Alice Russie transforms the words of John Wesley into everyday language
Former school teacher credits Wesley with 'changing ecclesiastical history'
Alice Russie, who has been married 64 years to her husband John this month, remembers exactly the moment she first laid eyes on him.
"It was in January 1949 at Roberts Junior College, and the new students who came in at mid-year were introduced at a chapel service," Alice said. "He was a very natty dresser, and he had deeply wavy hair. I said, 'I want that one,' but I didn't do anything about it."
John noticed her too but was more restrained, saying, "I found her interesting, and she drew my attention."
Alice, the daughter of a Free Methodist pastor who moved around to minister at different churches, was born in 1929 in Hancock, N.Y.
When Alice was a junior in high school, her parents moved to Shreveport, La., and decided that she should become a boarding student at Roberts Junior College, near Rochester, NY, which also had a high school department. Her parents later moved again, first to East St. Louis, Ill., during which time Alice attended Greenville College, and then to Virginia. At this point, Alice returned to Roberts (later Roberts Wesleyan) as a college sophomore.
John was born in Philadelphia, Penn., in 1928 and when he was 18, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps, serving in the South Pacific.
When he completed his service, he enrolled at Roberts during the middle of the year, where he found himself being introduced to the student body at the chapel service.
John and Alice started dating, and in the summer of 1949, Alice met John's family in Philadelphia. Alice had written her family about John, and after they returned from Philadelphia, he called her dad and said, "I'd like to marry your daughter."
Getting her dad's consent sealed the deal, and the couple started planning their wedding, which took place on Easter Saturday, April 8, 1950.
In August, they made a move to Philadelphia. "Little did we know," Alice said, "it was the first move of many, and that before our 60th anniversary we would have lived in nine different states."
While living in Philadelphia, John went to work for the Philadelphia Transit Co. driving buses and trolleys, and Alice gave birth to their two daughters, Dorothy and Dona. She continued her education, graduating from Eastern Baptist College (now Eastern University) in 1953.
She wanted to major in science and become a doctor, but "in those days women found it difficult to get scholarships, so I changed my major to English, with a second major in science," Alice said.
From there, the family moved to Providence, R.I., near Alice's parents. "I was working as a cashier in a department store, and in my office was the wife of the school superintendent in Seekonk, a little town in Massachusetts eight miles away, where my dad worked," Alice said. "I got word from the superintendent through his wife that I had a job waiting for me there. After receiving my teaching credential, I began substitute teaching. This was the spring of 1955, and our son Dan was born in June in Pawtucket, R.I. In the fall, I started teaching English and social studies in the middle school in Seekonk."
Alice next was offered a job sight-unseen in California. She had picked up a denominational newspaper at their church, and in it was an ad for a teacher in a Christian school in Garden Grove, Calif., with custodial work available for the teacher's husband.
"I told John about it, and he said, 'Let's start packing,'" Alice said. "I said, 'Will our car make it to California?' It was a '51 Plymouth station wagon we had bought from a little old lady. It was 4 years old, had just 6,000 miles on it and had never been driven over 50 mph."
Alice applied for the job and got a contract for the next year without a face-to-face interview. "When she told her boss she was leaving, he said it would be hard to replace her," John said.
The five of them headed West on the cross-country adventure in the summer of 1956, "with a baby and without air conditioning," Alice said.
Luckily, a member of the school's board had a rental house available and saved it for them, and John got a job driving their school bus.
"The school was part of a network of denominational schools, and there was a conference in Los Angeles that all the teachers went to," said Alice, who drove with another woman.
While in Los Angeles, she happened to fall in love with a hat in a store window and purchased it. After she dropped off the other woman, she drove by some model homes in Orange County and found the house of her dreams.
"We were living in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom house, and this model home had three bedrooms and 1 ½ baths, and was on a very large 60-by-100 lot with an attached double garage," Alice said. "Veterans could get a 4 percent mortgage rate. I put $25 down as a deposit."
When she got home and John asked, "How was your day?" Alice answered, "I bought a hat and a house."
Fortunately, John liked the house, which cost $12,990 and had a monthly mortgage payment of $92 plus "nothing down for vets - only closing costs."
Alice added, "It was close to Disneyland, and we could see the fireworks at Disneyland from our front porch."
John went to work driving for the Metropolitan Transit Authority in Los Angeles and also drove charter buses before going into management. "I would meet people from all over the world and even brought some home to meet the family," he said.
Meanwhile, Alice pursued a master's degree in secondary education at Chapman College (now Chapman University). She had finished teaching at the private school, worked in child protective services until 1960, and then taught in middle schools and high schools in Yorba Linda and Anaheim.
"While I was working on my thesis, I got interested in children with learning disabilities, in part because our son was having trouble in school," she said. "I came across a doctor who was doing research on children with ADD and ADHD (Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), and what he said made so much sense to me. He described exactly my second period class, and my son, and I ended up writing my thesis on test score differences due to psychological versus neurological makeup. It is still online on Chapman's website.
"In 1968 I moved from middle school to the continuation high school in Anaheim. Some of the kids weren't making it for different reasons, and I taught kids who were one step away from jail, or they were let out on probation, with the stipulation they attend classes.
"The principal said that he needed a good reading program at the high school, and I developed a solid program, with a template for each grade level that any kid could follow, and I became the English and Reading Department chairperson."
Due to a planned move to the Bay Area, Alice quit her job, but when the move didnt work out, she went to work for the Fountain Valley School District.
Alice became part of a diagnostic team that made recommendations for children in grades K though eight who were inpatients at the mental health unit in Huntington Intercommunity Hospital. "I did educational diagnostic testing to determine what kind of school setting the children would benefit from the most," Alice said.
The Russies moved to Texas from 1980 to 1985 to support Alice's sister who was a single parent there. "I taught reading at a high school and a junior high in the Houston Independent School District," she said. "I was usually the department chairperson."
In Houston, instead of staying in transportation, John worked for Dresser Industries, which did research and development and manufacturing in the petroleum industry, as the supervisor of security for one of its office buildings.
The Russies next moved to San Diego County, Calif., where John went back to transportation, and Alice taught high school until retiring in 1991. From 1993 to 1996, the couple traveled and lived either in a 25-foot RV or a fifth-wheel, traveling around the Western U.S.
And then they "settled" in Arizona - or thought they had! Their daughter Dona had lived in Beaverton for a while before moving back to California. "Then someone ran a red light and changed her life," Alice said. "She could no longer teach, and when her COBRA (insurance) ran out, she moved back to Oregon. We knew she would need help, so we moved here Father's Day 2006 into Eldorado Villas."
In the meantime, after Alice retired, she had become interested in Christian writing and developed a lasting interest in the writings of John Wesley.
Wesley, who was born in 1703 in Epworth, Lincolnshire, England, and died in 1791 in London, was an Anglican cleric and Christian theologian. He is credited along with his brother Charles as founding the Methodist movement that became the Methodist church of today.
"Certain critical events... stand out against our background that have shaped John and me into who we are today," Alice said. "We were both raised in God-fearing homes, but as the saying goes, 'God has no grandchildren.' It's personal for each one of us.
"When I was 9, I promised God that I would follow Him. In 1955, when our son was born prematurely, spending five weeks in an incubator, God told me I had been 'a lousy mother,' and I instinctively knew He meant inwardly, not outwardly. He was bringing me to understand what He meant by 'following!'"
When Alice was 29 or 30, she read the famous "Love" chapter (1 Corinthians 13), where God said, "You don't have that in your heart."
"I knew He was right," Alice said. "In the providence of God, we had started attending a church whose minister had personal experience with John Wesley's understanding of the scriptures. It was like I had heard this all my life but had not really heard it before... because I hadn't been 'ready' to hear it."
According to Alice, the process for John was much the same, as far as coming to faith in Christ. "Church had always been part of our lives, and of course our children's," she said. "But everything changed when we came to the ministry of the minister (mentioned earlier). One by one each of us found that this way transforms the heart and works where the daily rubber meets the road.
"Although I knew of John Wesley and his teachings, I had never read any of his writings for myself. As I began, I was startled to discover his depth of knowledge of scripture, and of human nature, and of God's remedy for ills of the human heart - a transformation of heart and life through faith in the Christ of Calvary - and to receive that for myself.
"As I moved along, I found a growing desire to bring Wesley's writings out of 18th century language so the ordinary person could appreciate and benefit from them. My task was two-fold: Americanize the language, and break it into bite-sized pieces. I thought, what better way than a daily devotional book, wherein each 'bite' could stand alone, yet be part of what had been a larger piece."
Alice initially compiled "Renew My Heart," first published in 2002, with three editions and nearly 87,000 copies eventually printed. "Although it is out of print, a few copies are available now and then through Amazon.com," Alice said.
"Needless to say, I could not have had the freedom to do the hours and hours of writing without John's support - tangibly and intangibly. And while I was being focused on John Wesley's writings, my husband began to take an interest in hymns, starting with Charles Wesley's, and then flowing over to Isaac Watts and other hymn poets, and eventually to the stories behind the hymns and gospel songs."
John started collecting hymnals and now has more than 200 in his collection, some going back to the late 1700s, plus a shelf full of books on the stories behind the lyrics.
The proverbial "thrill of a lifetime" came for Alice and John in 1997 on a trip to England when they toured the grounds of John Wesley's Chapel in London, including his home and grave site.
"The Wesley brothers really changed ecclesiastical history," Alice said.
After "Renew My Heart," Alice's next task was even bigger, compiling "The Essential Works of John Wesley" in 2011, which ended up being 1,408 pages and 580,000 words, with 6,500 copies sold. A paperback edition followed in 2012.
A third title, "Affectionately Yours," daily meditations compiled from John Wesley's personal letters and prayers, is in the works, scheduled for publication later this year.