Home | Columns | Photos | Books | Biography | Links

Barry Schrader
Columnist

 

I currently write a column each Tuesday for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle. The column will also appear on this website each week and be added to the archives.

The Articles started December 2007.

 

If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates to catch up.

Archive Page

Birthday sparks memories of mentor

By Barry Schrader Senior Columnist...................December 27, 2011

Since today is my 71st birthday, I decided to take time to remember someone who helped me many years ago in my personal and spiritual life.

Often we are given a boost by those around us, but we never take the time to acknowledge them. And after many years have passed, it is usually too late to do so.

I recently made contact with my first spiritual mentor after some 50 years of not being in touch. The Rev. Ron Russell was my 1960s era campus pastor at the Wesley Foundation on the Northern Illinois University campus. Now 81, he is still as wise and thought provoking as ever.
When I left my small-town life in Genoa to attend NIU, I was overwhelmed by the eclectic mix of students from all walks of life - mostly Chicago types who regarded us local yokels as someone fresh off the farm with a hayseed in our mouth.
But after a year in Gilbert Hall with these more worldly types, I had enough of dorm life and retreated to the confines of private homes where I met some wonderful

The Rev. Ron Russell is shown in his NIU Wesley Foundation study in 1960. (Barry Schrader photo)


local families that rented out rooms to college students.

I was fortunate to get the best housing around: One year with the John Boardmans and another with the Mayor and Mrs. J. Clayton Pooler. I will always be grateful to them for sharing so much local history and insight into their town and families.

However, the next two years (yes, it took me five years to graduate) I spent at the Wesley Foundation House adjacent to the University Methodist Church where Rev. Ron presided as head pastor. I had become attached to that student-centered congregation two years earlier, and I was lucky to be chosen to live with five other young men at the foundation's house at 205 Normal Road. It's now demolished, but it was a sanctuary for us "Wesleyites," as other students called us.

Ron Russell (he left the ministry a few years later) served the campus pastorate from 1956-1967. As a result of his charisma and mentoring, hundreds of students flocked to the church and the Wesley Foundation flourished.

Not much later it started going downhill and eventually closed its doors, with the property sold to the university. What a tragedy for this to happen, as thousands of future Methodist students in the years to follow lost the opportunity to be given moral, spiritual and career guidance by that place we called just "Wesley." My old friend and fellow alumnus Gordon Melms and I often commiserate over that disgrace.
Ron, as he was known to everyone, not only gave us a foundation in spirituality, ethics and morality, but he led by example when it came to civil rights, pacifism and how we should serve mankind after leaving NIU. He led student choir trips and civil rights study tours into the Deep South in the early 1960s when it was dangerous to be a Northerner trespassing on those southern racist states. He taught us to love as brothers and sisters everyone of all races, creeds and social levels, despite any perceived differences.
His mentorship spawned dozens of clergy among the students who were smitten by his love, compassion and high ideals. So many of us owe him so much. He can rest assured we are grateful still for the way he affected our lives and set us on the straight and narrow through many troubled times and difficult life changes.
So on my birthday all these years later, I wanted to reach out to him at his retirement home in Nokonis, Fla., and say, "Thanks Rev. Ron for launching me and so many others on a rewarding and spiritual life."

• Barry Schrader was editor of the Daily Chronicle from 1969-1972. He and his wife, Kay, are retired and live in DeKalb. He can be reached at barry815@sbcglobal.net or by mail at P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL 60115.

Home | Columns | Photos | Books | Biography | Links

The columnist can be reached via email at :

barry815sbcglobal.net

or by snailmail at:

Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115