Kennetta Elorane Peters Russ, age 89, died peacefully asleep on Dec. 30, 2020, at Pine Hills Assisted Living in Laurel, MD. A new resident there, she enjoyed a Zoom with her family on Christmas Day.
Born on July 4, 1931, in St. Petersburg, FL, Kennetta was the first child of Ethel Evelyn Oatman Peters and Kenneth Orval Peters, both from Kansas. Her brother, Merz, who survives her, was born in 1934. Based on her father’s genealogical work, she was a member of the Mayflower Society, from her mother’s lineage.
Music was an important part of her early life, starting at age eight when she selected the vibraphone to play. By age 13 she was so proficient on that unusual instrument, sometimes with two or three mallets in each hand, that she was featured with a group of older girls on their accordions entertaining soldiers in the Washington, DC, area. Starting in World War II, the family moved six times in seven years. In order to enter state competitions in Pennsylvania and Ohio, Kennetta learned to play the marimba, attaining first place in both. In the summer of 1947, she attended the selective Interlochen Music Camp in Michigan. She graduated from Troy High School, Troy, OH, in 1949 and followed her high school sweetheart, John Lawrence Russ, who predeceased her, from Bethel High School, Bethel, Pennsylvania to Pennsylvania State University. An accomplished player of bells in marching bands, as well as the vibraphone and marimba, Kennetta may have been the first woman in the Penn State College orchestra.
Graduating in 1953 with a B.S. degree in home economics and a minor in journalism, she followed John to New York City where she wrote recipes for General Foods. After they married in 1954 at National City Christian Church, Washington, DC, both went to Germany where he served in the U.S. Army. Living with the family of a German baker, she served as a typist at the Nuremberg Trials. Afterward, both Kennetta and John earned master’s degrees at Penn State.
At home in Alexandria, VA; Clinton, MD; and Springfield, MO; Kennetta focused on family as a devoted mother, conveying her love and faith to the three children she and John reared, Karen, John, and Andrew, all of whom survive her. She is also survived by grandchildren Jessica Russ Ward, Shannon Russ, Stephanie Russ, Scott Russ, and greatgrandchildren Corinne Russ Ward and Dillon Ward. While Kennetta was a full-time homemaker when her children were young, she was a sponsor of 4-H and volunteer in other community and church organizations working with children.
In 1973, she earned a M.S. degree in library science from the University of Maryland, College Park, followed by work as a school librarian in Maryland, Missouri and Kansas and at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. From her home in Leesburg, VA, Kennetta was librarian at nearby Loudon County High School for 20 years until 2010, where she guided the adoption of modern library methods. In 2006 she may have become the oldest person to achieve National Board Certification, the highest certificate available to educators, and one of only 12 teachers and librarians in Loudoun County and 1,600 librarians in the nation to qualify.
Kennetta was confirmed in St. James’ Episcopal Church, Leesburg, where she was active in reading during services, in the library and in other activities.
In recent years, as she continued to give her love and support to her family, she also remained active with elder friends, engaging in yoga and a book group.
The family celebrated her life in a Zoom video January 30. Following cremation and the openings after the pandemic, her ashes will be interred in the St. James’ columbarium, beside her husband’s during a celebration of her life.
Donations in her memory may be sent to St. James’ Episcopal Church, 14 Cornwall St. NW, Leesburg, VA 20176.