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Published: Tuesday, 5/26/2009

Rail museum founder led electric firm

FINDLAY - Dennis Alan Russell, 60, founder of a railroad history club and museum in Hancock County, died Friday in his Findlay home after being ill with leukemia, his family said.

Mr. Russell was employed in the family business, Russell Electric Co., near Findlay most of his working life and took over as its president and manager in 1990.

He also was employed from 1983 to 1990 at Hercules Tire.

He was founder and president of Northwest Ohio Railroad Preservation Inc.

The club was established in 1998 and has grown to have its own facility and collection of train and railroad equipment and memorabilia that is open to visitors on weekends.

The club offers rides on a restored quarter-scale steam train at its 5-acre headquarters on Allen Township Road 99 just east of I-75 on Findlay's north side. The miniature steam train was acquired from a religious colony in Benton Harbor, Mich.

The club also operates a gift shop, museum, model-train layouts, a windmill, boxcar, switchers, and a caboose.

In 2005, the group acquired and is restoring an old railroad depot from Wood County.

Mr. Russell's wife, Mary Simmer Russell, said, "he had all sorts of interests," including not only trains but blacksmithing, player pianos, and gardening.

"He was a good man, an honest man. He had a great sense of humor," Mrs. Russell said.

"He was the one that would have the slight smile on his face. He loved to share his knowledge about what he knew."

His wife said Mr. Russell had an opportunity to say goodbye to friends on May 16, and about 500 people showed up at the railroad club to thank him.

"It was very moving, to say the least. He impacted many lives over the years," she said. She said he provided free electrical service for community festivals.

He was involved in a variety of other historical organizations, including Toledo, Lake Erie & Western Railway & Museum Inc., of Waterville; Model T Ford Club of Northwest Ohio in Bluffton; Historical Construction Equipment Association, Bowling Green; Artist Blacksmith's Association of North America Inc.; Northwest Ohio Antique Machinery Association, and Adopt-A-Flag - Flag City, USA.

Mr. Russell received the 1995 Flag City Award.

He was a former board member of the Hancock Historical Museum and led the restoration of the Riverside Train, a miniature passenger train that once ran in Toledo's Walbridge Park.

He held two mechanical invention patents.

Findlay Mayor Pete Sehnert declared May 16, 2009, as Dennis Russell Day for his years of volunteerism and involvement in his community.

He is survived by his wife, Mary Simmer Russell; sons, Brian, Kevin, and Matthew; mother, Ann LaWarre Russell, and six grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 1 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m. tomorrow at the Northwest Ohio Railroad Preservation train station, 11600 Allen Township Road 99.

A Celebration of Life Service will be at 11 a.m. Thursday at the train station.

The family suggests tributes to Northwest Ohio Railroad Preservation.



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