He was born February 5, 1931, in Aberdeen, South Dakota, to Arthur and Gertrude Harris. Russ grew up in the Black Hills of South Dakota living most of his childhood years at Fort Mead in Sturgis. He joined the South Dakota National Guard while still in high school and upon completion of his secondary education, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and served in the rebuilding of Germany following World War II. He was honorable discharged September, 1953.
He completed a BA degree at Vennard College, Oskaloosa, Iowa; did graduate work at Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa; and achieved a Masters of Divinity from Garrett Theological Seminary, Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. He was ordained a deacon of the United Methodist Church in 1964 and an elder in 1966. He was a member of The Dakotas Conference serving United Methodist Churches in Enderlin, Sheldon, Leonard, Fargo, and Grand Forks, ND, Chestnut, IL, and Clinton, NY.
In 1977, he was appointed to service on The General Board of Global Ministry (UMC) in New York City where for 10 years he carried responsibility for new church development in United Methodist Churches in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. In 1987, he was cited by the UMC for distinguished service to the Congregational Development Unit of the General Board of Global Ministries for his vision and dedication which enabled the beginning of hundreds of new United Methodist Churches throughout the United States. He was also recognized by the Iglesia Methodista Unida Conferencia Anual De Puerto Rico with gratitude for his work on behalf of the United Methodist Church in Puerto Rico; for his years of service to the Rio Grande Conference of The United Methodist Church and granted honorary membership in The Rio Grande Conference. He continued to serve as a consultant in new church development and redevelopment to The Dakotas Conference until January, 2004.
He married Josephine Jo Rae Goold on June 3, 1955. Three children were born to their union. Russ and Jo joined their talents and gifts in ministry for 48 1/2 years. In addition to their own children, several young people enrolled at NDSU shared their home and became part of their extended family as they pursued their educational goals. The Harrises retired to their home on Maple Lake in 1996 and soon became a ministry team at The First Presbyterian Church in Red Lake Falls, MN.
Throughout his years of ministry, Russ was one who searched for the quiet God, who sought the spirit in the small moments of everyday life. He loved history, current events and politics. He enjoyed his pontoon, fishing with his sons and grandchildren, long hours of reading and reflection, good conversation, being outdoors tending the yard and traveling with Jo. When all else was stripped away, his was a life lived with love.
He was preceded in death by his parents and infant sister. He is survived by his wife; one daughter, the Rev. Linda (Bill Kampmeyer) Harris, St. Louis, MO; two sons, Steven Russell (Vicki) Harris and Ronald Wayne (Gail) Harris, Brandon, SD; grandchildren Barbara, Melissa, Candace, Sarita, Nicholas, Joshua, and Kathryn; great grandchildren, Jacob and Izabelle; one brother, Dr. Merne (Sue) Harris, West Des Moines, IA; sisters-in-law Linda (Rev, James) Hulett, Mecosta, MI and Alice (Rev. Timothy) Driskell, Huitt, MN; brothers-in-law Dr. William (Thelma) Goold, Wilmore, KY and Dr. Stephen (Pamela) Goold, Maple Grove, MN; and 13 nieces and nephews and their families.
A Service of Remembering and Celebrating the Life of William Russell Harris will be held at Wesley United Methodist Church in Grand Forks on Monday, February 9, 2004, at 2:00 p.m. Visitation with the family will be one and one-half hours before the service. Internment will be in LaPorte, Michigan.
The family prefers that instead of flowers, memorials be given to one of the following: The Altru Cancer Center, Riverview Hospice, The Dakota Conference Endowment Fund for New Church Development, or The National Fund for Hispanic Ministries to be designated for congregational development in Puerto Rico and the Rio Grande Conferences.