What I’ve Learned from Russ Gaeddert

by Austin Braddock – Disaster Management Student

When I stepped into Mr. Russ Gaeddert’s class for the first time and saw the word “reflection papers” in the syllabus, I gave him a questioning stare. This was a man that one day would install in me the spiritual gift of reflecting on the past and applying it towards the future, though I didn’t know it at the time.

Russ Gaeddert, who developed Hesston's Disaster Management Program, will leave the college at the end of the school year. Photo by Larry Bartel, Hesston College Marketing and Communication.
Russ Gaeddert, who developed Hesston’s Disaster Management Program, will leave the college at the end of the school year. Photo by Larry Bartel, Hesston College Marketing and Communication.

Being Disaster Management Director of Hesston College, Russ Gaeddert, the king of reflection papers, pushed students to go beyond just participating in an event, but to take the time to consider its meaning. Whether it was the latest conversation with Mennonite Disaster Service superstar Paul Unruh or talking or a day trip to Greensburg, Kansas, Russ was all about learning from the past.

In the summer the disaster Management program worked at Crisfield, Maryland after Hurricane Sandy hit that region. During the weekends, we were asked to write reflection papers in the same format that we had done earlier that year. The requirement for those papers was 1-2 pages or 500 words. Because of Russ installing in me the ability to deeply reflect the things of life, I produced weekly reflections of 5-6 pages and occasionally eight on an especially fruitful week. But it wasn’t just about the content. Russ’s constant pride in grammar-perfect papers drove me to double and triple check my reflections before gingerly handing them in, hoping there was not a single misspelled word.

Russ doesn’t like surprises, and he doesn’t like being late. He held students accountable to the minute for being late to his class, and had a strict schedule that left room for no surprises. But he couldn’t control all of it. In fact, people witnessed Russ’s “biggest fear” when Paul Unruh caused him to be late to commencement last year as well as surprising him with a retirement present. Russ’s expression was hilarious, and something I will never forget.  

Russ taught me to give everything I have to people. He did this leading by example. No matter what Russ was doing, everytime I walked into his office, he would whip around like a startled rattlesnake, fully prepared and anticipating a question from me. This gave me the reassurance that he was committed to seeing students reach their full potential. Thanks, Russ, for helping me grow through reflection, for valuing service and for appreciating life’s little surprises.


by Kevin Wilder – Social Science Faculty

Russ loves Seinfeld. All you have to do to make Russ laugh is to do a line from Seinfeld. I have enjoyed trying to slide into his office like Kramer. When I got bored on our bike trip together across Missouri a few years ago, I would ask him to share about his favorite episodes.  He would do all the lines and the characters. Seinfeld is a show about friends and about enjoying life. Someone said the show is about nothing, but it really about some important things: friends and enjoying life. Russ has been a good friend and enjoys little things in life. Good conversation, a nice meal, woodworking, his family, his students and basketball are his joys. Russ savors those things and Russ has taught me to slow down and savor things as well. Thank you my friend! I am trying not to eat so fast!

Russ is orderly and I have also enjoyed coming into his office and moving his notepad or his pencil cup. Russ has taught me that slow and methodical thinking can make a difference. I helped Russ on service trips and our Numana food packing events. I really never did much because Russ was so well prepared. I learned a lot about service, contentment and joy of being in the background with Russ. Russ loves for others to shine and he is that way his family, friends, students, and his basketball players. Russ would rather elevate others than elevate himself. Thank you, my friend, for your selfless detailed work behind the scenes and proofreading my stuff!

Russ loves birds. We did service in Louisiana for Mennonite Disaster Management. Russ talked about every bird and bird book that he could find, so I would be knowledgeable about all the birds we encountered each day. This is Russ: be prepared and enjoy the gift of these birds that you get to see. Between Russ and Lorna Harder, I have become fascinated with birds. Russ is curious and his curiosity is contagious. Thanks, Russ, for teaching me about something that is beautiful and all around me!

Russ was a successful high school women’s basketball coach at Pretty Prairie and it is fun to hear him talk about his coaching. He built a successful disaster management program. Another Mennonite college started and stopped a program in the same time that our program has been running. Russ was a great elementary teacher. At Hesston College, he established service learning, service transcripts, service days and laid the groundwork for the leadership program. He was the quarterback of his football team and played sports in college. He has completed four Bike Across Kansas rides and he and Jean have two amazing boys. He is an accomplished woodworker. The thing about Russ is that you would have to know him for ten years and ask a lot of questions to know any of this. He has a lot to brag about, but he doesn’t. Russ is humble. Thanks Russ for being a model of humility!

Russ is a great listener. He is patient and takes time to listen. Thanks, Russ, for teaching me to listen. Russ is loyal. He is committed to the same church, same family, same local church and Jesus Christ. He is a loyal friend that would do anything for you. Thanks, Russ, for teaching me about loyalty and listening! I will miss messing up your desk and sliding in your office!


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