Serving Proudly As The Voice Of Valley County Since 1913

JoAnn Marie Russell

JoAnn Marie Russell was a true Montana treasure.

Born in 1934 to Louis Henry Rutter and LaMae Reckert Rutter, Jo grew up on the muddy shores of the Milk River in Hinsdale, Mont. Granddaughter to famed cowboy Harry Rutter, Jo carried on the family's indelible spirit of adventure. She lived boldly and loved expansively, with lifelong passion for education, music, her Catholic faith, the outdoors, garage sale bargains, chocolate, and anything purple.

While earning her degree in education, music, and physical education at Montana State College (now MSU), Jo took a chemistry class, where she was seated alphabetically next to Walter Allen Russell from Glasgow, Mont. Chemistry ensued. Much of Jo and Walt's courtship played out at the Romney Gym, as both played basketball for the university, and the two married in 1956.

Walt's career with Montana Power meant constant change for the new family. In the first decade of their marriage, Jo and Walt had six children and lived in nine different houses and eight different towns across Montana; the family eventually put down sturdy roots in Missoula, Bozeman and Butte. Jo and her six children could often be seen around town in the matching outfits Jo was always sewing.

Raising six children while constantly on the move wasn't enough to keep Jo occupied, so she poured herself into teaching and engaging in her community. She taught music, PE, and special ed at schools across Montana, worked for Family Outreach, led Girl Scouts and 4-H, started band programs at Holy Rosary High School in Bozeman and St. Anthony's School in Missoula, and taught Catholic education classes. She biked through Europe with Walt and faithfully took the family camping most weekends. In 1979, she earned a master's degree in education from MSU.

Jo exuded a relentless gift of hospitality, warmly housing relatives, friends, and folks she had just met for short or lengthy stays. Ever curious, she made instant friends with countless strangers and could seamlessly guide a conversation from the trivial to the profound and back again. There was always room at Jo's table, with extra helpings of her famous Scotcheroos.

Later in life, Jo and Walt made the most of their long retirement, hiking in Glacier, rafting the Flathead, and traveling the US in a conversion van researching their family genealogy. Jo continued to give back, supporting the Bozeman Symphony, her beloved AOII sorority, the Resurrection Parish Church Lunch (Chunch) for MSU students, and many more causes close to her heart. Perhaps most impressively, Jo managed to corral and maintain her Hinsdale High School Class of 1952 for seven decades, regularly appearing at the helm of their float at the Fourth of July parade in Hinsdale.

Jo passed peacefully in her sleep in Manhattan, Mont., on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2023; the family expresses our deep gratitude to the loving caregivers at Parkhaven Memory Care for easing Jo's transition to the next life.

She is preceded by her husband, Walter; and their eldest daughter, Mary Kay Russell Birkelo.

She leaves behind five children, Sally Joan Russell, Theresa Ann Wise (John Wise), Suzanne Marie Russell, John Walter Russell (Julie Russell) and Donna Lynn Russell; three sisters, Peggy Cornwell, Jean Moran and Kay Keltos; 12 grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

She also leaves behind stacks of valuable genealogy research, a darn good Scotcheroo recipe, and a legacy of joyful, pragmatic, abundant love that will live on in everyone who had the privilege of knowing her.

The family invites you to celebrate Jo's life Monday, Nov. 6, at 10 a.m., at Resurrection University Parish, Bozeman, followed by a luncheon reception at the Story Mansion, Bozeman.

Should you feel moved to send flowers, Mom loved purple wildflowers and red roses, or contributions may be made in JoAnn's honor to the Bozeman Symphony ( or the Gallatin Valley Interfaith Association (

Arrangements are in the care of Dokken-Nelson Funeral Service.


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