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Paul Rusch, Missionary

From Kentucky to Kiyosato. In this Et Cetera, how a twist of fate made one Louisvillian a hero in Japan … and left the Commonwealth’s cultural imprint in the Far East.

Dr. Paul Frederick Rusch was born in 1897 in Fairmont, Indiana. He grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, where his father was a grocer.

In 1925, Rusch was scheduled to go to Jerusalem as a volunteer for the YMCA but he went to Japan instead – to help rebuild a YMCA facility that was destroyed in an earthquake.

Paul Rusch fell in love with Japan and decided to stay, finding his calling as an Episcopal missionary working to improve the economic and social development of the country.

His passion helped him build schools, churches and a retreat (Seisen Ryo) for his students in Kiyosato, in the shadow of Mt. Fuji. He also introduced new farming methods to the region – including the use of John Deere tractors.

In addition, the Japanese dubbed Paul Rusch the “Father of American Football” because he’s credited with bringing the sport to their country.

Rusch left Japan to serve the U.S. in World War II but when the war ended he returned to the country, where he lived for the remainder of his life.

One of his most significant accomplishments was the founding of the Kiyosato Educational Experiment Project (KEEP). Through faith, volunteerism and cross-cultural understanding, this service organization helped to teach the Japanese how to rebuild after the war. KEEP is still active today.

Paul Rush died in 1979, but he’s still remembered in the Land of the Rising Sun.

The Annual Yatsugatake County Fair Paul Rusch Festival draws around 50,000 visitors each October, where you’ll find Kentucky culture from Bluegrass to crafts.

More information:

  • Paul Rusch taught economics at Rikkyo University (St. Paul's) in Tokyo.
  • Seisen Ryo was built in 1938, when Rusch was 40 years-old.
  • Paul Rusch was a member of Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters staff.
  • Today a statue of Paul Rusch faces Mt. Fuji; the house he lived in is now a museum.

Footage for this Et Cetera is from KET’s "Kentucky Life" Program 1216. You can watch the complete story online for more details about Paul Rusch.

Program 406
Louisville's "Fame" school and memories of some of its brightest stars; see what's cooking with the Bon Vivant Savant dining club; and the story of a Louisville native who found his life’s work in the Far East and became a national hero to the Japanese. Plus, green living with Merridian Home Furnishings. (#406)