That’s My Sister! – Rosanne Russell (1939 – 2018)

Rosanne Russell (January 9, 1939 – April 2, 2018)

“Sir, that’s my sister!” I was in the 7th grade, and a visitor to our high school was peering through the window of the gymnasium, watching the senior high girls play intramural basketball. When I heard him muse, “Wow, that one girl is really good!” I couldn’t resist proudly identifying “that girl” as my sister, Rosanne.

Indeed, Rosanne was a terrific athlete. I often wished she could have had the opportunity women have today to play competitively. I’m confident she would have received scholarship offers from all over. I was in the 8th grade before I could compete with her in a game of horse. Whether she was shooting a basketball, hitting a softball or playing a pick-up game of touch football, I was always proud that my older sister was really good.

She was also a brilliant student. When I came along five years later, teachers would hear my last name and ask excitedly, “Are you Rosanne Russell’s brother?” My lack of interest in academics at the time managed to quickly dampen their enthusiasm. But when Rosanne gave the Valedictorian address at her graduation and received awards for being in state band, a member of the National Honor Society and numerous other honors,* I couldn’t help but let the people seated around me know, “That’s my sister!”

To this day I am burdened with a teenage memory of an occasion when I really let her down. After graduation, Rosanne enrolled in Bible College in Cincinnati. She bragged to the other girls on campus about how wonderful her younger brother was and how close we were. Four years later she graduated with honors…naturally! It was now her turn to be in the spotlight and my turn to applaud her. But instead of traveling with my family to her graduation, I selfishly chose to stay home to participate in what seemed, at the time, an important Senior class outing. The “outing” turned out to be meaningless, and to this day I have trouble forgiving myself for being so self-centered. Rosanne was very disappointed that I didn’t show. But when I later apologized she genuinely forgave me and never brought it up again. That’s my sister…much like Jesus who buries our sins in the deepest sea and doesn’t remember them anymore.

After graduating from college, Rosanne quickly got her Masters degree from the University of Cincinnati and then became a grade school teacher. After serving a few years in education, she became the Director of the Meadville, Pennsylvania YWCA. Five years later she accepted the offer from her Alma Mater to become the Registrar of Cincinnati Bible College. She later served as the Director of a Nursing Home back in Pennsylvania and ended her career working at Pittsburg Plate Glass Company.

Bob & Rosanne

A few years ago Rosanne and I were talking about the various jobs she had over the years. She said, “You know, Bob, God calls some people, like you, to perform the same task for a lifetime. He calls others, like me, to plug into a variety of roles over the years.” That spoke well of her sense of divine calling.

Whatever her occupation she performed it with excellence. In each position she honored the Lord by being a positive witness to co-workers as well as being active in the local church; directing the choir, teaching Sunday School, serving as a youth sponsor, writing curriculum. Greg Comp, one of her preachers, described her as the most unselfish person he had ever met.

Rosanne was best known as a gifted Bible teacher. She was sort of like a Beth Moore for churches and conferences within the Restoration Movement. My wife invited her to be a guest speaker for women’s gatherings at Southeast Christian Church on several occasions. Rosanne loved to study and had a unique ability to keep people’s attention and make the Bible come alive. Our women raved about her teaching and would say, “Bob, she’s really, really good.” I proudly thought, “That’s my sister!”

People often turned to Rosanne for spiritual counsel. She had a gift of wisdom, was a good listener, and an interesting conversationalist. Even though she herself was never married (she came fairly close once), there was no one within her sphere of influence who performed more marital counseling for couples than she did. She could analyze situations and give sage, spiritual advice without offending people. I’ve had women she counseled tell me, “If it hadn’t been for Rosanne I don’t think my marriage would have survived.” Privately, I’ve heard Rosanne respond, “Wow! After hearing the marital struggles of some of my contemporaries, I’m glad I never married!” That’s my sister. She was joyous being single.

Rosanne was a tremendous encourager to me. She had a way of making me feel special. And she did the same with my other four siblings and dozens of others as well. At her funeral, last Saturday, Rich Jones, the preacher or our home church said, “Rosanne Russell didn’t have any biological children. But she had many, many spiritual children.” Well said.

Early in my ministry I’d phone her and share my sermon idea for the week. Then she’d call me back with an illustration or Scripture that I could add. Later she would listen to the sermon tape and tell me how good it was and of her intentions to share it with someone who really needed to hear it. That was my sister – always boosting me up.

Rosanne with her mother, Catherine Russell, and close friend, Barbara Comp

The last decade was very difficult for Rosanne. Two unsuccessful back surgeries left her in constant pain. Then she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, a disease that slowly limited her mobility and played cruel tricks with her memory. I’m grateful for the excellent care she received at Mason Christian Village in Cincinnati the last six (?) years. The nurses, administrators and the other residents loved and encouraged her, but she was so very frustrated that she’d lost the ability to concentrate, study and teach.

I had a wonderful conversation with Rosanne about a month and a half ago. She was fairly lucid and I asked what I could do to help her. She smiled and whispered, “Nothing you can do. I’m ready to go to heaven.”

That prayer was answered when Rosanne Pearl Russell died peacefully Easter Sunday night. Impeccable timing. That’s my sister. She finished strong. Thanks, Rosanne, for once again leading the way. The words of the Apostle Paul at the end of his life can also apply to you.

“For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:6-8 (NIV)

* Below was taken from the Meadville, Pa. Tribune, May 1956

“A capacity crowd of nearly 1,000 attended commencement exercises last night at Conneaut Valley Joint high school as 66 seniors were granted diplomas. The valedictory address was given by Rosanne Russell. These special awards were presented by K. Arden Bennett, principal:

The Daughters of the American Revolution award to Miss Russell; Danforth Foundation award to Miss Russell and Dan Johns; Babe Ruth award for all-around athletics and clean sportsmanship to Miss Russell and Richard Panko; Readers Digest award to Miss Russell; a DeKalb agriculture award to Johns, and the Farance awards for scholarship, loyalty and achievement to Miss Russell,…”

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