Donald Russell Connor, 92, bank vice president and jazz buff

Posted: June 17, 2014

BY HIS OWN admission, Russ Connor was something of a wild man in his youth.

There was the time he and some buddies commandeered a trolley to drive them from dry Ocean City, N.J., to wet Somers Point for a night of intemperance.

He once raced his Pontiac GTO full-out on an unopened section of the Atlantic City Expressway, not the safest venture even on a vacant road.

His expenses and his caprices were paid for at least in part by the $20 weekly check he got from the government as a returning GI. He was an Army veteran of World War II.

Donald Russell Connor, who went from his carefree years to the sober world of banking, working his way up to vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, a jazz buff who wrote four books on Benny Goodman and became pals with drummer Gene Krupa, died Wednesday at age 92. He was one of the original homeowners in Levittown.

Russ, as he was known to family and friends, assembled one of the foremost collections of big-band music - buying, selling and trading records with fellow enthusiasts as far away as Switzerland and Thailand.

A drummer himself, Russ met Gene Krupa in 1936 at Atlantic City's Steel Pier and kept up a friendship with the famed drummer until Krupa's death in 1971.

Russ had been a fan of Benny Goodman since Russ' teenage years and finally got to meet his hero in the 1950s after attending numerous performances of the clarinetist's big bands.

Russ compiled Goodman's music in books published between 1958 and 1994, starting with BG - Off the Record. The books included personal memoirs and behind-the-scenes color. He had access to Goodman's personal archive as well as to collections of Goodmanania by researchers and specialists worldwide.

The final book, Wrappin' It Up, catalogs hundreds of previously unknown recordings along with never-before-published photographs.

Russ was almost 88 when he shared his recollections and insight about Goodman in an hour-long interview on public radio station WDUQ in Pittsburgh in May 2009, the 100th anniversary of Goodman's birth.

"Russ considered Goodman a friend and displayed one of his clarinets, a gift, in his music room along with drumsticks from Krupa," his family said.

Russ was born in Philadelphia. He was raised by his mother, Clara W. Schmidt, a widow who worked for the old Bell Telephone Co., and grandparents who were immigrants from Germany.

He graduated from Frankford High School in 1938 at age 16. He won an academic scholarship to Ursinus College in Collegeville, and received a bachelor's degree in economics in 1942.

Russ was inducted into the Army that November despite poor eyesight that made him dependent on glasses. He worried that he would be in serious trouble if he lost his glasses among enemy soldiers.

Fortunately, that didn't happen. As a member of the 70th Reinforcement Battalion, he arrived in Normandy after the invasion and climbed Omaha Beach, where his unit had to avoid marked minefields.

He told about the time Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, the supreme commander of the Allied troops in Europe, inspected his battalion, whose job was to reprocess wounded soldiers back to duty.

When the war in Europe ended, Russ joined a postal unit and sailed through the Panama Canal to Manila. He spent time in Japan before being discharged.

Back home, Russ had a succession of jobs that he described as "semi-satisfactory," before he joined the Federal Reserve Bank. He was promoted to vice president in 1973, and got to oversee construction of the bank building on Independence Mall.

He had the satisfaction of working with artists Alexander Calder and Beverly Pepper during construction. Calder's mobile, White Cascade, and Pepper's steel sculpture, Phaedrus, were installed at the bank.

Russ married Georgia Henle in 1950. Besides his wife, he is survived by two daughters, Gail Connor Roche and Donna Lee Connor, and four grandchildren.

Services: A family gathering will be held sometime in August at the Washington Crossing National Cemetery in Newtown.

Contributions in his name may be made to the D. Russell Connor Fund c/o the Institute of Jazz Studies, 185 University Ave., Newark, N.J. 07102.

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