William Russell Smith

William Russell Smith of Osceola, Missouri passed away on May 18, 2024 at Truman Manor Nursing Home. Known to his friends as Russ, he was born in Los Angeles on October 23, 1942, to Ethel and Bunyon Smith. Russ was an energetic and industrious child starting his working career at the age of nine. Each morning at 4 o’clock, he and his beloved dog Princess would get up, roll and deliver papers on his bike and then go on to school. He did this into his early teens. Russ had other jobs that contributed to his character and work ethics; selling papers at the Rose Bowl, working at a hula hoop manufacture, pumping gas, and raising rabbits that he sold to the local market. After graduating from Temple City High School, Russ served four years in the Air Force, then started teaching flying lessons in 1968 at Jenny’s Flying School. He joined Northwest Airlines where he would work for 34 years. He loved to fascinate friends with tales of his flying adventures and corny jokes. After retirement, he found his second love of flying…. racing pigeons. He bred, trained and raced until 2021 when his health required him to slow down. He had as many as 95 pigeons at one time and was totally dedicated to raising them to be the best.

Russ also loved his farm animals. Especially his mule Jacqueline. As a child, he spent summers in Chickamauga, Georgia, where his uncle had a mule that he would ride bareback around the farm. He loved that mule so much that he had to have one when he retired and named her Jacqueline.

He was preceded in death by his parents and his sister Zona Mae Tena.

Russ leaves his wife and friend of 27 years Donna Gratzer-Smith; brother Ray Thompson (Suzanne); two daughters Michelle Smith and Kristi Lynne Smith (Scott) and stepdaughter Angela Oyler (James); three grandchildren Giovanni LaPietra, Haley Smith and Maguire Moore.

His ashes will be taken to Chickamauga Georgia, where his greatest childhood memories were born.


  1. Kathy and Mike Barnes on June 12, 2024 at 5:18 am

    Russ was such a fascinating person! We visited him out on the farm many times. His fascination with his pigeons was infectious. We were in awe of the beauty of watching them fly together. He had his sweet little donkeys trained like they were his children!
    We loved gambling with Russ too. He gave us very strict instructions on not to talk to him when he was shooting craps!! He was good at everything he did.
    We were blessed to call him friend.
    My heart goes out to Donna whose devotion to him was remarkable.
    Fly high Russ you will be missed

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