Russell sparked growth of Christian Youth Center
By Denise Baran-Unland For The Herald-News September 29, 2012 11:54PM
Updated: November 2, 2012 6:07AM
At Harv Russell’s “promotion” service at the Christian Youth Center in Joliet, former director of operations Kerry Kraker of Indiana watched representatives from five decades of center life pay tribute to CYC’s founder and director emeritus.
“You could see the effect of one man’s surrender to God’s will over time by the people that were affected,” said Kraker, who first came to CYC as one of its teen members.
Yet Russell, of Shorewood, up to his Sept. 13 death at the age of 85, consistently pointed to God and the people who had influenced and inspired him for CYC’s success.
In an earlier Herald-News story, Russell once said, “The Christian Youth Center is God’s gift to Will County ... We just plugged away at it day at a time, new ideas came along and it took off.”
A graduate of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Russell still was in training when he began leading the Hi-Crusader Club (Hi-C) in Joliet, part of a Chicago-area organization that hosted numerous independent clubs for young people.
For seven years after, Russell served at the central office. In 1961, Russell became CYC’s director and took the storefront center to its current location on Manhattan Road. He also served as interim minister to six local churches and visited patients at Silver Cross Hospital in Joliet.
Even as a boy, Chip Russell of Morris, Russell’s son, understood his father’s dedication to CYC.
“If he was in the gym or busy and I called, ‘Hey, Dad,’ he might not answer, but if I yelled out, ‘Hey, Harv,’ he’d turn around,” Chip said.
Whether Russell was playing volleyball, encouraging testimony and spiritual songs around a campfire or mentoring his own son, Russell lived to connect with all youth — regardless of gender or ethnicity — in order to lead them into making wise choices and developing a close relationship with Christ.
“I never drank or used drugs,” Chip said, “because I was very protective of my father’s reputation and his ministry.”
Through the years, CYC offered youth groups for various ages, after-school activities, day camps, sports programs and — for 19 years — a weekly live school broadcast on WJOL radio that included a Bible quiz, singing and a message from Russell.
Sherry Lindstrom of Shorewood participated in those radio broadcasts; later she worked as CYC’s secretary and oversaw its Lend a Hand Ministry. “Harv was a man of faith who invested himself in youth for an eternal purpose,” Lindstrom said. “He changed homes, lives and families.”
Brian Allen, CYC’s executive director since 2007, said, “Harv taught me the significance of stories and how they transform people better than statistics do. He was enthusiastic, fun and loving. He lit up a room when he came in.”
Contact Denise M. Baran-Unland
at 815-467-5249 or firstname.lastname@example.org.