May 10, 1936 – Dec. 2, 2018
To his family, John L. Russ seemed tireless. He worked 12-hour shifts heading the family wheel-grinding business founded in North Tonawanda by his grandfather in the 1920s, his son said.
“My father would get up, be out of the house and on the job by 6:30 every morning because he wanted to be at the factory for the change of shifts,” said Jonathan Russ. “And when he set his sights on a goal, it usually happened. He would stick to it.”
Mr. Russ died at his home in Greenville, Del., after living with Parkinson’s disease. He was 82.
A member of the North Tonawanda High School Class of 1954, Mr. Russ held several state records in track and field. He graduated in 1958 from the University of Vermont, where he met and married his college girlfriend, Alice Dvorsky in Southbridge, Mass.
“My father needed tutoring in chemistry, and he was assigned to my mother, who was a tutor,” said Russ, a history professor at the University of Delaware.
Mr. Russ joined the family business, National Grinding Wheel Co. at 960 Erie Ave., where he served as production and plant manager. He remained with the company after it was purchased by Federal Mogul, and then later by American Optical, until his retirement in 1985.
In 1988, he and family members founded Buffalo Abrasives, Inc. where he served as chairman of the board.
Mr. Russ was honored by his peers in the grinding wheel industry as the “Most Abrasive Man of the Year,” an award that recognized his contribution to the industry. But the ironic title was not lost on anyone who knew him, said his son.
“Dad could just really come off as grouchy and demanding. He was a pretty tough guy who set standards high, but nothing he would not be able to do himself,” said Jonathan Russ. “At the end of the day, he was honest.”
When it came to labor negotiations, Mr. Russ would shine, his son recalled.
“Dad would certainly enter into those negotiations. Everyone knew his word was his bond,” said his son. “He took it to heart that his employees could count on him.”
The grinding wheel company had customers worldwide.
“Gillette razors are all sharpened by our wheels,” Russ said. “Henry Ford ordered from my great-grandfather. Word had it that Ford would specify the size of the boxes that the [grinding] wheels were to be shipped in so the boxes could be repurposed into running boards on the Model Ts.”
Mr. and Mrs. Russ lived in Williamsville and cultivated vegetable and flowers gardens that Mr. Russ tended to each day after he returned home from the factory, his son said.
When the younger Russ decided to pursue a career in academics and not the family grinding business, he recalled his father “could not have been more supportive or proud.”
Throughout his life, Mr. Russ combined hard work, persistence, a dose of spirited partying and sport, his son said. He was a longtime member of the Park Country Club of Buffalo and of St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church in Amherst.
Mr. and Mrs. Russ split their time among homes in Williamsville, Plymouth and Sarasota. Fla.
Mr. Russ is survived by his wife, his son and two granddaughters.
A celebration of his life will be held in the spring.