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Community remembers co-owner of historic mill

EAGLE POINT — Community members hope to create a garden memorial for Butte Creek Mill co-owner Debbie Russell, remembered for her generous nature and love for the community she discovered on an antique-shopping trip 10 years ago.

Russell, 64, lost her battle with lung cancer on Sunday. Diagnosed last year after the cancer already had metastasized into other areas of her body, Russell's first concerns after hearing the news were for family, friends and the mill's employees and customers, friends and family say.

Her husband of 41 years, Eagle Point Mayor Bob Russell, described Debbie as "a saint." Tending to his small town's affairs at a council meeting on Tuesday, Bob Russell said he was focused on trying to continue moving forward, one step at a time, for his family and his town.

"Somehow you just have to plow forward," he said.

Deborah Sue Russell was born April 24, 1951. She and Bob met at Oregon State University, married in 1974 and have two daughters and a son. On a cold, dreary day in 2004, the couple were antique hunting when they happened upon the 1872 mill.

"I knew literally within 60 seconds that I was going to buy the place," Bob Russell said. "She took some convincing, but she was such a good sport."

The Russells took possession of the mill on June 2, 2005.

"You've just gotta go for it in life, and Debbie was a great partner in life. I did have to convince her to do a lot of it," Bob Russell said with a laugh.

"But the mill was the greatest thing to ever happen to us and Debbie thought so, too."

Mike Hawkins, miller for 27 years, said Debbie was "really sweet and kind but also a really, really good boss and just genuinely cared about other people."

"Over the years we would have employees come to work and, if they didn't have a sitter that day, Debbie would let them bring them to work," Hawkins said.

Hawkins said Debbie Russell expressed concern for employees having to pick up the slack when she got sick.

"Everything she was going through, and one of the first things she said was that she felt bad she was going to have to kind of be stepping back and she was afraid things would fall on me," he said.

"Instead of thinking about herself, she was thinking about other people," Hawkins said. "When she got into a trial for treatment, I heard her say that she knew it wouldn't do her much good but she hoped that it would help somebody else because of the input they would get from her being on it."

Store clerk Regina Gardner said her beloved boss will be sorely missed for the immediate connection she had with employees and customers.

"She was a very thoughtful person, always was concerned about someone else. Even after her diagnosis, people would bring her dinners and, while being sick was enough to deal with, she would give everybody notes and wonder how their lives were going," Gardner said.

"Debbie's smile and kindness will never be forgotten by the Eagle Point Community," said Mike Frey of Paradux Media Group in Eagle Point. "She had a one-of-a-kind soul that touched many more lives than what she ever know."

Bob Russell said he hoped to consult with family in the coming weeks about some location options for the memorial garden. 

"She was a special, special person and our world is going to be forever changed without her," he said.

A service is planned for 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 3, at Trail Christian Fellowship. In lieu of flowers, the family has asked for donations to the Debbie Russell fund that has been set up to create a small garden with benches. Visit www.buttecreekmill.com/debbie.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Debbie Russell