By Phyllis Zorn, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Whether quietly coordinating efforts behind the scenes or publicly leading from the front, Dr. David Russell, M.D., has been known in Enid for more than three decades as a man to count on when you need a tough job done well.
Russell served as a doctor for more than four decades, including more than 30 years in Enid, and today he continues to serve in leadership positions for the medical profession, civic organizations, educational foundations and his church.
He is one of five finalists for this year’s Pillar of the Plains. The award, created by the Enid News & Eagle and its community partners, recognizes members of the community who have excelled in their civic contributions. Other finalists this year are Gary Lee Kirtley, Martie Oyler and Larry and Rick Simpson. The five will be honored at a public reception 5:30 p.m. Jan. 10 at Convention Hall.
Russell is an Enid native and graduate of Enid High School class of 1956. After high school, Russell completed his undergraduate studies at Oklahoma State University and went on to the University of Oklahoma School of Medicine, where he graduated in 1963.
While many of Russell’s medical school classmates were headed into private practice or staff positions with hospitals, he felt compelled to use his medical training in the service of his country.
“Growing up here in Enid, with Vance Air Force Base, I felt I had an obligation to serve, so I signed up for the Air Force,” Russell said.
He went on to study radiology at Wilford Hall Medical Center, a military hospital at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.
After 13 years of active-duty service, Russell returned to his hometown and went into practice with Dr. Dan Mitchell, M.D., at Springs Radiology.
Even after going into private practice, Russell continued to serve in the Air Force Reserve for another 20 years.
Mitchell, who worked with Russell for about 30 years, said Russell was “always there when you needed something done.”
“You can always depend on him, and he’ll be there for anything you need,” Mitchell said. “He’s just a good guy to have around.”
Mitchell said Russell’s work with Garfield County Medical Society has been instrumental in unifying the medical community in Enid. Russell has served on the GCMS board for more than 30 years.
Russell retired from the full-time practice of medicine about 10 years ago, but he has continued to contribute to the development of his profession at the local and state level.
He remains active as treasurer of Garfield County Medical Society and continues to serve in leadership positions with Oklahoma State Medical Association. Russell served as president of OSMA in the 2006-2007 term.
Russell also works to promote both the medical profession and his alma mater through OSU Medical Cowboys.
Enid neurosurgeon Dr. Barry Pollard, M.D., founded OSU Medical Cowboys group in 2008 to identify and provide scholarships to high school students interested in an undergraduate education at OSU, followed by a career in the medical field.
When Pollard was called on to serve as chairman of the OSU Foundation, he needed someone to step in and take over as chairman of OSU Medical Cowboys. He said Russell was a natural choice for the position.
“He’s so willing to give of his time for any cause he feels is worthwhile,” Pollard said of Russell. “He’s always been willing to give of his time, not in the interest of having his name seen somewhere, but because it’s a valuable project and he wants it to be better. He actually works ... he gets in there and gets it done.”
Pollard credited Russell with helping to grow OSU Medical Cowboys scholarship fund over the last four years
In addition to chairing OSU Medical Cowboys, Russell also has served on OSU Foundation board and OSU Board of Governors. But, his service to the community goes beyond drumming up support for OSU and the medical profession.
Russell counts Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center as one of his favorite causes. He was instrumental in fundraising to build the heritage center and now serves as the chairman of its board of trustees.
“I was born and raised here in Enid, and Oklahoma is my home,” Russell said. “I’m very proud of Oklahoma history, and Oklahoma history has a lot of lessons from which we can learn and benefit today.
“The heritage center gives us an opportunity to not only be proud of our culture, but also to teach that culture to the younger generations.”
Russell also serves on the board of directors for The Commons, and is an active volunteer at First United Methodist Church.
While many of Russell’s acts of community service take place out of the public view, those who have worked closely with him know Russell as a man who always is ready to help out.
Dr. Alicia Vanhooser, M.D., began working with Russell as a fellow radiologist when she moved to Enid in 1992.
“When I worked with him and got to know him ... every time I would go to a meeting I would hear of other things he was associated with, and I was amazed at all the things he was doing for the community,” Vanhooser said. “He’s one of those people who’s always willing to be the one silently working in the background to make sure things get done.
“He’s just a very gracious human. That’s the best way to describe him.”
Dr. Jerry Blankenship, M.D., who has known Russell since the two were attending medical school together in the early 1960s, said Russell always has been known as “the guy people could count on.”
“He mainly has been the person anyone would call on for any job that needed to be done,” Blankenship said. “He’s just a very reliable, hard worker and leader.”
Russell, who described himself as a shy man, said he was surprised to be nominated for Pillar of the Plains, even more surprised to be named a finalist. He said he wants to continue volunteering because he has the time available, and he feels a duty to give back to the community.
“Enid has been very good to me, Oklahoma has been very good to me, and the United States has been very good to me,” he said. “It’s given me some great resources and a good education, and I would be very remiss if I didn’t work when I can to help people.”