Described as "sharp" and "feisty," Robert Royal Russel died in January at age 105. On that day, the UI history department lost its only Distinguished Alumni Award recipient as well as its oldest alumnus holding a doctoral degree. Russel received the alumni award five years ago from Robert W. Johannsen, a Randall Distinguished Professor in the UI history department, at a banquet in Kalamazoo, Mich., celebrating Russel's 100th birthday. Johannsen recalls that to prepare for presenting the Distinguished Alumni Award, he researched Russel's doctoral dissertation in the departmental library. During the presentation, Johannsen discussed the dissertation. "After I finished, Russel wanted to speak. He said he wanted to 'put a gloss' on what I said, then disagreed with me on a few points. He had a mind of his own and wasn't afraid to voice his opinion," Johannsen said with a chuckle. "He was very sharp." Not only was Russel keen, Johannsen said, but he remained active. The committee members at Western Michigan University organizing Russel's party were quite concerned just a few days before the banquet when Russel went out to do some tree-trimming in his yard. Russel then complained of a few aches and pains from the exertion. The committee was concerned that at his advanced age, Russel might not survive until the banquet, Johannsen said. But Russel did more than just show up; he also hosted a pre-banquet cocktail reception in his home. Russel came to the UI in 1915 to begin his doctoral work history. He took time off to serve in World War I, then returned to the UI and received his Ph.D. in 1922. Russel then went to Western Michigan University, where he spent his academic career until his retirement in 1960. He wrote and had published several articles on the old South and the Civil War, several of which are still being cited today. His doctoral dissertation, published in 1924, is also still being cited. "It's still being used. It has held up tremendously," Johannsen said. Russel's wife, who recently reached her centenary year, survives. The UI history department eventually will have to research the alumni records to discover who now holds Russel's former title of oldest living graduate of the UI's doctoral program. It's highly likely that the new titleholder will have received the degree in the 1930s, Johannsen said.