Daniel Russell, 79, Obituary
Daniel Russell, 79, of St. Joseph, MI passed away Wednesday, November 15, 2023 at his home.
A 32-year veteran of the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department, Dan began life as Vernon Thomas Johnson in Memphis, Tenn. At the age of three or four he and his four siblings were placed in the care of the infamous Tennessee Children’s Home Society operated by Georgia Tann. Later investigation revealed she obtained many children for the orphanage by coercing poor families into granting her custody of their children. Once she had custody, she destroyed the paperwork trail and sold the kids to out-of-state families. She trafficked an estimated 5,000 children over a 26-year span.
Dan was sent to a childless couple in southern California, Howard Russell and Isabella Kalishek. Isabella was a Michigan native and well-known wing walker/ aerial performer in the 1920s. He recalled a happy childhood however that came to a sudden end in 5th grade when she unexpectedly passed away at home. After a period of uncertainty and two foster homes, he was taken in by her brother Clifford Kalishek back in Michigan. Although Clifford and his wife Georgina already had nine children, they took in Dan rather than see him sent back to the orphanage in Tennessee. Dan remembers the Kalishek family as the finest people he has ever known and remained close with them for the rest of his life. In 1988, Dan was contacted by the State of Tennessee which started the reunification process with his two surviving siblings- an older sister Margaret Scaife of Maryland and a younger brother Phil VanSteenwyk in Hawaii.
After graduating from Gladstone High School, Dan made his way back to Long Beach, California where he enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard. After a tour at Angel Island and a year of isolated duty in Attu, Alaska, he was given a choice for his next assignment which brought him to a construction barge on Lake Michigan. While conducting repairs to the Saint Joseph Lifesaving Station, he met Karen Taylor and they were married on April 28, 1967. They remained in Saint Joseph and after two years at the Benton Harbor Fire Department, he was hired by the Sheriff’s Department. Over the span of his career, he worked in the marine division, on road patrol, undercover narcotics, as jailor and was a long-time member of the SWAT team. After retirement in 2001, he enjoyed travelling, tackling all types of home improvement projects, and was very active with his grandchildren.
Despite an uncertain and often lonely start to his life, in the end he was surrounded by family and friends.
Daniel is survived by his wife Karen Russell; daughter Constance Russell; son Christopher (Janjira) Russell; grandchildren Saffron, Arjay, Jaidee and Rey; siblings Phil (Elizabeth Aulsebrook) VanSteenwyk, Gary (Donna) Kalishek, Maxine (Jerry) Vallier and Cheryl (Dennis) Bernard; and many nieces and nephews.
Daniel was preceded by his parents Howard & Isabella (Kalishek) Russell; Clifford & Georgina “Toots” Kalishek whom he was raised by; and siblings Everett “Bud” Kalishek, James Kalishek, Kenneth John Kalishek, Michael Kalishek, Patricia Alworden and Kathleen Seronko.
Arrangements are entrusted to Starks & Menchinger Chapel and Cremation Service. Memorials may be made to Caring Circle Hospice, 4025 Health Park Ln., St. Joseph, MI 49085 or American Legion Post 518, 4789 Weechik Rd., New Troy, MI 49119. Those wishing to share a memory of Daniel online may do so at www.starks-mencinger.com