of the 20th century and the millennium approaches, Russell has made her way to Corvallis from her native town on Monroe, La.

"When I was growing up, it was a lot of fun to me," Russell said. "I was always into something, doing something I had no right to do."

She's the great-aunt of one of the most famous sons of Corvallis, sportscaster and former baseball all-star Harold Reynolds. But her own life is enough to be worthy of its own fame.

The eldest child among three sisters and two brothers, Josephine Russell's childhood was defined by long hours of farm labor and a strong relationship with God and the Christian church. Her mother and father, Lula and John, made ends meet by managing a small grocery.

Unfortunately, hard times awaited the Russell family. John passed away in 1920, and both brothers perished at very young ages. The family tree carried on through the middle sister, Toreacy, who gave birth to Lettie Reynolds — Josephine's niece.

"(The deaths of the men in the family) taught them all to be independent," Reynolds said. "The sisters were very independent and always stressed education."

Russell's involvement with the church became her lifelong passion. She received her education in Pine Bluff, Ark., expanding her knowledge of the church and learning to be a practical nurse.

Russell was already a missionary when she moved to Oregon in the late 1940s. Almost single-handedly, Russell built a house on her 5-acre property in Cedar Flats, using the wood from trees on her land and buying lumber from Springfield.

She moved to Bradwood, east of Astoria, in the 1970s, then to Rainier when she was 85 years old. All the while she remained active with her church. Local services remained a top priority on her list. She repeatedly traveled to Arizona, where she assisted students of the church.

Even her extended missionary work continued. At 87, Russell made a voyage to Haiti to help spread her faith.

"It was nice because people learned to obey and come out to church services," Russell said. "It was a lot different than what we have here in America."

It wasn't until Russell was 96 that she moved into foster care.

Now living at Corvallis Manor, Russell remains close to the other four generations of her family. It is not an uncommon practice in the family for Russell to lead the prayer on major holidays.

Throughout her life, Russell has shown her love for children by helping them as a missionary or by assisting students at Christian workshops. Reynolds remembers how her aunt would go to Goodwill and buy things to give away to needy children. Sometimes Russell would even make clothing herself, using fabric she'd purchase by the box.

Above all was Russell's connection with God. When asked about her most most important lessons learned in life, Russell talked about faith and her life as a missionary.

"She passed down faith, honesty, hard work and lots of love for everyone," Reynolds said. "The family has always stressed to love everyone."

More than a century of life spans Russell's living family. The youngest of the line belongs to Reynolds' oldest son, who is raising an eight-month-old baby boy.

And Russell — who came into the world at the dawn of an era — will get to view the beginning of another.

NOTE: Josephine Russell died July 5, 2000, in Corvallis.


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