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Anaconda remembers high school teacher caught in avalanche

By Jacqueline Gedeon, KTVM Butte Reporter, jgedeon@ktvm.com
Published On: May 05 2014 05:19:27 PM MDT
Updated On: May 05 2014 11:29:21 PM MDT
ANACONDA, Mont. -

The community of Anaconda is mourning the loss of a teacher lost in an avalanche over the weekend.

Anaconda High school teacher Ron Russell was backcountry skiing at the top of Olson Gulch Saturday, when the avalanche struck, burying and ultimately killing him.

He dug himself out and called for help around 10 in the morning. We're told Russell spent most of the next hour talking to dispatchers as he waited for the rescuers to find him about 8 miles northwest of Anaconda.

He was half buried in the snow, and when crews arrived he thanked them for their help. He died soon after they arrived.

Monday, people in Anaconda remembered how he touched their lives. After all, Russell was a high school math teacher, president of Rotary and on the Graduation Matters council.

"He loved to explore, and he loved the fact that this place was a little less traveled by skiers," said Russell's friend Mark Schaffer. "So going new places together is how I knew him best."

Schaffer said the two would ski together every weekend they could.

"He could go forever, I mean he's 46 years old and he could walk all day and walk fast and keep it together, and he was always up to ski another run," said Schaffer.

"He had this habit of just exclaiming, just giving a loud 'wa-hoo' out of nowhere," remembers Schaffer. "It would be quiet, he'd be climbing up a side of a mountain and from somewhere you'd just hear this exclamation and it was just so full of life."

Greg Oxnam met Russell when they became next-door neighbors several years ago.

"He was very outgoing, very friendly, so it didn't take long to know him like a brother," said Oxnam.

Russell was an engineer, but gave it up to become a teacher.

"That wasn't where his heart and dream was, so he decided to, he wanted to teach and he wanted to make a difference to children," said Oxnam.

Russell started his new career by tutoring children in math, eventually moving on to become a teacher at Anaconda High.

Oxnam said not only was Russell a good teacher and neighbor, he was a good father.

"You know, you don't meet a lot of good men like that," he said. "He was a gentleman by far and he devoted his life to his family."

Both Schaffer and Oxnam said they will always remember Russell and know the community will too.

"In his example and interaction with everybody, there's a mark here and I think it'll last," said Schaffer.

The Anaconda school district will dismiss classes early on Wednesday so students and staff can attend Russell's funeral.