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M. Russell, 112; L.A. Woman Was Oldest Californian

June 03, 2005|Claudia Luther Times Staff Writer | Times Staff Writer

Margaret "Madge" Russell, who had held the record as California's oldest living person for nearly a year, died Sunday at a nursing home in Eagle Rock. She was 112.

Russell, who had been demented, blind and deaf for several years, was the seventh-oldest living American and the 14th-oldest in the world, according to L. Stephen Coles, co-founder of the Los Angeles Gerontology Research Group at UCLA, which verifies claims of extreme longevity (

With Russell's death, the oldest living person in California now is Marion Higgins of Long Beach, who will be 112 June 26. The previous record-holder was Elma Corning of Hollywood, also 112. Corning died July 12.

Russell was born in Guthrie, Okla., on Oct. 31, 1892, soon after the area became the Oklahoma Territory, and grew up in Baltimore, where her family manufactured wood-burning stoves.

She arrived in the Los Angeles area in 1927 after driving cross-country from Missouri with her first husband and two children.

According to Fred Bonn, her great-nephew, she operated boarding houses in Eagle Rock and Glendale for a number of years and then taught at private Christian schools.

"She always talked about her school and her students. Her students were like her kids," said Bonn, a resident of Laguna Niguel.

Bonn said Russell, who did not believe in doctors or medicines, once fainted in her classroom and was taken to a physician.

"The doctor told her to take it easy, that she had a bad heart," Bonn said. "She was always heavy" and had a poor diet, he said.

Of her long life, Bonn said, "It depends on what kind of genes you have, I guess."

At Solheim Lutheran Home in Eagle Rock, where Russell had lived since 1988, Russell greatly enjoyed music and loved to sit in the sun.

Before she fell silent at about 108 years old, she would tell the staff, "Most people think I'm sleeping, but I'm not. I'm meditating." JoAnne Carter, a receptionist-secretary at the nursing home, said Russell spent many hours a day in prayer.

Carter said that when Russell was asked her philosophy of life, she would say, "The more we love, the happier we are. It doesn't pay to go around with hatred in your heart."

Her advice to others was to "get out early in the morning, drink lots of water and avoid doctors."

She did not take prescription medicines and had never undergone any surgery.

Russell was divorced twice. Her son died in World War II and her daughter died when she was in her 60s, Bonn said.

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