State Rep., former KS Juvenile Justice head dies of cancer

Published: Oct. 27, 2021 at 3:03 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Kansas State Rep. Russ Jennings has died.

Speaker Ron Ryckman announced the news Wednesday afternoon in an email to House members. Jennings, R-Lakin, announced earlier this year that he was diagnosed with cancer.

“Over the past few months, he has fought hard through treatments and embraced every minute with his family,” Ryckman wrote in his email to colleagues. “Every time we talked after a treatment, he was motivated and inspired to fight this thing, to enjoy life and to finish out his term. But, God had other plans.”

Jennings, 66, was elected to the House in 2012, and chaired the committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice. Prior to serving in the House, he served as commissioner of the Kansas Juvenile Justice Authority from February 2007 to November 2010.

Jennings also previously served as a deputy sheriff and magistrate judge, both in Kearny County.

“He will long be remembered in the Legislature for his work on juvenile justice reform and wind energy,” Ryckman said. “Beyond his professional service, Russ was a proud father and grandfather who loved sharing the joys of fishing and lake life with his family and friends. Our hearts and prayers are with Judy and the kids. May we all cherish the value of time and the value of our loved ones a little more today.”

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle took to social media, paying tribute to Jennings. Senate Democrat leader Dinah Sykes called him one of the state’s finest.

“He was a kind, compassionate man who fought hard for commonsense policies to improve the lives of Kansas kids,” Sykes posted on Twitter. “I could always rely on Russ to share his deep knowledge and challenge me and my colleagues to craft strong public policy.”

House Democratic Leader Tom Sawyer also expressed condolences.

“Since 2013, (Jennings) has served his district with integrity and was attentive to the needs of his community,” Sawyer said. “On numerous occasions, we worked together to pass bipartisan wins for the people of Kansas... Russ was a fighter and he fought to the end.”

“As a judge, a state leader in juvenile justice, a transformational leader for crime victim support, and a state representative, Russ Jennings lived a life full of service and consequence,” said Attorney General Derek Schmidt. “Russ loved his family, his friends, Southwest Kansas, and our state, and Kansas is better for his leadership and service. Like so many Kansans, Jennifer and I will miss him very much.”

Kansas Governor Laura Kelly said she directed flags to be flown at half staff in honor of Jennings.

“I was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Representative Russ Jennings. Russ and I shared a commitment to reforming the Kansas criminal justice system, particularly our juvenile justice system,” Governor Kelly said. “His commitment to public service, his mastery of the subject matter, and his boundless tenacity made him a natural leader, well-respected by his colleagues and his constituents. I will miss him, and I know others in the State Capitol and throughout his district will too. I offer my sincerest condolences to his wife, Judy, their children and all who knew and loved him.”

The passing of the representative even drew attention from U.S. Senators.

“I was saddened to hear of the passing of Rep. Russ Jennings – my friend for many years and a true advocate for southwest Kansas – following his battle with cancer,” said Sen. Jerry Moran. “Russ was a principled leader who cared deeply for his community and looked for ways to serve Lakin and the state of Kansas at every turn. In the statehouse, he was known for his depth of knowledge and the care and compassion he showed towards everyone. Robba and I extend our deepest sympathies to his wife, Judy, and their children and grandchildren.”

Funeral services are not yet announced.

Sad to lose another member of the #ksleg Class of 2012. Jennings was a hard worker, had a great dry sense of humor, and faced his primary challenges with dignity and grit. He would have been an excellent Speaker.

— Stephanie Clayton (@SSCJoCoKs) October 27, 2021

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