Village

Russell leaves behind Mahomet legacy

By FRED KRONER
fred@mahometnews.com

Obituaries often chronicle a person’s life in great detail, but occasionally reveal little more than to note the individual’s passing.

The death notice for 98-year-old Dorotha Russell (who died on May 10, 2018 in Tomball, Texas) fell into the latter category.

It started, “Long-time Mahomet resident…” but had no mention about her work as a newspaper correspondent in the 1970s for the Champaign-Urbana Courier and only a vague reference about her three-decade tenure as an area minister, including at the rural Shiloh United Methodist Church, north of Mahomet.

One of her greatest contributions was also overlooked. Her legacy can be traced back to the origin of Mahomet’s downtown park, named in honor of her family, Russell Park.

In July 1975, Russell and her husband, Robert, deeded the 20-foot wide parcel of land on the south side of Main Street to the village for the sum of $10.

One of the covenants stated, “said premises to be used by grantee as a park, and in the event such use ever ceases, this land shall revert to the grantor or their heirs, successors or assigns.”

The Russells had purchased the plot in November 1960, from Mrs. Flossie Williams.

In the legal description, it is listed as the west 20 feet of Lot No. 3 of Becketts Addition.

“There was a small two-room house on the property when we bought it,” Russell said in 2009. “The building had been vacated by a man who came to Mahomet on occasion to do jewelry repair, who apparently closed shop.”

Prior to that, the building had another use.

“Arthur Lerner began his law practice there and later became a quite successful attorney in Champaign-Urbana,” Russell said. “After we bought the building, it became the Cupcake Cottage where six mornings every week, I made pies and cakes to order and made dozens of doughnuts.

“Every recess, the school kids came with their nickels to buy, preferably, a sack full of the sugared doughnut holes, their big favorite.”

Her husband had a role in the venture.

“Every morning on his way to work, my husband bought the day’s supply of water to meet the baking and cleaning needs,” Dorotha Russell said. “He soon tired of that chore.

“Then in the dead of winter, our son got scarlet fever and the health regulations dictated that I must close down until three weeks had passed.”

In reality, that was the beginning of the end.

“Business wasn’t exactly booming,” Russell said. “Instead of a fluffing sound of paper, the cash box rattled with coins and we determined that we must close the Cupcake Cottage for good.”

The Russells were left with a building they didn’t need.

“There weren’t many buyers interested in an unimproved building on Main Street,” she said. “We finally left it with Bill Jahr, who was then on the Town Council, with a 99-year lease for the Village of Mahomet, which gave us $1 for the lease.”

More than a decade later, in 1975, another change was made.

“When Gaylord Wirth was on the Town Council, he came to me with the idea that something should be finalized with the property, and I agreed,” Dorotha Russell said. “I signed ownership to the Village of Mahomet.

“The Village took over and the school kids decorated the now-empty site. I hope it will remain useful for more years.”

The Russells originally moved from Champaign to Mahomet in 1955 and  lived locally for nearly five decades. Dorotha Russell later served as PTA President as well as President of both the Mahomet Town and Country Club and the Mahomet Woman’s Club.

During a portion of Oscar Osborne’s term as school superintendent in the mid-1950s, Russell was his secretary.

“While working for him, I came up with the idea of a Citizens Advisory Council to the school board as an adjunct to them when we needed desperately to pass a school referendum,” Russell said. “We needed missionaries in the field and ours was the only school referendum in the area to pass that year.”

In 1961, the building now known as the junior high school was opened for the first time.

As for Russell Park, in its 43rd year of existence,  it still remains a topic of conversation as well as a destination for senior pictures.

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