Cover photo for Russell Fitzgerald's Obituary
Russell Fitzgerald Profile Photo
1916 Russell 2021

Russell Fitzgerald

September 16, 1916 — December 30, 2021

To view Russell's Mass of Christian Burial on Wednesday, January 12, 2022 at 2pm, please click on the link below:

Russell Lester Fitzgerald, 105, passed away on Thursday, December 30, 2021, with family by his side.

Russ was born on September 19, 1916, in Dilworth, MN, to Matthew and Theresa (Braatz) Fitzgerald. He lived in that house up until the last year of his life. It was originally built for railroad employees, and for many years was a three-generation household; it has housed three generations of railroad workers

Russ grew up with a father who loved fishing, hunting and dogs. When his father took leave in the fall to spend weeks in northern Minnesota Russ would accompany him and roam the woods and lake country. These childhood days exploring the outdoors led him to being a lifelong outdoorsman and conservationist.

Russ missed some time in school due to illness and graduated from Dilworth High School in 1936. He soon began work on the Northern Pacific Railroad as a round house laborer (Hostler), servicing steam locomotive engines. He had a long career on the railroad, through two mergers and changes from coal-fired locomotives to diesel electric engines. He was part of the team that moved Locomotive 1068 to the Dilworth Park and helped the Western Minnesota Steam Thresher's Reunion procure parts for their steam locomotive restoration. After more than 35 years on the railroad, he retired in 1978

Russ was a WWII Veteran. He joined the Army Air Corps in 1942, trained in Victorville CA, and served in the China-Burma-India theater. He went over the Burma road and was in armaments in the 86th Air Drome Squadron in China. Through the course of deployment and return he traveled around the world, passing through the Suez Canal and past the Statue of Liberty before mustering out. He was very proud of his WWII Veteran status and has blessed his family with many tales of the time he served.

Just after the war, Russ purchased lake property on Big Cormorant Lake along with many other Dilworth railroad families. The lake community enjoyed one another for decades. His favorite spot was sitting on the deck looking at the lake and listening to the loons sing to him. The lake property provided ample opportunity for one of his passions - planting trees. Russ's trees seemed to always grow better than anyone else's. Between Dilworth, the lake, and other properties, Russ outlived some of the trees he planted. This past November, he was still directing his children what trees and shrubs he wanted planted next spring.

Russell met his wife Catherine McManus at one of Dilworth's iconic social clubs - Cully's café. They married on October 27, 1951 and raised five children. Russ and Catherine loved to entertain friends, hosting on St. Patrick's Day and other events throughout the year. These groups of friends loved to go dancing at the 100 Club in Sabin or the American Legion Hall in Fargo. Having married later than many of his friends, for several Christmas eves, Catherine would sew white fringes on his red deer hunting jacket, and he would make the rounds as Santa Claus, distributing presents to his friends' young children. When the children were young many vacations were spent on Big Cormorant Lake. Wonderful time was spent with the extended family. Later on, they especially enjoyed traveling with Catherine's brother Bob and his wife Elayne to Ireland and Hawaii. He was a loving husband supporting a working wife during the 60's and 70's, their marriage lasted 67 years. The Fitzgerald children are blessed to have the bond they built with him as young children that extended throughout their lives.

Russ loved the simple things in life: His family, friends, the outdoors and sports. While he saw the Minnesota Golden Gophers win six National Championships, he couldn't quite stay long enough for the Vikings to win a Super Bowl. He'll have to cheer them on from a different viewpoint. From his early days, Russ was an avid outdoorsman and conservationist. He was community minded and involved in the Elks, American Legion, Dilworth Hook and Bullet, Minnesota Prairie Chicken Society, The Nature Conservancy, St. Elizabeth's Church, Boy Scouts, and several other organizations.

As a centurion, he was the consummate storyteller and could remember and recite stories from several decades past. Family and friends loved to listen to his stories of growing up in Dilworth, living during the Great Depression, the wild west days of Dilworth in the 30's and 40's' the antics he pulled with his good friends, railroading, and of course hunting and fishing. His eyes would brighten when he spoke of the many hunting dogs he owned - none so much as Flash, the dog he had before entering the Army Air Corps. He spoiled and snuck treats (bacon or ice cream) to any dog his children ever brought home.

Russ was many things in life - hunter, fishermen, railroader, Veteran, conservationist, and citizen. He was kind, warm, helpful, a joker, and generally "into things", as his many unfinished projects will attest to. His children know him as the world's worst painter - not of art, but of anything he needed to use up some spare paint on. This legacy lives on at the lake property.

Russ was very proud that his yard in Dilworth had become a staging area for the fall migration of Monarch butterflies. Day by day, hundreds gather and roost in trees before moving on, perhaps because Russ made sure there were always a good crop of milkweed plants. He felt he had a state record in the summer of 2020 (if there is such a thing).

Russell is preceded in death by his wife Catherine, infant daughter Kathleen Mary, sister Lila; and brothers, Harvey and Clifford. Russell is survived by his five children Maura (Minneapolis), Shannon (Seattle, WA), Patrick (Big Cormorant Lake), Erin (Tempe, AZ), and Kerry (Dilworth). He also cared deeply for his many friends who have gone on before him, including among others, Dick, Oxie, Newtsy, Dewey, Joe, Bob, his cousin Cocky, and the Anderson twins, with great friend Jake still interned on the USS Arizona. Here was a man who loved life, and lived many slices of heaven on earth.

The family sincerely thanks the Veterans Administration Hospital in Fargo ND for the many years of quality care provided for Russ, and to the VA and Sanford Health Homecare for helping him to live in his own home through many years of physical decline. We also sincerely thank Ecumen Detroit Lakes Nursing Home for the care they gave our father through his final year.

If you wish to memorialize Russ Fitzgerald, donations can be made to the Minnesota Prairie Chicken Society online at https:/ or by mail to MPCS c/o Travis Issendorf, 23983 County Road 113, Detroit Lakes, MN 56501. Another simple but important way to memorialize a life well lived would be to plant milkweeds this spring for Monarch Butterfly conservation.

Services will be held at St. Elizabeth's Catholic Church in Dilworth. There will be a wake from 5 to 7:30 (prayer service at 7:00 pm), Tuesday, January 11. The Funeral Mass will be held at 2:00 PM on Wednesday January 12.

The family of Russ Fitzgerald gratefully acknowledge your presence and kind expressions of sympathy. For the protection of one another, we ask that all guests wear a mask while in attendance at either service. You are invited to join them for refreshments and fellowship immediately following the funeral service. A celebration of life and internment will take place later this spring.


JAN 11. 5:00 PM - 7:00 PM (CT)

St. Elizabeth Catholic Church

207 Main St.

Dilworth, MN 56529

Prayer Service

JAN 11. 7:00 PM (CT)

St. Elizabeth Catholic Church

207 Main St.

Dilworth, MN 56529

Mass of Christian Burial

JAN 12. 2:00 PM (CT)

St. Elizabeth Catholic Church

207 Main St.

Dilworth, MN 56529

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Russell Fitzgerald, please visit our flower store.


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