The Russell P. Strange Award was established by Darrell and Priscilla Strange Matthews in memory of Priscilla's father, noted scholar, educator, past vice president and life-long member of the Illinois State Historical Society. The award is presented annually to one author in recognition of his/her significant contribution to the study of Illinois history. It is presented at the Annual Awards Banquet in April together with a cash award authorized by the Board of Directors of the Illinois State Historical Society.
2023: James A. Edstrom for Avenues of Transformation: Illinois’s Path from Territory to State
Colonel Russell P. Strange was born August 6, 1922, in Granite City, Illinois. He graduated from High School in Madison in 1940 and entered the University of Illinois that fall. When World War II broke out, he was the first Air Force Reserved Officer Training Corps (ROTC) cadet to volunteer for military service. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps in January 1942, attended Officer Candidate School, and was commissioned on January 19, 1943. He married Doris Smith of Council Grove, Kansas, in December 1943.
During the war, he served as a training officer, and from 1945-1952, he continued working in the Air Force in Washington, D.C. while attending the Air Tactical School (graduating in 1949) and resuming his education at the University of Maryland (graduating with a degree in American History in 1952).
He continued his education at Maryland while assigned to the U.S. Naval Academy from 1952 to 1955, receiving his master's degree in 1953 and his doctorate in government and politics in 1955. He entered command staff school of the Air University in 1955, and upon graduation in 1956 was assigned to Japan, where he was assigned to the psychological warfare section of the Far East Command until it was deactivated. Colonel Strange was secretary of the Joint Staff of the U.S. forces in Japan from 1957-1959. While in Japan, he taught political science at Sophia University, a Jesuit school in Tokyo, and with the University of Maryland, Far East division.
Assigned to the Pentagon in 1959, he served as chief of the school branch of the officer assignment division, where he doubled the number of Air Force volunteer scientists and engineers educated in American Universities. In 1962, Colonel Strange returned to Illinois to head the University of Illinois department of aerospace studies, teach political science graduate courses, and head the Air Force detachment in Champaign. When the ROTC became a voluntary program in 1963, he developed a new program for the unit. Colonel Strange was very active in area civic and political groups with a focus on history and education.
In 1966, he was named acting head of political studies at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston. He was killed in October 1966 in a car accident en route to Charleston. At the time of his death, he was a Director, former vice-president, and long-term member of the Illinois State Historical Society.
Colonel Strange, his wife, Doris, and daughter, Priscilla, in 1964
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