Cover photo for Russell James Kirk's Obituary
Russell James Kirk Profile Photo
1936 Russell 2021

Russell James Kirk

March 1, 1936 — May 8, 2021

Russell James Kirk was born March 1, 1936, in Calexico, California. Son of Judge George Russell Kirk and Isabel Fern Clarke Kirk, he was the younger brother of his older sister Francie Lee Kirk Benson. He died May 8, 2021 at 10:00am of natural causes. He was 85.

Bright, athletic, energetic, in addition to pursuing general boy stuff, he was a student of music, though somewhat originally by conscription, learning the piano under the tutelage of his mother Fern, and her trusty ruler. At some point music became not a daily chore, but a love that would last forever. And the concept of “practice” was firmly ingrained.

After graduating from Central Union High School in El Centro, California (think Twin Falls but a lot hotter), he attended San Diego State University, earned a degree in accounting (first in his class) and, most importantly, met his wife to be, Sandy Jackson. They married March 29, 1958. Dad then graduated in May. Somewhere in there he passed the CPA exam, and they moved to Los Angeles where he went to work for Arthur Andersen. As neither of them could stand Los Angeles, he was quickly lured by Foss & Simpson back to El Centro and began his accounting career in earnest. In 1963 he enrolled at California Western School of Law School, then on the campus of what is now Point Loma Nazarene University, also in San Diego. Russ, Sandy, and their two-year-old son, George, lived in Ocean Beach in the rear half of a duplex. During Law School he continued to service two accounting clients of Foss & Simpson’s, attended class in the morning, worked until evening, came home for dinner, and then studied each night.

In 1965, thinking they could have no more children, we adopted our sister Amy. On graduating law school (again first in his class) and passing the bar exam, on Halloween in 1966, the family moved back to El Centro, where he began practicing business and tax law with the firm of Ewing & McKee. He became full partner within two years.

Many of his clients were in agriculture: farmers and cattlemen. Like most in ag, they were not terribly diversified in their holdings. So, with his longtime friend Tom King, who was ensconced as the Sales Manager of the then fledgling Coldwell Banker, in 1971 they formed Diversified Properties, a real estate investment vehicle, into which his clients could diversify their investment portfolios, and receive favorable tax treatment. Dad would manage Diversified Properties, which is still in existence, until very recently.

In January of 1973, brother John was born, the golden surprise.

In 1976, Russ and Sandy made two purchases that would further alter the family’s lives and shape their characters. They purchased a house in the country outside of El Centro on five acres with a pool, orchard, barn, stables, and lots and lots of yard! He loved working on that place and would spend most weekends (except for Sunday worship at the El Centro Methodist Church, where he held down the bass section in the choir) doing, doing, doing. Unfortunately, he expected the rest of the family to share in this enthusiasm! Mowing, irrigating, harvesting, raking, cleaning, fixing and butchering became a much larger part of our existence. At nearly the same time though, they also purchased a home on South Mission Bay, still in the family today, that became the August getaway from the heat of the Imperial Valley. He was very nervous about being overextended, taking on not just one, but these two substantial obligations; in hindsight he needn’t’ have been.

The 1986 Tax Reform Act drove him from the practice of tax law. We can still hear him railing about how the IRS brought an elephant gun to shoot a fly...and missed. So he retired from law practice, they sold the ranch house in El Centro, and moved into the Mission Bay Condo, while brother John attended high school at Bishops, and managed the real estate. He was just over 50 at the time.

After my brother John graduated, in 1991 Mom and Dad split time between the beach house and rv travel, up to our valley, to Montana, and other places around the west, always, of course, with their beloved dogs around. In those days it was his good friend “Jack”. This was a time of hunting trips, which later became fishing trips after he learned to fly fish, with George, John, Pete DeBaun, the Atkinson family (we’d spend three days and two nights in the Canyon on the South Fork of the Snake), and our dear guide friend Ron Sorensen showing us eastern Idaho and Montana. He religiously spent September 1st every year dove hunting; first in the Imperial Valley, then into the Yuma Valley, Mexico and lastly Argentina. In his early years in El Centro, there were frequently 15-20 men sacked out in our home on August 31, to get up at 4:00 am, and a parade of headlights would follow Dad to the dove field he’d scouted and selected for all the buddies. This rite lasted for over 50 years.

In 2005, they purchased a property on the Missouri River downstream from Craig, Montana, and it became his favorite camp of all. With the site offering spectacular views of the rock canyon walls, initially equipped with two fifth-wheel RV’s and a drift boat, he loved spending time there with the boys (including his great-grandson Adam) to fish, and over these past 15 years personally added various improvements to the camp, including an outside shower complex built from cedar; he thought it was the best place to bathe on earth. At some point, just tinkering became more important than fishing. It was a place he could let all the dogs run free, throw the dummy for them into the river, cook and eat outside, drink cocktails, listen to music loud and late, spend time with George, John, and whoever else had joined, and just relax.

Russ and Sandy settled here in the Wood River Valley permanently in 2008, when they bought their current home. After buying the lot next door, Dad and Mom built “Papa’s Play Pen”, a combination garage for his old cars and shop, where he began to learn woodworking and carpentry. He loved walking his dogs, making the rounds through town, frequenting the Cellar Pub and Pioneer Saloon, and was always quick to tell a joke, many of which you heard more than once!

His lifelong love of music was expressed through singing, and he sang for years in the church choirs at Church of the Bigwood and Our Lady of the Snows, as well as in the Caritas Chorale. Most of you got to know him as a character around town, at the Post Office, Perry’s, the pharmacy and, of course, the local bars and restaurants. The Cellar was always his favorite. He spent time during the school year reading weekly to the pre-schoolers at the Bigwood School, and on Halloween Week, “Papa” loved to show up at school as “Mama”, in full drag, and after he left school, he was sure to call on one or more of his haunts, just to see if he could fool someone. I think one time he had the ladies at the Apothecary fooled for nearly five minutes!

He loved Jesus with all his mind, body, and soul. He was a quiet advocate for the marginalized in our community. He counseled widows, supported orphans, helped those with credit or status issues to purchase homes, met medical needs, and was generous to those that provided any service to him. If anyone in his sphere had a need, he was willing to help to fill it.

Russell is survived by his wife of 63 years, Sandra Jackson Kirk; his son and daughter-in-law George Russell Kirk II and Cindy McGrew Kirk; his daughter and son-in-law Amy Kirk Peterson and Greg Peterson; his son and daughter-in-law John Clarke Kirk and Sarah Baird Kirk; Grandchildren Lindsey Claire Kirk, Audrey Marie Kirk, Isabel Rose Kirk, Jackson Baird Kirk and Alexandra Whiteley Kirk; Great Grandchildren Adam McKenzie Kirk, Isabella Camille Kirk, Livvie Dawn Egusquiza, Elijah Benjamin Medlin, and Remmi Nikole Kirk.

Funeral Arrangements are being conducted by Russ Mikel of Wood River Chapel. Photos, pictures, remembrances, and details on his funeral service can be left or found at

We invite any who know him to celebrate “A Life Well Lived!” at 3:30 pm on Friday, May 21, 2021 at Church of the Bigwood, 100 Saddle Road, in Ketchum. The body may be viewed beginning at 2:30. For those that cannot attend, the celebration will be live-streamed via a link accessed at This celebration will be followed by a brief graveside service at the Ketchum Cemetery, and continue at the home of George and Cindy Kirk, 217 Teal Drive, Starweather, Hailey.

In lieu of flowers, the Kirk family encourages you to make a donation to any of the following organizations that were among Dad’s favorites:
Church of the Bigwood Agape Fund – hit the “Give Online” button, and specify “Russ” where it says “Honor or remember someone with your gift?”
Higher Ground –
To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Russell James Kirk, please visit our flower store.

Service Schedule

Past Services


Friday, May 21, 2021

Starts at 3:30 pm

Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood

100 Saddle Rd, Ketchum, ID 83340

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