An Everlasting Influence
Sadly, the hearts of students and staff at North Magoffin Elementary and that of the community as a whole are breaking for the loss of one of their most beloved educators and friends. Russel Howard, of North Magoffin Elementary, passed away on Sunday January 12 following a liver transplant that was hoped to fix a long medical condition that had worsened as of late. Friends and co-workers tell Mortimer Media that Russel left behind a long, storied, vibrant history and impact on the Magoffin County school system. A twenty six year servant to the kids of Magoffin County, after doing his student teaching at Salyersville Grade School he was a teacher at Millard Hensley, Salyer Elementary, Principal at Middle Fork Elementary and for the last ten years the Assistant Principal at North Magoffin.
North Magoffin Principal Keith Isaac worked alongside Russel for the last ten years and has him to thank for who he is today. "Russel took me under his wing when he was Principal at Middle Fork and I was a teacher and I can remember making some not-so-perfect decisions when I first became Principal here and he was my assistant." With a bit of a tear and a laugh he added, "Russel pulled me to the side during my first few months as Principal and said, ‘Listen, before you make any more major decisions, come and talk to me’ and I always took his advice after that."
Working alongside Russel daily, Isaac says it was Russel's love for the kids that was even greater than the love he had for his school and he loved his school dearly. Isaac described how the gym floor was Russel's baby, and that it, as well as the heating and cooling, which not even Isaac is sure how to work, and parent pick up were just a few of the things Russel considered his. And then there were the kids. "He was such a gentle soul that it was hard for him to discipline because he was so soft hearted and the kids loved him! He was always upbeat, always a smile and a hug, never down and always had a true concern for our students."
Others agreed with Isaac when he told of Russel's uncanny effect on a student in crisis, "I can remember one instance when I, nor the teacher, nor anyone could get a student to calm down, and just like always, within seconds, he was sitting there sharing a conversation with the student and the meltdown was all over. He could do that with anybody."
Melinda Owens who teaches at North Magoffin is like others including Mikia Lemaster who can’t remember Russel not being there for them or being a part of their career. For Owens she has taught twenty three of her twenty five years as an educator alongside Russel. "Everyone just loved him, he knew every child's name. I didn't want to come back to work without him being here." she says. Both Owens and Lemaster went on to recall his kind, gentle soul and is amazing way with the kids. They also felt compelled to share his wonderful sense of humor. Apparently, Russel had as much fun taking as he did giving in that area. Both ladies spoke of often hiding his car, sometimes miles away as payback for an equally stellar prank he had pulled on them and his infectious laughter after he realized where they had put it. Owens said, "He understood the importance of making sure the kids get a good education but he also understood everyone needs to have a good time and enjoy it."
As for Lemaster, she too has Russel to be thankful for. She has taught all 12 of her years along side Russel and credits him for much or her success as a teacher. "He was one of my biggest mentors. I can't begin to name all the things he showed me or how comfortable and welcomed he made me feel my first day and every day. He was just so encouraging." Lemaster as well recalled always feeling his presence and how he always went out of his way to check on the kids, especially those having a tough time or that may have been in trouble. "He was just a good, good person."
Principal Isaac said, Russel, in his twenty-sixth year in the Magoffin County School system, a few years back, sometimes spoke of retiring when he got his twenty-seventh over and done but that more recently he thought Russel was enjoying what he did so much that he was thinking seriously about sticking around a few more years.
After what would be Russel’s last day at North, and they locked the schoolhouse doors, Isaac said he and Russel made some plans for later in the weekend, and thought it odd when Russel's number showed up on the phone only moments later. In those few short moments after they left the school, Russel and his family received word that a donor liver was available and Russel was calling to tell his friend that he was on his way to Louisville for surgery. The two spoke after the procedure but tragically complications quickly arose and Russel's personal and school family would soon have to try to come to grips with their unbearable loss. Isaac said, "He will never be replaced, there will always be an empty spot here at North Magoffin, it will never be the same."
Funeral services for Mr. James Russel Howard were held yesterday. In addition to being survived by his father, James, brother Rick and sister Debbie, he leaves behind his loving wife Jackie, their son Morgan and their daughter Emily who along with her husband Chase are expecting Russel and Jackie's first grandchild.
Russel’s obituary appears on page A-4.