Leigh was part of our high school youth group. I asked her to share some memories from her experience with Todd Bussey as our youth minister. I knew she would have some stories to tell. I’m glad I asked. Because she delivered!
Thanks for sharing, Leigh!
I met Todd Bussey 30 years ago when I first went to youth group on a Sunday night in 1988.
Young, energetic, silly, larger than life in personality and stature…he drew us all in and, quite frankly, made us a family.
He often met us for chips and salsa at Hacienda after youth group and made the mistake of showing us where he lived. Now, I personally never used a credit card to break into his apartment, but I was often sitting on his living room couch when he came home…along with anywhere from 5-20 other kids.
Todd arranged goofy skits and fun outings. He encouraged us to get messy and let go of the typical high-school drama. Along with Scott & Corri Brooks and Brian & Dawn Gower, he put up with constant attempts to get him off-topic, countless shenanigans, and some very reckless new drivers in the church parking lot. He moved to a new apartment, and he didn’t even bother to lock the door.
He took us to Summer in the Son and led us to think maybe we’d go to Kentucky Christian College someday. He forced us to stop at Cracker Barrel whenever we were traveling. He kicked us out of the church van if we complained about his driving. He wore a skin-tight Batman costume and climbed down from the balcony in the sanctuary. We were all super-proud that we were the ones who got to go back home with the hilarious guy who started each morning there with a grin.
I knew he loved everyone, but he found a way to make each of us feel special.
I witnessed his true caring, and I know he spent long nights with a few people who needed him. He sent me flowers to celebrate my birthday when he found out it had been overlooked one year by some of my peers. It was an endearing gesture I have not forgotten all this time later.
When we graduated from high school, he came to our open houses, let us know what we’d meant to the youth group, and prayed over us. Because of the bond he’d fostered between us, we kids kept in touch with each other even though we all went our separate ways…and then when we came home from college on breaks, we now went to his house on Lincoln Avenue. The door was always unlocked.
He sent me Audio Adrenaline’s new CD when I graduated from college (a nod to our time at SITS when they used to be called A-180). I got my first teaching job, and I still came home on breaks to visit. He counseled me through the break-up of a serious boyfriend…and then called my now husband by the old boyfriend’s name at our wedding rehearsal. (He managed to use the correct name at the wedding, thankfully!)
He was just “Todd – my old youth group minister…”
…until a family crisis made him “Todd – the person you call when everything is falling apart.” At a moment’s notice, he simply showed up and was the example of Christ we needed at a time of true despair.
It’s pretty powerful to realize that God placed this man in my 12-year-old life so that he could be a source of strength in my adult one.
And my story, of needing Todd as a grown-up, is not unique. That youth group family still keeps in touch, and I know he’s been there for others during times of confusion, pain, sorrow, and deep loss.
When Todd left Evansville this morning to move his dear family to Florida, he left behind a building that housed a ministry that touched my life — and that’s been weirdly hard for me to come to terms with. However, the friendship, admiration, and deep connection remain…no matter what state Todd lives in.
I’ll still celebrate his February 26th birthday that he shares with another important man in my life…my dad.
I’ll still reminisce with my parents about the time the entire extended Bussey family stopped by our cottage in Michigan just to say hi.
I’ll still send him our Christmas card — how did that goofy girl end up a teacher, wife, and mom of 4 kids?
I’ll still text him selfies of me and random (or maybe not so random?) people that show up in my life who happen to know the legend that is Todd.
I’ll still seek his advice for big decisions and his support in times of trouble.
I’ll still fondly remember youth group on Sunday nights.
Love you, L. Todd!
Leigh Blackburn Stella
Perhaps as a testament to the positive effect that Todd had on the lives of those young kids in the late 80s, you might not be surprised to find that he moves to his new position in Florida at a church under the direction of Jason Cullum, a Cullen Avenue Christian Church High School Youth Group Class of ‘92 grad like myself. I’m sure his new flock will enjoy these throwback photos of their new/our old partners in crime.