Some individuals inspire others by the way they live their lives or by the selfless acts demonstrated in their everyday actions.
Trevor Russell has done just that with his beautiful but simple birdhouses that can be found in not only Central Oregon, but in many places throughout the country. Russell's story of why he worked so diligently on these birdhouses caught the attention of local author Rick Steber, who later wrote a non-fiction book, "A Promise Given."
The book covered the remarkable story of Russell and his special relationship with his late wife, Vivian, who loved bluebirds.
"I love the life I'm living — which isn't very exciting, but I feel like it's a purpose," remarked Russell of his life after losing his wife.
With those words, he explained how the story began, and how he came about building and placing birdhouses for bluebirds throughout the country.
"My wife was very impressed with bluebirds, from the time that I knew her," said Russell.
He and Vivian were married in 1946. He recalled that his wife had many things in their house decorated with bluebirds. When they retired, they bought 1,000 acres out by Post, in an isolated area where they built a house.
"One of the first things that happened, when she got out of the car and down on the ground, was she just screamed, "there are bluebirds here!" recalled Russell.
He built some birdhouses around their property to encourage the bluebirds to stay in the area. Shortly afterwards, Vivian developed Parkinson's disease. She lived an active life for 23 years, and the couple traveled to New Zealand, Hawaii and Yuma, Arizona. They bought a motorhome and spent six months out of the year in Yuma. Eventually, her disease progressed, and she became confined to a wheelchair.
"But still, she was very outgoing and enjoyed people and enjoyed company, and people were comfortable around her all the time," explained Russell.
He said that one day after entertaining some friends during their time in Yuma, his wife had gone shopping for some new outfits with a friend. The couple came back to their place to get ready for dinner at their clubhouse. Before dinner, Vivian took a nap, and when he went in to check on her, his wife was very nostalgic and asked to snuggle and visit before dinner.
"She said, "I have been thinking that when I am gone, I hope that you will continue to build bluebird houses and see what you can do to contribute to help bluebirds continue and grow in Oregon." I said, "Yes, I will. I like to make the houses and I will do that."'
At that time, he had made approximately 50 birdhouses. Later that evening, his wife passed away. The last thing that he remembered was his promise to her.
"I think that it helped me a whole bunch and enabled me to live without her, because I was doing what she wanted me to do," he said with great emotion.
Since that time, Russell has continued his mission to keep his promise to Vivian and place the bluebird houses in different locations in Oregon. As of the end of July, he has completed more than 4,500 bird houses.
"It's hard to get out of Prineville without finding a bunch of my birdhouses on fence posts," he noted. "I try to find a place where there is water and green grass, because I know they like that."
Russell has only seen the bluebirds use the birdhouses placed on fenceposts. He has placed them by the Lone Pine area, Post, Wildcat Campground, Steins Pillar, George Millican Highway, and close to the Bend/Burns Highway. He has also seen them in Arizona and over parts of the country. He has replaced some that were taken down and replaced them — even multiple times.
"That's Ok, that's why I am doing this — I am trying to get people to put bird houses up, so whomever stole it I hope they put it up," he said of the few missing birdhouses.
Russell, now 94 years old, relies on someone to take him to his locations to check on his birdhouses. He remains busy with his passion and can be found in his shop, building the latest birdhouse — which he numbers on the bottom along with his initials on the front. His creations are distinctive, with their shape and simplistic beauty.
They are a gentle reminder of a man's undying love for his late wife, and an important promise made more than 18 years ago.
Interested in a birdhouse from Trevor Russell?
In return for a photo for his scrapbook after it is installed, Russell will donate a birdhouse as materials are available to local residents. Call 541-223-8152
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