Russell Fortlage 2024 Recipient of the Diploma of Distinction

Russ Fortlage, '59 recipient of the 2024 Diploma of Distinction

Russell Fortlage was born in Independence and has remained an Independence resident his entire life. He was a member of the first-ever Independence kindergarten class, held in Historic Hall, which at that time also housed the Council Chambers and City Jail! Russ attended first grade through senior year of high school in the old brick school building on Brecksville Road (now demolished) across from St. Michael Church. As a senior, Russ was elected president of his class as well as Student Council President. School policy did not allow one person to serve in both positions, so a classmate took on the Student Council leadership role.

Russ graduated from IHS in 1959, and from then until early 1967, he alternated between attending Bowling Green State University and working to pay for attending college. Sadly, Russ’s father died at the beginning of his sophomore year at BGSU.

Russ was recruited by another Independence resident (Frank Kennard) to join Union Commerce Bank (now Huntington Bank) as a Credit Analyst which was the beginning of Russell’s four-decade career in banking ranging from Credit Analyst to Loan Officer to Assistant Vice President at Union Commerce Bank; and finally, to Vice President at Independence Bank beginning June 1981.

During the 1970’s Russ continued his professional banking education, completing Graduate Banking Schools at the University of Oklahoma and the University of Wisconsin.

Although Russell retired from full time banking in 2006, he remains a Director of Independence Bank.

However, Russ’ role and impact in Independence are much broader than his banking career, spanning an unprecedented 36 years on Independence School Board, including 14 years as the School Board President, and more than 23 years on the Independence Recreation Board, including 21 as that Board’s Chairman.

Russ served on the School Board during decisions to hire 5 superintendents and 4 treasurers, improve education spaces through multiple school construction projects, and launch the Independence Shared Use Facility.

Russ continues to champion education as a School Board Member at the Cuyahoga Valley Career Center since 2018.

To be certain, Russ Fortlage is a trusted voice of reason. His sound judgment and counsel are highly respected and trusted. As an example, whether officially a school board member or not, Russ has served as a confidant and unofficial sounding board for a succession of Independence Superintendents of Schools.

Russ is a Charter Member of the IHS Alumni Association and has continually supported and helped it grow to better support our alumni members, school, and students.

Russell married Carol Synek, an Independence resident since age six, in1972. Like Russell, Carol has also served the Independence community and education as a 20-year member of the Board of Zoning Appeals, and a 21-year-and-counting member of the Governing Board of the Educational Service Center of Northeast Ohio.

While Russ and Carol have no children, there is hardly any more loyal Blue Devils Athletic Booster than Russ Fortlage. From sunny skies to freezing rain over more than 5 decades, Russ has stood at the fence line supporting and cheering our football teams, athletes in all sports, our band and cheerleaders as if they were his own children. In fact, as the aunt and uncle to 13 Independence graduates, Russell and Carol are indeed members of the school family.

A bedrock of integrity, trust, character, reason, seasoned maturity and judgment, while living a responsible life and seeking no recognition or reward, Russ exemplifies what it means to be a citizen in our great Country, to be a supporter of quality education, and to be a supporter of students and student athletes. Thus, we most proudly recognize Russell Fortlage as the 2024 Independence High School Alumni Association 2024 Alumni of Distinction.

Dale Veverka, President