Here's a piece I penned for the March 2018 issue of Wilton Magazine about a couple dedicated to service and community:
by Laura Noble Perese
For the past 48 years much of Wilton’s history has been largely written by one couple with the heart for service and community: Carol and Bob Russell.
The couple’s list of civic leadership gifts is staggering. Bob was first selectman of Wilton for six consecutive years; he penned a 592-page hardcover volume titled Wilton, Connecticut: Three Centuries of People, Places and Progress. He volunteers in the rare book section of The Wilton Library’s book sales; he sits on the Land Conservation Trust, and has participated on many other boards and committees. Wife Carol is Wilton’s Town Historian for the State of Connecticut. She also organized the History Room at the Library where she is the archivist, and has chaired an impressive list of environmental, historical, and conservation commissions.
It’s that generous devotion to the community that has earned Carol and Bob Russell their latest titles as distinguished Honorees of the Wilton Library’s Annual Benefit.
“Carol and Bob are so steeped in the town,” says Janet Crystal, the marketing and communications manager of the Library. “They are part of the fabric of Wilton and of the library, and it’s time they were recognized.”
The Russells met as young technologists working for IBM and were married in 1962. At the forefront of innovation, Bob was an engineer in early computer sales, and Carol balanced the equation by working on installations and training.
When asked what the secret is to the success of hers and Bob’s 55-year marriage Carol says, “Common interests. We both love history, libraries, family, and community.”
In 1969 the couple and their two children moved to Wilton from Pittsburgh. Bob still fondly recalls his first scouting visit to Wilton in 1968, when a delicious meal at Orem’s diner sealed the deal on the big move north with IBM.
“The whole world has changed since those early days,” says Bob. “There’s more technology now in my iPhone than there was in those big IBM computers that used to take up a whole room.”
It’s that adaptive spirit that has kept Carol and Bob at the head of development in Wilton.
While Bob continued to build his career at IBM, Carol volunteered at their children’s various schools, serving in Parent Teacher Associations. On weekends, the couple would take the kids for Saturday mornings at the Library.
“It isn’t just a library,” says Bob. “It’s the cultural center of Wilton.”
The Russells have seen the library evolve through three generations. They were there for the first location of the Library Association at the site of what is now a Bank of America. They saw the transition to the building where the library is now, and they volunteered through the expansion project that triumphantly culminated in the library as it exists today.
“They’re like the library’s parents,” says Robin Axness, library director of development. “You can count on them to be there.”
In 1984, with both of their children off to college, Carol received calls from both the library and the Historical Society. They were looking for help in keeping the town’s paper archives safe. Carol answered the call and helped pioneer a new program for the library known now as the History Room. The room keeps old records, photographs, and maps preserved and climate-controlled for the town and its citizens to use as a rare reference collections of documents, some of which are more than two hundred years old.
“Carol and Bob are such an efficient team,” says Dr. Julie Hughes, a History PhD recipient and volunteer at the History Room. “They complement each other well, both in their work and in life.”
Upon retiring in the early 1990s after a 35-year career with IBM, Bob turned his organizational and engineering skills toward making his community the best place it could be and ran successfully for First Selectman.
At the end of his tenure as First Selectman, Carol and Bob were appointed joint Chairmen of the Wilton Bicentennial celebration in 2002, in close collaboration with the Historical Society and the Library.
“Some people take up bridge and golf,” says Bob of his passion for volunteering. “We took up libraries.”
The busy couple enjoys reading and gardening together. And Bob even leads a consistently sold-out historical tour of the town. “That’s the thing about history,” says Bob. “It’s never finished.”