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Spreading the word of God runs in the Kusserow family

Deborah Deasy | Hampton Journal
Ralph Kusserow, 77, recently celebrated 50 years in the ministry. His son, Kurt Kusserow, 50, followed in his father's footsteps.

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Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Fresh out of Dormont High School, a teenage Ralph Kusserow planned to study horticulture at Penn State University.

God then planted another idea in his fertile mind.

“I didn't hear a voice, but the message was clear,” Kusserow said. “I just became aware God was calling me to the ministry.”

Kusserow, 77, recently marked the 50th anniversary of his 1963 ordination by listening to a sermon by his son — Bishop Kurt Kusserow, 50, of Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America — at Nativity Lutheran Church in Hampton.

The elder Kusserow presided over distribution of Holy Communion at the service and then shared lunch with the congregation.

“I thanked them for their faithfulness because their faithful giving all those years is what made it possible for us to serve overseas,” he said.

Kusserow and his wife Carol, 75, spent decades as Lutheran missionaries in Asia and Africa before moving into their ground-floor apartment at the Hampton home of son Kurt and his wife, Pam.

“There is no question that having grown up in the home of a missionary couple, the Christian faith and particularly the pastoral vocation were ever-present for me,” Kurt Kusserow said.

The bishop said he still draws inspiration from his dad's perspective on Scripture.

“My dad always seemed to treat the Scriptural witness as contemporary. The stories of the Bible related to daily life as naturally, and as relevantly, as current events,” the bishop said. “It is my hope to think this way as well.”

As a boy, Kurt Kusserow showed early signs of his career calling, according to his parents. “He was the peacemaker among our kids,” the bishop's father said.

Ralph and Carol Kusserow have two other sons, engineer Hans, 53, of Winona Lake, Ind., who works for DePuy Orthopedics in Warsaw, Ind.; and linguist Timothy, 49, a Bible translator in Niger, a country in western Africa. They also have seven grandchildren.

After helping spiritually nourish untold congregations in foreign lands, the elder Kusserows now enjoy feeding and watching the nonstop squirrels, chipmunks, woodpeckers, blue jays and wild turkeys that routinely stop to eat and drink outside the glass doors to their apartment.

“We've been so blessed,” said Carol Kusserow, who grew up in southeast India, where her parents, the late Dr. Virgil, a surgeon, and Jeanne Zigler, a registered nurse, worked as medical missionaries.

Ralph Kusserow, son of the late Fred and Laura Kusserow of Dormont, received his early religious training at Mt. Lebanon Lutheran Church.

Ralph and Carol Kusserow met at Thiel College in Greenville, where he majored in German before entering the Hamma School of Theology at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio. Carol Kusserow is a Wittenberg University graduate with a degree in music. Married 54 years, the Kusserows exchanged wedding vows only hours after her college graduation.

During a 1962 visit to her parents in India, Ralph Kusserow sensed a special calling. “That's when I decided to be a missionary,” he said.

After serving Crouse Memorial Lutheran Church in Tiro, Ohio, the Kusserows spent 16 years — from 1966 to 1982 — working with established, English-speaking congregations in Malaysia and Singapore.

After briefly returning to the United States, the Kusserows spent 14 years as missionaries in Tanzania, including 10 years in a remote, rural area where they washed clothes by hand; drew water from a cistern; and once found a deadly puff adder, a snake, asleep in their garage.

“The big reward was seeing the church growing so fast,” Ralph Kusserow said. “The Holy Spirit was the one who was effective.”

Now retired, Ralph Kusserow regularly worships at Nativity Lutheran Church in Hampton. He also preaches and presides over Holy Communion once a month at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Ellwood City, Lawrence County.

Deborah Deasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6369 or

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