His first job after college was as a commercial mortgage lender. Since then, he has worked in real estate development and become experienced in construction management. Russ confesses that he is not a detail-oriented person unless it comes to architecture.
He became involved with Dignity:Liberia because it is part of his faith. He believes in doing what he is called to do and that God puts opportunities in front of us all at different times. In speaking with Russ, it is obvious that he has a passion for social justice. I asked what took him to West Africa. He first went to Jos, Nigeria during the AIDS pandemic, volunteering with the group Faith Alive. While in Nigeria, he became impressed with the Mennonites. It seemed to him that many faith-based groups arrived in Nigeria with a pre-existing plan, whereas the Mennonites asked what needed to be accomplished and worked with their Nigerian counterparts in reaching a solution. He often went to their compound to relax and pray before retiring for the night.
Sometime after he returned to the United States, his church built a modular building on the church lawn, generating lots of interest and funding for a feeding program. Eventually the building was taken apart and shipped to Liberia. Russ went to Liberia with the construction crew. They built the Peanut Butter House for malnourished children near ELWA.
He stayed on the ELWA campus where he met Rusty Laired, then-construction manager of ELWA hospital. Rusty asked Russ to return as a volunteer construction manager. While ELWA Hospital benefited from his expertise as a construction manager, Russ learned about construction techniques in Liberia: what materials work in Liberia’s climate, and where to purchase quality items. He learned passive cooling techniques such as adding roof vents, painting roofs white, and planting bamboo in order to cool buildings without air conditioners.
While in Liberia, he took on other jobs to support himself financially, working for SIM, Samaritan’s Purse, and as a freelancer for a German non-profit, GIZ (pronounced G.I. Zed), teaching classes on passive solar design. In Liberia, GIZ put solar panels on all maternity wards. In addition, they provided personal computers, motorcycles, and training to keep the solar panels running.
Russ remained in Liberia for four years. While there, he met his wife, Priscilla. She had attended nursing school and volunteered at ELWA Hospital. On the day they met, she was helping her sister at her restaurant. Russ loves children and was impressed with the care she showed her niece and nephew. After they were married, they moved off the ELWA compound, which gave Russ an opportunity to learn much about Liberian culture. He and Priscilla now live in Fort Collins, Colorado.
Kathy Beth recently retired from St. Edward’s University after over 21 years of service. She lives in Brenham, TX with her husband and cat. She graduated from high school in Monrovia, Liberia in 1977.