Patricia Holmes Russell can still hear the low, loud moan of the air raid siren. Yet, there was no need to duck for cover. World War II had ended. An attack was not on the horizon. The sound was simply signaling the change from math class to Bible class at what was then called Montgomery Bible School (MBS) and Montgomery Bible College (MBC).
The year was 1948. Patricia was beginning the seventh grade at the Bible school’s campus on Ann Street in Montgomery, Alabama. She would grow up to witness the many transformations of her dear alma mater from Montgomery Bible College to Alabama Christian College (ACC) and Alabama Christian High School (ACHS) and finally its move to its current location of 5345 Atlanta Highway now known as Faulkner University.
Though there have been many changes over its 81 year history from what began as three humble structures and an air raid siren on Ann Street to today’s sprawling campus, the mission has remained the same. In the midst of WWII, while men waged war across the oceans, 12 men gathered on April 13, 1942 at the meeting house of the Church of Christ on Panama Street in Montgomery to start a Bible school. Their prayer was to teach young men and women biblical truths, give them a Christian education and prepare them to be vocational ministers in whatever career or capacity they are led to pursue. Rex Turner, and Leonard Johnson called the meeting. Joe B. Greer opened the meeting with a prayer.
Patricia and her husband Jesse Russell find themselves blessed to have been a part of the founders’ mission.
Patricia grew up with her family in Montgomery and it was their desire for Patricia to pursue her education at a Christian school. After her first year at MBS, her family moved into the apartments down the hill from the school on Ann Street and she was able to walk to and from classes.
“Going to a Christian school was a priority for me and my family,” Patricia said. “Montgomery Bible School offered me a quality education with teachers who taught everything from a Christian point of view.”
While a student, Patricia worked on the SHEAF yearbook staff and was a student assistant with E. R. Brannan.
The school grew from humble beginnings. High school and college level students used the same facilities and participated in the same events. Grades kindergarten through sixth, were added years later in another small building. Teachers often went without pay when funds were sparse and they took on second jobs, paper routes and other work to make ends meet.
The air raid siren was left behind from an army surplus supply and was used in lieu of a bell or other electrical intercom system. Times were simpler then, yet the bonds between classmates were stronger. Their mission was their bond and lent them strength through difficult times.
“The main reason we all attended the school and the reason why our teachers worked there was for the Christian values the school represented and were taught there,” Patricia said. “We were encouraged to live by those values. We had Bible classes every day and many of our teachers were preachers.”
“We didn’t always fully appreciate the sacrifices our teachers made to fulfill that mission, but we appreciate them more now,” she added. “One of the many things I am thankful for when looking back were our Bible classes. Things taught in those classes have stuck with me all these years. The principles I learned and the guidelines of Christian living I still believe in and try to live by till this day.”
Patricia met her future husband, Jesse, when they were in the 11th grade.
Jesse lived in Shellhorn, just outside of Troy, Alabama when he heard about the Bible school from founder Rex Turner’s brother, James Turner. James Turner preached at Antioch Church of Christ where Jesse was a member and because of his encouragement, Jesse’s family agreed to let him attend MBS.
“I’ll forever be grateful for Brother James Turner,” Jesse said. “That decision gave me a good Christian education, I met my wife there and we’ve had a good life together. I actually met Patricia on my first day. Brother James called Patricia over the telephone before school started saying, ‘Patricia, come here, I found you a boyfriend,’” he recalled jokingly.
Jesse and Patricia graduated in 1954, a year after the school was renamed Alabama Christian College. They began dating in the fall and enrolled in their freshman year at ACC. A year later in November 1955 they were married. They were working full time and decided to move into the apartments near the school. Jesse worked at an A & P grocery store and took college courses at Montgomery Bible College at night, while Patricia took the bus downtown to work at the Elmer Tallent Insurance Agency.
In August 1956, their first of four children, Faye (Russell) Alan was born.
That year was also when Jesse found a better paying job with the United States Post Office, allowing Patricia to be a stay-at-home-mom. They attended Panama Street Church of Christ and Jesse preached for the Motts Church of Christ and the Oak Bowery Church of Christ for about a year and a half at each congregation.
By this time, the Russells had three more children, Patti (Russell) Turner, Kathy (Russell) Lassiter and Alan Russell who were all enrolled at Alabama Christian and Jesse had thoughts of mission work.
In the 1970s, Jesse learned about work in Georgia to plant churches in several rural areas of the state. He had a desire to help with the growth of the church in Buena Vista, a small town near Columbus, Georgia where this congregation had recently been established and in 1979 he was appointed as the town’s postmaster.
While Jesse made arrangements to move to Buena Vista, Patricia stayed in Montgomery to continue her work as the principal’s secretary at Alabama Christian, where she worked from 1967 to 1979. She stayed through the end of the school year, to allow their youngest daughter Kathy to graduate with her class.
Once Kathy graduated high school, Patricia took their youngest child, Alan, and joined Jesse. Together, the Russells and the congregation helped renovate the church building, a dilapidated Victorian House. Their mission was to help support the spread of the gospel spiritually and financially. They spruced up the house, brought in hand-me-down pews and met for worship in the dining and living room area, while the preacher lived upstairs.
Ten years later, with the financial help of several congregations, they constructed a new church building on the same property. The Russells served in Buena Vista for 20 years, with Jesse sometimes preaching, teaching Bible classes, leading singing and serving as an elder.
Although they were 115 miles away from Montgomery, the Russells remained connected to their family and the friends they made at ACC. There were many couples who met at ACC and married at around the same time as the Russells. One of these couples, Bettye and Bill Beck, who lived in Elba, Alabama invited the Russells to their house for a school reunion in 1992.
It was a reunion of students rather than a class reunion because as a small school, students in the high school and college classes intermingled on a daily basis switching classes, singing together during chorus, worshiping in chapel and other school activities. The reunion was a time of reflection, singing and sharing memories.
“I was just so thrilled to see everyone. We enjoyed renewing friendships we made 40 years ago. We talked and laughed and sang songs before it was time to eat dinner,” Patricia said. “We just enjoyed it so much. There were people that we had not been close friends with, but we still shared this bond that is hard to explain and we all felt the same way.”
“The bonds between all of us are so strong because of the years we’ve lived and the memories we cherish from our time on Ann Street,” Jesse added.
After the second reunion in Elba in 1994, a few years after Jesse retired from the Post Office in 1991, the Russells moved to a house they were fixing in Pike Road. They continued to drive to their church in Buena Vista for several years while also attending Panama Street Church of Christ in Montgomery.
Once they moved back, the Russells offered to host the school reunions and opened their Pike Road house for the occasion. They held reunions there every other year from 1996 until 2018 with as many as 90 people in attendance at a time. Beginning in 2004, they kicked off their reunions with a Friday night dinner on the Faulkner campus and then gathered at their house on Saturday.
The Russells kept a running list of alums from the Ann Street Campus who attended in the 1940s, 1950s and the 1960s. Patricia also wrote newsletters titled “A Time To Remember” to mail out to this group of life-long friends.
For the 2000 reunion, school founder Rex Turner, Sr. was present, giving them all an opportunity to reminisce with him about their time on the Ann Street Campus. He died in January 2001 just a few months after the reunion.
“The fact that we had Christian teachers and developed friendships at ACC that we have carried on through all these years has been so meaningful to us,” Patricia said. “We all attended ACC for the Christian values and because of that, we made friendships that we will always treasure. ”Today, Faulkner’s Alumni Relations Office has taken over the tradition and hosts annual ACC Summer Reunions and invites classmates from the 40s, 50s, 60, 70s and 80s. They enjoy a weekend of fellowship, renewed friendships, food and fun. This past June 24 and 25, they heard from new President Mitch Henry and toured new additions to Faulkner’s campus including the College of Health Sciences and esports arena.
To join our Alumni Association Membership and be a part of alumni events and more, visit https://www.faulkner.edu/about-faulkner/alumni-friends/, or contact Robin “Bird” Bradford at email@example.com or 334-386-7492.