<Center>Hall of Fame member dies at 96</Center>
By Lori Ehde
Rock County Hall of Fame member James Russell Wiggins died Sunday at his home in Brooklin, Maine.
Though he served a brief stint as ambassador to the United Nations, he was best known as a journalist and editor. During his 22 years at the Washington Post, Wiggins is credited with building the paper into a national voice.
His last 30 years were spent running a weekly newspaper in Maine, the Ellsworth American.
He was 96 years old and had been coming to work daily until July, when congestive heart failure confined him to his home.
The Rock County Hall of Fame honors Rock County natives who have gained national recognition.
Wiggins returned to Luverne in 1992 during the town's 125th celebration when the first wave of Hall of Fame members were inducted.
During his acceptance speech, Wiggins attributed his many accomplishments in the wider arenas of the state, the nation, the United Nations and beyond to what he learned during his early years.
His start at the Luverne High School Echo led him eventually to the Washington Post and a stint as ambassador to the United Nations before he retired to own and edit a weekly newspaper in Maine.
Throughout his long career he accumulated an impressive list of honors, awards and degrees for his work. He published a book entitled "Freedom or Secrecy" and was asked to contribute to other books. His resume takes several pages.
But when he accepted the Rock County Hall of Fame award in 1992, he didn't take it simply as another well-deserved trophy for the shelves in his den.
His eloquent acceptance speech in a sense returned the award to the people of Rock County.
He praised Rock County as a unique spot with fertile acres and a society with particular virtues that nurtured him. He expressed gratitude to the people of Rock County for providing a place where he and the other six recipients will be remembered.
Wiggins had high praise for the schools he attended. He said Ethel Gower, who was head of the English department at Luverne High School, was typical of his fine instructors. He said his education in the early 1920s would be the envy of any modern school, and he doubts it has been equaled since.
In fact, his formal education stopped after Luverne High School.
Wiggins was first hired at the Rock County Star by owners W.E.E. Green, a local architect, and J.B. Jensen. Wiggins worked in advertising and was a reporter. Jensen and Green sold the paper to him in 1925. He was 22 years old.
While he wrote and edited the Star, his talents were noticed outside the area.
He sold the Star in 1930 and went to the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Dispatch. Then he went to Washington as a correspondent for the Press. He returned to St. Paul as editor. After the war he went to the New York Times, and in 1947 he went to the Washington Post as managing editor where he stayed until he retired in 1968.
He was at the Post during many world-changing times. During his 1992 visit to Luverne, he recalled the McCarthy hearings. Wiggins characterized the Wisconsin senator as a "curious man," saying he was careless making accusations and was amazed at the reactions to them.
Wiggins said his 1957 book "Freedom or Secrecy" dealt with the federal government's classification of millions of documents as restricted, confidential, secret, top secret and most secret. All information seemed to be classified, in someone's opinion.
Wiggins worked with the American Society of News Editors, to which he belonged, to change the classification policy.
Wiggins commented on the changes he had seen in his years.
"For the first time in half a century we're free from the threat of nuclear war. No one could have imagined, at the time of Winston Churchill's Iron Curtain speech, the war on which we embarked," he said in 1992.
Secretary of Defense William Cohen, former congressman and senator from Maine, issued a statement earlier this week after Wiggins' death.
"Of all the people I've known in more than 30 years of public service, Russ Wiggins had the greatest amount of intellectual curiosity and the most energetic interest in finding new ways to think about public issues," Cohen said.
"With his silver hair, spectacles and calm demeanor, Mr. Wiggins radiated a sense of goodwill and serious purpose. As a writer and speaker, he displayed a gift for classical rhetoric."
According to the Washington Post, Wiggins addressed a meeting of Maine officials in 1984 on questions facing the nation. His conclusion summarized the focus of his life:
"Americans will be tempted, in the years ahead, to sacrifice the principles that have made their country what it is. It will seem appropriate and convenient to meet the demands of the crisis by bending a little here and giving a little there. It is an inclination that will have to be resisted at the first trespass upon our freedoms, or other invasions of individuals rights will come swiftly upon us."
When Wiggins retired to Maine he bought a small newspaper, the Ellsworth American. "I intended to look in on it every week or so, but it didn't turn out that way. Newspapers are a jealous mistress," he said.
Although Wiggins' life had been largely lived outside Rock County, he always kept ties to his home.
Wiggins' parents, James and Edith (Binford) Wiggins, and his brother, Lester, continued to live in Luverne. They are all buried in Maplewood Cemetery.
Editor's note: Much of the information in this story came from the July 1992 story Carole Olson wrote for the Star Herald during Luverne's 125th celebration.