In Memoriam

Russell Compton passed away December 9, 2007 at the age of 98. He leaves behind a legacy of activism, scholarship, and a vision of education as a participatory endeavor not bound by the walls of the classroom or the prestige of titles.

This page serves as a living memorial to Russell on which former students, friends, family members and the many others whose lives were touched by Russell can share their memories, feelings, and words of hope for the world Russell tried to create every day of his many years.


6 thoughts on “In Memoriam

  1. What a privilege to be part of a community of scholars and social activists who have been spiritually and socially fueled by such a great and humble man as Russell Compton, a man who moved mental mountains and compells students to think large and lovingly about humanity, social justice, equity and commitment to truth. I had the privilege of being selected by him to be a TA in one of his ‘Basic Beliefs’ courses in my second year at DePauw, and this transformed my life. He had that gift: to be able to see the potentiality in an apparently ordinary student, and then draw that infinite potentiality out and onto the stage of life. I had the honor of knowing, loving, laughing with, and being humbled in the presence of this spiritual genius, a man who must be gently filled with immense joy in knowing his life has meant to very much to many. We, his students, share a bond of beauty, principle, and responsibility to stand accountable for our actions: are we living in ways that Dr. Compton would applaud? If not, then we need to remember his ethical stand against war, inequality, cruelty, and greed. Then we can recommit ourselves to serve in ways similar to his… a daunting challenge, but he would trust that we would do nothing less. I thank students, interns, fellows and friends of the Compton Center for opening up this channel for us to say thank you for the precious life of dear Dr. Compton, our mentor and friend for life.
    Margaretta (aka Maggie) Swigert-Gacheru

  2. Russell Compton taught a course in Contemporary Moral Issues that I took at DePauw in about 1976. Neither before, or since (including in law school), have I experienced a teacher employing the Socratic method of teaching like Russell. His perspective on issues was not revealed. He never morally judged any student’s position (including those with whom I suspect he may have disagreed). “Dialogue” at its finest. The act of engaging a person in a vital, lively, provocative discussion, while maintaining an even keel. He was a true artist as a teacher.

    I kept in touch with Professor Compton over the years, including a visit in about 2000 and a stay of a few days at Asbury Towers a couple of years ago. Russell Compton may be the kindest, most gentle, lovingly compassionate person I have had the pleasure of knowing.

    Russell taught equally by example as by word. Today, when I learned of his passing, I cried, for myself and for my loss of a sounding board and moral guide. Russell would be sad that others are sad, but I expect in passing, as in life, he was infinitely at peace with himself and with his existence. Russell radiated peace and contentment. He was a man truly at peace in his own skin.

    About 15 months ago, I began visiting prisoners through Prisoner Visitation Services headquartered in Philadelphia, in honor of, and as an homage to, Russell’s life work of compassionate caring. Russell visited prisoners for many decades from the 60’s through the 90’s, until he could no longer drive. I regularly offer my services as an attorney free of charge to those most in need: always, in part, to honor Russell and his legacy. I will continue to honor Russell in my life. I have no other choice. He was a man of great impact. I expect that his impact has created ripples and effects which he never knew and perhaps could not imagine.

    Every time I interact with another living being with love, compassion, peace: I honor Russell. Russell: your work goes on, but you are sorely missed and you are deeply loved.

    Your former student and friend,
    Bruce Eads

  3. Deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome someday….I want to sent out my thanks to Russell Compton for being who he was and doing what he did. I think he made us all better for that.

    I want to thank him for the Basic Beliefs course that I took my first semester at DePauw in 1969. I also want to thank him for his support to those of us who organized the Duck Reunions in 2002 & 2003 to support our former sociology professor, Saad Ibrahim. Russell and all the DePauw folks working with his legacy program, the Compton Center for Peace & Justice, were key players in bringing about the Duck Reunions and the protest demonstration at the Egyptian cultural center in Washington, DC in the fall of 2002. Of course, the end result was that Saad Ibrahim was set free.

    Maybe this was one of Russell’s teaching points, made by the example of how he lived his life, that active spirituality brings about useful, practical results. How easy it is for us to forget that sometimes.

    I’ll never forget that beautiful, sunny, spring day in Greencastle when a bunch of us gathered at the labyrinth, out near the football stadium, and sat in an American Indian talking circle to honor a departed soul, Maybelle Hamm, the proprietor of the Fluttering Duck coffeehouse, who was so very dear to many of us. I handed the stone first to the 90-something Russell so as to honor our tribal elder by giving him the chance to speak first. He did not disappoint. He blessed us all by saying how amazed he was that that there were so many Saints (meaning us) gathered on campus that weekend. He told us that we were indeed Saints by the way we had lived our lives and the good deeds we had done over the decades since we were students. Maybe he was projecting his own Sainthood onto all of us. I don’t know. But it was powerful. I felt truly blessed by a great man that day. All of us in that circle were very fortunate to have been there. Thank you, Russell.

    In looking back, I guess that was just an expression of Russell’s humanistic spirituality. He was telling us that all human beings have intrinsic worth and dignity and are, in fact, spiritual beings, children of God, Saints, however you want to conceptualize that notion. It seems to me that he truly lived and breathed that notion through-out his life.

    I can only hope that DePauw University will keep Russell’s legacy alive by maintaining the Compton Center. It would be nice if they would publicize the Center more and give us information on how to support it’s mission through our financial donations. My understanding is that an endowment fund for the Compton Center was set up with the donations some of us made at the Duck Reunion….Will the circle be unbroken
    by and by, lord, by and by, there’s a better home a-waiting, in the sky, lord, in the sky.


    Bob Fresen (DePauw ’73)

  4. If anyone wanted to give money to the Compton Center’s Endowment Fund as a way of memorializing Russell….this is how you can do it:

    Mr. Fresen: It was a pleasure visiting with you about your interest in making agift in memory of Dr.Compton for the Compton Center for Peace andJustice. As we discussed, there are two ways that you can make your gift to theCenter.

    One, you can mail your gift, payable to DePauw University,direct it to my attention: William Johnson, Executive Director ofDevelopment, DePauw University, 300 East Seminary Street, Greencastle,IN 46135. Please attach a note on the check indicating you wish thegift to be applied to the Compton Center for Peace and Justiceendowment.

    You can also make a gift on-line with a credit card through theUniversity’s web site. From the home page, click on “Support DePauw”. That will take you to the development page and on the left side you willsee a line,”make a credit card gift to the Annual Fund”, click on thatline. Please follow the instructions on that page and in the space thattalks about Spouses/Partners, please indicate in that space that youwish the gift to be directed to the Compton Center for Peace andJustice.

    If you elect to do an on-line gift, your receipt will be “real time”and indicate a gift was made to the Annual Fund. As I explained, ourstaff reviews the on line gifts and by you noting the Compton Center inthat space, we will make sure that your gift is applied to the ComptonCenter endowment.

    I trust this information is helpful. If you have any additionalquestions, please feel free to contact me directly at 765-658-6396 oremail me at

    Thank you and best wishes for the holidays.

    William Johnson William Johnson
    Executive Director for Development
    DePauw University
    300 East Seminary StreetGreencastle, IN 46135-0037
    (765)- 658-6396(800)- 446-5298

  5. I took every course I could from Russell Compton. My favorite was-Basic Beliefs of Modern Man. His teaching style and methods were literally inspiring. When I became a college prof I earned teaching awards at both Purdue and Indiana University, but I couldn’t hold a candle to Russell Compton. I noticed about 10% of all the members of IU’s Faculty Colloquium on Excellence in Teaching were DePauw grads–and think that ‘s both no accident and due in no small part to his influence.
    What a gift he had to help others find meaning in finding meaning !

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