Published January 3, 2008
Deacon William “Moe” Rusmisel was a man with many interests.
He liked challenges, like fitting a full-sized steam locomotive into a museum in the heart of Washington, D.C. He enjoyed casting a fishing line into the breaking ocean surf. And he especially liked Christmas when he searched store shelves unceasingly to bring home “the Big One” for his grandchildren. He took up service in the Catholic Church as a deacon for a dozen years as he worked with people who spoke a different language.
“He tried to learn Spanish. Moe’s Spanish wasn’t too great. He tried to do all kinds of stuff,” said Deacon Jim Gaudin, who became friends with Rusmisel when his son married one of Rusmisel’s daughters.
Deacon Rusmisel, 77, died Dec. 2 in Chattanooga, Tenn., where he lived. His death was a result of complications related to Alzheimer’s disease, according to his family.
A native of Washington, D.C., Deacon Rusmisel served in the U.S. Navy before settling in Atlanta.
Moe and his late wife, Alma, had two daughters, Suzanne Gaudin and Mary Roberts, along with six grandchildren. The youngsters affectionately called him “Dado.”
Deacon Rusmisel worked for Southern Railway for 37 years. A highlight of his career was working as part of the team to move the 189-ton Southern Railway No. 1401 steam locomotive from the railroad tracks in the nation’s capital into the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of American History.
The family lived within walking distance of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church for years. Suzanne Gaudin, of Chattanooga, Tenn., said both her parents were converts to Catholicism and chose to live close to the church so their children could attend parish school.
“He was fairly strict but loved knowing our friends. He loved having our friends over at our house,” she said about her father.
And he made them feel special. Deacon Rusmisel would spend hours at the stove preparing a favorite meal for guests, whether it was homemade spaghetti sauce or a seafood dish.
He coached youth soccer for years, even though he knew nothing about the sport when he was recruited to coach at IHM parish. “He had never even seen a soccer game,” said Suzanne Gaudin, but he learned from the pages of library books.
Deacon Rusmisel served the church he adopted. He worked as a Catholic missionary in Jamaica for nearly two years, but the lure of the birth of his first grandchild, David Roberts, brought him back to Georgia.
For nearly 12 years, Deacon Rusmisel preached and cared for Catholics in North Georgia as a deacon.
His humility made him question his vocation, but Deacon Gaudin reminded him that if only perfect people were called to be deacons, there’d be none. “He was a humble guy,” said Deacon Gaudin, who gave the homily at his friend’s funeral.
In 1991, Deacon Rusmisel became ordained. He was thrilled to be able to baptize a grandchild into the church.
He served at Immaculate Heart of Mary for years and when asked, he transferred to St. Bernadette Church in Cedartown, about 60 miles northwest of Atlanta. He tried to learn Spanish to be of service to the Hispanic parishioners.
“He really stretched himself,” said Deacon Gaudin.
Suzanne Gaudin said her father embraced the church as a convert and felt very strongly about the saints, particularly St. Joseph. He felt a connection as one father to another. He wore a St. Joseph medal when he passed away. “He wore it every day of his life,” she said.
Deacon Rusmisel moved to Chattanooga’s St. Alexian Village, a retirement community, as he got ill. It is a not-for-profit ministry of the Alexian Brothers, a worldwide Catholic order that cares for senior citizens. Before his illness robbed him of his ability to help at Mass, Deacon Rusmisel would read from Scripture.
In the end, Deacon Rusmisel decided he wanted scientists to better understand the disease that took his life. He donated his body to Emory University.
“He was that kind of guy. He was a very giving person. He’d give anything he had away,” said Deacon Gaudin.
Memorial contributions can be made to the Alzheimer’s Association, Southeast Tennessee Chapter, 735 Broad St., Chattanooga, TN 37402; or to Alexian Brothers Valley Residence Alzheimer’s Care, 1164 Mountain Creek Road, Chattanooga, TN 37415.