Alumni | The SPU Voices Podcast

“A Falcon Legacy,” with Rhoda Russell ’72

Amanda Stubbert: Welcome to the SPU Voices podcast, where we tell personal stories with universal impact. I’m your host, Amanda Stubbert, and today we sat down with Rhoda Becher-Russell. She recently attended her 50-year reunion here on campus, and she had lots of fun stories to tell us about her legacy on campus and her life of intentional community.

Rhoda, thank you so much for joining us today.

Rhoda Becher-Russell: Thank you.

Amanda: You just attended your 50-year reunion along with, due to COVID, three classes. How was that? Did you meet a lot of long-lost friends?

Rhoda: No, not really.

Amanda: Not really.

Rhoda: There was no one else that I haven’t known through the years. There was a group that I knew from church, but I didn’t meet any classmates. My friend, a fellow nursing student, we went together and there was nobody else from our class.

Amanda: Oh, that’s sad.

Rhoda: It was okay, it was fun.

Amanda: I wonder what it’s like after it’s been so long, that when you come back, and does it feel the same? Does it feel like the house you lived in with a fresh coat of paint? Or does it feel like, “Wow, is this the same place I went 50 years ago?”

Rhoda: Because I live so close and I’ve been on campus for different things or driven by, it didn’t seem very different because I’ve seen the new buildings go up. But I did have fun, I got to go to my old room when somebody let us in, and we got to go see that it hasn’t changed in 50 years.

“I got to go to my old room when somebody let us in, and we got to go see that it hasn’t changed in 50 years.”

Amanda: Oh, that’s amazing. And where was your room?

Rhoda: Up in Hill.

Amanda: That’s great. Ashton, I know used to be called Upper.

Rhoda: Yes.

Amanda: Upper and Hill, I feel like those rooms definitely haven’t changed since I was a student. I didn’t realize it went back to the ‘70s.

Rhoda: Yes. There was one thing different, there was no phone connected.

Amanda: Yes, I remember the phones. They were very heavy, and they rang very, very loudly.

Rhoda: Yes, they are now gone.

Amanda: Yes, they’re gone. I’m sure-

Rhoda: That was the only thing, and they had bunked the two beds instead of two separate beds, but we could have done that too. It might be the same bed, who knows?

Amanda: Who knows? Let’s hope there’s a new mattress at this point.

Rhoda: Hopefully. But it looked the same, the lobby and the whatever they call that gathering room that they have there. It didn’t look any different, it was kind of crazy.

Amanda: The lounge, yeah.

Rhoda: Yeah, lounge.

Amanda: Yeah. Did it flood you with memories of you and your roommate when you were students?

Rhoda: Some, yeah. Some.

Amanda: What was your favorite in-room moments when you were a student?

Rhoda: I was remembering the bulletin board that went on the wall where I was splashing my romance with my soon-to-be husband.

Amanda: You had pictures and mementos from your —

Rhoda: Oh, yes.

Amanda: Your time together?

Rhoda: Yes.

Amanda: That’s wonderful.

Rhoda: I thought it was fun. My roommate married my husband’s roommate, so the four of us were dating together and it was great fun. We enjoyed it.

“My roommate married my husband’s roommate, so the four of us were dating together.”

Amanda: That’s funny, so you four have been together since college.

Rhoda: Yeah.

Amanda: I don’t suppose any of your children have married each other?

Rhoda: No.

Amanda: Okay, generational, we’ll save that for another generation. But speaking of generational, you said you had lived close to campus and watched things change over the years. But when you entered SPU as a student, you were already pretty familiar with the campus because of your father. Can you tell us about that?

Rhoda: Well, when I was young, four, I think from four to six, I think it was, we lived in some student housing, I believe that was post-war that went up about a block and a half from the campus while my father was attending college; my mom had already graduated. We used to walk down there because we didn’t have a yard. My mom would take my brother and I down and we would meet my dad as he came out of class. That was fun. The campus, it had the circle, and it didn’t have as many buildings as it does now, but it had a lot of them. The main brick buildings were there, and I remember running around.

Amanda: What was your mother’s degree in from SPU?

Rhoda: She was a teacher. I mean, she had a teaching degree; she didn’t teach very many years. But she had an education degree and she lived in Watson. She graduated in 1948, so she was there during while the men were all at war. So she was one of them. She liked being there, it was good for her.

Amanda: That’s funny because in the ‘90s, I lived in Watson. One of the last years anyone lived there, in fact. So many of the students didn’t even know that there were dorm rooms in Watson, and I would wave to people out of my window, and they would say, “Where are you?” And I’d say, “In my room.” And they’d say, “Yeah, but where is that?”

Rhoda: Yeah, they thought they were pretty hot stuff to get into Watson. That was prestigious to be in Watson and that.

“Yeah, they thought they were pretty hot stuff to get into Watson.”

Amanda: Yes, and for those of you who don’t know or don’t remember, the reason was not only were the rooms nice and big, but we had our own bathrooms. No communal bathrooms, each room had their own bathroom. That’s why I wanted to live in Watson.

Rhoda: Yeah, that is a good thing.

Amanda: Yeah, I enjoyed that part very much. Then let’s get to your dad. Then your dad was in school while you were young. Also, I know your aunt was an alum as well. Did she go with your dad or was she also in school earlier on?

Rhoda: She was my mom’s friend. She introduced my parents, my Aunt Joy. She was there earlier. She was on campus for, I can’t remember exactly. She was on campus for one or two years, and then she was in nursing so then she moved to Swedish Hospital, and they finished their education there. I’m not sure how many years that she was actually on campus. But she and my mom were good friends, and she took my mom home to meet the family long before she met my dad. She wanted my mom to write my dad and my mother says, “I’m not going to write anybody I don’t know.” So they really didn’t know each other until they came down to breakfast one morning and introduced themselves to each other. Then they discovered that they both knew Joy; that was how they met.

Amanda: That’s fun.

Rhoda: Mom had heard about him for a couple years. She knew more about him than he knew about her initially.

Amanda: That’s Roy, correct? Your father, Roy Becher.

Rhoda: Right.

Amanda: What was his degree in then?

Rhoda: Well, I was thinking about this, thinking you might ask. He did music, he was a vocalist, a beautiful baritone voice. But he took a lot of music classes, and he took some education classes because he ended up taking a job initially as a teacher for choir, band and Bible at the high school at King’s Garden, as it was called. Now it’s called CRISTA Ministries, but he was there. I believe it was education, but it might have been music, I’m not sure.

Amanda: And then when did he come back to work at SPU as a fundraiser?

Rhoda: Must have been around ’75; I think in ’75. He did several stints there. He was there for a while, for a few years and then he went to another location, and he was a fundraiser for someone else. Then he went back, and he was finished probably ‘06 maybe, maybe ’05; I’m not sure.

Amanda: Fairly recently. I want to back up a little to when you came to college. What is it like to go away to college? I’m doing air quotes here, “to go away to college,” when you’re going someplace that you’ve known since you were four years old?

Rhoda: The campus was familiar, so that was very nice. I actually grew up in the Philippines with my parents were missionaries there. I came back without family and was looking forward to really, my mom had such a good time on campus, I came back looking for the same kind of community that my mom had had. My mom had so many friends from SPC that she kept in contact with all her life, that I just came back looking for that community and was more interested in that than actually the campus buildings and things like that, because those were not a shock to me. Gwinn was new to me; going to the dining room was a little daunting initially, but we figured it out.

Amanda: I think everyone who’s gone to maybe not a tiny school, but anyone who knows that feeling of being on their first day and having a tray and finishing through the line, and now you’re staring at the seats going, “Where am I going to sit with my tray? Am I going to fit in?” I think that’s a pretty universal thing, which I can imagine is even more daunting when you’re coming from another country, another culture and feeling a little more alone. That makes a lot of sense that you would want to come to a place where your parents felt so at home.

Can we back up a little, do you want to tell us a little bit about your growing up years in the Philippines and what that was like for you?

Rhoda: Well, my father was at King’s Garden teaching in the high school. The King’s Garden organization decided to start a Christian radio station, which is now KGDN. My dad, with his wonderful voice, was asked to contribute and he ended up being the online person on the radio for a long time. One of the things that he did was he read scripts and created the program out of those scripts. Well, one of the other people associated with King’s Garden really was a lifelong mission lover. He never was a missionary, but he wanted to promote missions. So he wrote scripts about missions and what people did and what God wanted people to do. My dad read those scripts and while reading those scripts, he really became convicted that that was something he needed to keep open for himself and his family. “We went over to the Philippines when I was seven and he started working on radio there.”

Then when he learned of a need with Far East Broadcasting Company, they looked into it, and they prayed, and they decided that God was leading them there. So we went over to the Philippines when I was seven and he started working on radio there also and creating programs. Our family went over there and that was a cultural shock; it was very different there. But we were living in a very nice situation, and we had a compound, which is a negative word to most Americans, but it was very nice. There were about 12 families and so there were other kids our age. It was very safe; we had a gate and a guard and it was very safe. Next door, we always said across the fence that fell down, a Bible school had been developed by former GIs that had come to the Philippines and saw the need in the Philippines to spread the gospel.

They came over and built this other compound that had another 10 or 11 families. So when it was time to go to school, we went to a missionary school named Faith Academy, and our little group, our little two missions filled a whole school bus full of kids. We had that many kids to take care of. By the time I was nine, I was the oldest kid around. That was fun, I loved it. My school, at the end, my graduating class was only 17. Before that, they were usually a little bit less, they got a little larger as more people came over to be missionaries in the Philippines. It was just fun. We just had lots of pseudo brothers and sisters. We were very close because we didn’t have extended families. We became our extended families with each other.

I loved it and we had an excellent school. SPC was actually very simple for me in the sense that I had been actually going to a college prep school my whole life, because all the parents were college graduates. I mean, most every missionary was a college graduate and then they’re raising their kids with those values, so it was nice. When I got to SPU, the number of people around me was a bit daunting and not being in charge of everybody was a bit daunting too.

Amanda: Oh, I have so many questions, but my first is, did you eventually become an RA in the dorm since you’re so used to taking care of your peers?

Rhoda: No.

Amanda: No, you didn’t do that.

Rhoda: No, because I told you I had that wall [inaudible 00:17:22]. I was only on campus for two years and then I got married and we lived off campus. Lived down first on Nickerson and then moved to a house on Cremona, which is now a parking lot. I always had people around me, mostly little people, some of them were little older than me. I grew up first in a little home up on, I forget the name of the street, just off of Third. Then I went to King’s, where there was a bunch of kids. Then I went to the Philippines where there were another bunch of kids. I had more bunches of kids around me than my kids did when I was raising my kids in Shoreline.

Amanda: I was going to say, how do you go from a lifetime of that closeknit community to a Seattle suburb? Every family has their own yard and their own life. How did you keep that community going that you’d had your whole life?

Rhoda: Basically through church, I think. We had a number of us in Shoreline who went to the same church.

Amanda: Yeah, I think this new generation doesn’t quite realize how important a community is. Whether that’s your church or whether it’s where you work or both, there’s so much to be had with real serious time spent together, for sure.

Rhoda: It was hard to go from being in community in the Philippines, where we knew all the adults, the adults knew all of us, we knew all the kids, to not having family and not being close to a lot. I actually worked hard in the dorm to make a lot of friends. I knew everybody up and down the hall. Since leaving the Philippines, I’ve never had the geographically close community. The church we attend, we’ve attended for 50 years, and I know a lot of people, we have a lot of community with them, but they’re not all geographically close. There’s some that live within five minutes, but there’s a lot of people that it’s a little effort to get to see them. But there is a difference when you leave a community and even going to a school; things change so much. You change classes and change people year-round as you change the classes.

“Since leaving the Philippines, I’ve never had the geographically close community.”

Amanda: What advice would you give our current students about creating intentional community?

Rhoda: You can’t see my hands, but they’re going up like, “Uh, duh.” I think you have to work to see them personally and not just on the phone. But to actually spend time with people and find people that have your same values or close. And at the same time, be open to hearing other ideas and you’ll find people that you really genuinely like. You’ll create your own community within college. You only have so many hours to be awake and there’s a lot of those that are related to school. I didn’t find there were a lot of extra hours because I worked all the way through school too. I had enough time, wife and student, I was able to manage that.

Amanda: Well, and I can imagine coming from the background that you came from, that maybe you were, you’re so used to that tight-knit community, that you were probably more active in creating that for yourself than maybe some who weren’t coming from a place where they had that kind of community. It’s almost like you don’t know what you’re missing.

Rhoda: Yeah, maybe. Although there were a lot of kids that made friends and have kept them all their lives. I think God leads us into relationships that will help us if we let Him, and I was very blessed. I met my husband the day I landed in America and didn’t know he was going to be my husband. But I also came into a situation where people knew my parents. My name was known by many of the faculty because my mom had kept in touch with many people and so had my father. They were comfortable with a lot of people.

We came back to the States twice while I was growing up and my parents were very intentional about meeting up with these people. A lot of them were professors at SPU, SPC at that time. Those people would check in with me periodically. I’d bump into people that would check in with me and make sure I was okay. But they didn’t invite me to their homes or anything like that. But I felt this invisible support that they gave me with, “How are you?” and stuff like that.

“I think God leads us into relationships that will help us if we let him.”

Amanda: Sure, and I think for our students who are either they’re first in the family to go to college at all, or maybe the first in their family to be here in Seattle, it might be a little more difficult. When I first came to college, I liked to think I might be the first of that legacy. Do you know what I’m saying? Instead of saying, “Oh, no. There’s these other students I see that have generations here and have that support and I didn’t,” I remember thinking all the way back then, “but this could be my chance. If I make my mark here, maybe my children will have that to come into someday.” And what a blessing it is that one of our daughters did come to SPU and could do exactly what you’re saying, recognize the buildings and the names and had professors that would say, “Oh, wait. I know who you are.”

Rhoda: I had to work hard in the classes though because they knew who I was.

Amanda: Right, yes. I think there is a little bit of a double-edged sword of, I always feel like I worked so much harder for the professors that really knew me because then I cared. I cared what they thought. Exactly, exactly.

Rhoda: Yeah, it was interesting.

Amanda: Well, Rhoda, I have so enjoyed talking to you today. Thank you so much for sitting down with us and sharing your family’s story. I hope this idea of intentional community building is sparked by some of our current students and for some of the younger people listening, because the older I get, the more I realize you don’t have that much time left to start generational friendships, decades-long friendships. You get to a point in your life where you realize you probably have all the 30-year friendships maybe you’re going to get and how meaningful those are. I really appreciate you sharing your family’s story with us today.

Rhoda: Okay. Well, you’re very welcome.


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