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.
Home | Columns |
Photos | Books
| Biography | Links
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.
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.
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or
by mail at P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL 60115.
The columnist can be reached via email at :
or by snailmail at:
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115