Russell Lowell Shively: Clean Living and a Cheerful Disposition

One of my mantras is that every person, historical or living, has a story to tell us. Occasionally, just to remind myself of that, I look for a random person in a historical record and dive into their life to discover their story. The other day I found myself virtually leafing through the 1913 New Philadelphia High School Yearbook and decided to put my mantra to the test yet again. This is the short story of Russell Lowell Shively (1895-1918), an athlete, medical student, soldier, and humanitarian.


Russell’s grandfather, Samuel Shively (1837 – 1897), was a farmer in Columbiana County, Ohio where he raised his family, including Russell’s father George. George Shively (1867 – 1930) moved to Midvale, Tuscarawas County in the 1880s where he initially worked as a schoolteacher and married Russell’s mother, Flora Nanna Ohler (1871 – 1945) in 1893. Russell, the couple’s only son, was born in September 1895.

George Shively taught school, likely in Midvale, as well as served as the superintendent of the Sunday school for the local Methodist Church. Growing up in the home of a teacher provided Russell and his sisters an environment where learning and education were obviously valued. This would be apparent in the course of Russell’s short life as he pursued higher education and excelled in school.

Midvale School circa 1900
Midvale School, c. 1900 (Source: http://www.oldohioschools.com/tuscarawas_county.htm)

Russell attended New Philadelphia High School, graduating in 1913, where he was an active and accomplished athlete and student. While he played football, he excelled in baseball and served as the team’s captain his senior year. Nicknamed “Shive”, Russell determined to continue his education after high school by attending Bethany College in Bethany, West Virginia.

Russell Shively’s New Philadelphia High School Senior Picture, 1913.

While attending Bethany College, Russell continued to have success as a student athlete, serving as the baseball team’s captain there as well. While his football skills were secondary to baseball, they were no less celebrated by the school and his fellow students. Russell joined the Delta Sigma Nu fraternity at Bethany and served as his class’s president during his tenure there. He received his degree in literature in 1917, and, determined to continue his education further enrolled at the Cincinnati Medical College.

Russell Shively’s Bethany College, West Virginia Yearbook Picture, 1917.

Russell arrived at the Cincinnati Medical College in 1917 to study medicine and prepare for a career as a doctor. That year the United States’ involvement in World War One was building and Russell registered for the draft in June 1917. Later, in December 1917, Russell would enlist in the Student Army Training Corps (SATC), a precursor to ROTC, at the University of Cincinnati. Officially holding the rank of Private, Russell continued his education at the medical college.

Student Army Training Corps Barracks at the University of Cincinnati, 1918. (Source: https://libapps.libraries.uc.edu/exhibits/military/wartime/)

In addition to serving in the SATC and studying to become a doctor, Russell Shively continued his athletic endeavors as well. His prowess on the fields made him one of the “stars of the medical college” and he was in his second year of varsity sports having become “a mainstay in both football and baseball.”

Spanish Influenza made its appearance in Cincinnati in the early fall of 1918 and Russell, as a medical student, was on the front lines against the disease. While working with, and helping care for, the doctors and nurses who were treating influenza patients, Russell became sick himself. Russell insisted his sickness was unrelated to influenza, but it nonetheless proved fatal. He died on October 18, 1918.

Russell’s father and brother-in-law travelled to Cincinnati via rail to gather Russell’s body and return him to New Philadelphia. They arrived at the Dennison Station the Saturday following Russell’s death and services were held the next Tuesday. Russell Shively’s funeral took place at the New Philadelphia Christian Church and he was buried in the East Avenue Cemetery.

He may only have lived twenty-three years, but Russell Lowell Shively managed to fit a great deal of accomplishment and living into his short life. He died while selflessly serving his country and working with those suffering from one of the most dangerous epidemics in centuries. His service is memorialized in the 1919 University of Cincinnati’s yearbook, and I hope this brief examination of his life serves as one as well.

© Noel B. Poirier, 2021.

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