The Luther College Biology Department mourns the death of Dr. Russell Ross Rulon, Professor Emeritus of Biology, who passed away on November 22, 2016, in Decorah. A Celebration of Life occurred on December 5, 2016 at Decorah Lutheran Church. Wendy Stevens, Assistant Emerita Professor of Biology, provided a eulogy.
Dr. Rulon was born April 26, 1936 in Hamburg, Iowa. For most of his formative years, he was raised on the Gurney Nursery Farm in Yankton, S.D. It was here where his love of outdoor life began. Russ attended Yankton High School and graduated in 1954. He chose Luther College to further his education and graduated in 1958 with a biology and chemistry double major. Russ continued his education at the University of Iowa where he received his PhD in physiology in 1961. Russ met his wife Joan while in Iowa City and they were married June 8, 1963. They had three children together: Brita, Amber and Ryan.
Russ and Joan moved to Decorah soon after their marriage when Russ returned to Luther to teach in the biology department. Russ simply loved teaching and the many wonderful colleagues and students he was surrounded by at Luther. He was known for his incredibly detailed physiology handouts and his ability to intricately dissect within his physiology laboratory. Wherever he was in Valders Hall, you could usually track him down simply by listening for his characteristic whistling. For many years, Russ was the health career advisor at Luther where he wrote countless letters of recommendation for students heading on to graduate degree programs. It was a great sense of pride for him knowing that he helped inspire hundreds of individuals heading into health-related careers.
Just prior to his retirement from Luther in 2000, Russ was deeply humbled when colleagues, friends, family, and former students gave $1 million in his name for the Russell Rulon Endowed Chair in Biology. When not at work, Russ loved to be outside gardening, fishing or hunting. He literally could fix and repair anything and was constantly being asked by his family to mend some household item. Russ and Joan enjoyed spending as much time as possible at their summer cabin in Northern Minnesota. It was here that he had the most time to be outside. Russ was able to use his whistling skills and his hands to imitate the sounds of many species of birds. Watching Russ filet a fish was like watching a skilled surgeon with his accurate precision and control. He was always more than willing to help out whether at work or in the community whenever he was called upon.
Soon after retirement, Russ was diagnosed with dementia, which steadily progressed for many years. It was incredibly hard to see the man who had such a gifted mind be transformed by this disease. Russ is survived by his wife, Joan, of Decorah; his daughter, Brita Loynachan (Tim) and grandchildren Colin, Nathan and Kirsten, of Marion; his daughter, Amber Myers (Eric) and grandchildren Annelise, Peter and Anneka, of Charlottesville, Va.; and his son, Ryan (Elizabeth) and grandchildren Noah and Alexander, of Boise, Idaho. He was preceded in death by his parents, Russell Ladds Rulon and Laurine Newman Rulon; and his sister, Janet Sue Pipho (Armin).