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Thelma Lee Russell

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Information about Thelma Lee Russell

Profile image of Thelma Lee Russell

Profession

Category:
EducationMakers
Occupation(s):
Education Entrepreneur

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Blue
Favorite Food:
Broccoli
Favorite Time of Year:
Summer
Favorite Vacation Spot:
North Carolina
Favorite Quote:
I Can Do All Things Through Christ That Strengthens Me.

Birthplace

Born:
7/15/1931
Birth Location:
Charleston, Missouri

Profession

Category:
EducationMakers
Occupation(s):
Education Entrepreneur

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Blue
Favorite Food:
Broccoli
Favorite Time of Year:
Summer
Favorite Vacation Spot:
North Carolina
Favorite Quote:
I Can Do All Things Through Christ That Strengthens Me.

Birthplace

Born:
7/15/1931
Birth Location:
Charleston
See how Thelma Lee Russell is related to other HistoryMakers

Biography

Early childhood education advocate Thelma Russell was born Thelma Lee Cox in Charleston, Missouri, on July 15, 1931. Russell's parents, Gerline Fulks Cox and Ernest Cox, migrated to Fort Wayne, Indiana, where Russell attended Harmar Elementary School. An award winning school artist and youth church leader, Russell wanted to be a teacher; however, when she graduated from Central High School in 1950, she immediately married Robert Russell, Jr., with whom she started raising a family. A serviceman’s wife, Russell lived in Baumholder, Germany, from 1957 to 1958; when she returned to Fort Wayne, she attended St. Francis College (now St. Francis University) where she studied early childhood education and business.

From 1962 to 1970, Russell, then an office assistant and teacher’s aide at James Smart School, noticed that children were missing school to take care of their preschool-aged siblings. Feeling inspired by God, Russell decided to start a preschool program in a large apartment building she owned; brushing aside various forms of community racism, the building was remodeled to adhere to state and local standards and regulations. In 1970, Russell quit her job and opened The Gingerbread House, the first black owned educational and developmental child-care center in Fort Wayne. Starting with one child, the enrollment grew to fifty-five children in the first three weeks, and eventually grew to one hundred and twenty-eight. With an integrated staff, Russell emphasized school readiness in reading and math with two hot meals a day and regular field trips. Russell soon offered after school tutoring and a learn to read program for children six to ten years old. With the addition of a large multi purpose room, The Gingerbread House became a center for African American art and history, celebrating the lives of great black heroes and inventors. In 1990, The Gingerbread House’s 20th Anniversary Celebration featured actors and activists Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, who read to the children and conducted workshops for the parents. In 1995, one hundred Gingerbread House alumni gathered to celebrate the institution.

Russell, who retired as executive director of The Gingerbread House in 1999, also served on the board of directors of the Urban League, the Fort Wayne Club, and the Fort Wayne Museum of Art. The NAACP, Kappa Alpha Psi, Y.W.C.A., Links Inc., Times Corner Kiwanis Club, Zeta Phi Beta, Fort Wayne Club, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Unity Day Committee have honored Russell. Russell received the Hoosier of the Year Award and the Mayor’s Twenty-Five Years of Excellence Award from the City of Fort Wayne. In addition to her professional activities, Russell raised six children.

Russell passed away on December 11, 2016 at age 85.

See how Thelma Lee Russell is related to other HistoryMakers
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  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Thelma Lee Russell's interview
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Thelma Lee Russell lists her favorites
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Thelma Lee Russell describes her mother's family background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Thelma Lee Russell describes Charleston, Missouri
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Thelma Lee Russell describes her father's family background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Thelma Lee Russell describes her family's move to Fort Wayne, Indiana
  • Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Thelma Lee Russell describes her earliest childhood memory
  • Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Thelma Lee Russell describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood
  • Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Thelma Lee Russell describes her childhood neighborhood
  • Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Thelma Lee Russell describes the African American community in Fort Wayne, Indiana
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Thelma Lee Russell describes what it was like being a stepchild
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Thelma Lee Russell describes her experience at Harmar School in Fort Wayne, Indiana
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Thelma Lee Russell describes her leadership and speaking roles at Central High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Thelma Lee Russell names her favorite teachers
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Thelma Lee Russell talks about deciding to attend college
  • Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Thelma Lee Russell describes her husband and his time in the U.S. military
  • Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Thelma Lee Russell describes working at St. James Elementary while enrolled at St. Francis College in Fort Wayne, Indiana
  • Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Thelma Lee Russell recalls her inspiration for the Gingerbread House
  • Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Thelma Lee Russell explains how she was inspired to create the Gingerbread House
  • Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Thelma Lee Russell describes remodeling the building for The Gingerbread House
  • Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Thelma Lee Russell describes launching The Gingerbread House
  • Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Thelma Lee Russell describes educational programs at The Gingerbread House, pt. 1
  • Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Thelma Lee Russell describes educational programs at The Gingerbread House, pt. 2
  • Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Thelma Lee Russell describes her teaching and management for The Gingerbread House
  • Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Thelma Lee Russell describes using government subsidies at The Gingerbread House
  • Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Thelma Lee Russell describes graduation ceremonies at The Gingerbread House
  • Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Thelma Lee Russell describes a theft from The Gingerbread House, pt. 1
  • Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Thelma Lee Russell describes a theft from The Gingerbread House, pt. 2
  • Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Thelma Lee Russell describes The Gingerbread House's twentieth anniversary celebration
  • Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Thelma Lee Russell describes generational differences in parenting styles
  • Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Thelma Lee Russell talks about her retirement
  • Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Thelma Lee Russell describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community
  • Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Thelma Lee Russell reflects upon her life
  • Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Thelma Lee Russell talks about her family
  • Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Thelma Lee Russell talks about her father witnessing her success
  • Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Thelma Lee Russell reflects upon her legacy
  • Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Thelma Lee Russell describes how she would like to be remembered
  • Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Thelma Lee Russell narrates her photographs, pt. 1
  • Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Thelma Lee Russell narrates her photographs, pt. 2