By Michele Vowell
New Era Staff Writer
Editor's Note: Nearly 15 years ago, in October 2004, the Kentucky New Era published "QUADFAMILY: A day with the Russell quadruplets." The following article catches up with the foursome, who are now high school graduates.
Aubrey. Turner. Boone. Burke.
Born together more than 18 years ago, the Russell quadruplets of Watertown, Tennessee, will soon spread their wings and fly into the world with individual goals and aspirations.
The foursome graduated from HomeLife Academy, a homeschool program. They participated in the Home Educators Association of Rutherford Tennessee commencement ceremony May 18 at New Vision Baptist Church in Murfreesboro with their parents, Hopkinsville natives Steve and Barrett Russell, and grandparents, Sam and Dennie Burke, Lee and Gail Russell and Vicki Russell, all of Hopkinsville, in attendance.
"I think we're all excited, but it's also a little scary because we've never really been apart," Turner Russell said in a phone interview Wednesday about graduating. "We've been homeschooled so it's definitely going to be an experience."
More than 20 years ago, Steve and Barrett Russell were unsure they would have children of their own. They tried fertility drug treatments, but before Barrett was able to conceive, Steve was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in June 1999. After chemotherapy and radiation, he was declared in remission in December 1999.
The couple resumed fertility drug treatments and Barrett became pregnant. The quadruplets were delivered at 33 weeks on Sept. 4, 2000, at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. All the children weighed less than 4 pounds each.
"I think they're incredibly strong people,"
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Turner said of her parents. "Looking back, I don't know how they did it with four little ones all at one time."
"And four teenagers," Aubrey added.
Growing up, each Russell child pursued their own interests while remaining close with each other.
As children, Aubrey and Turner took tap dance classes together. As teenagers, both young ladies work as waitresses in a Lebanon restaurant. Since they were 13, Boone and Burke have worked together on local farms. When Boone played wide receiver for the football team, Burke was a sideline manager for the team. Their sisters were cheerleaders.
"It was never boring. There was always something to do because there was four of us," Boone said. "Even now, we always have each other's backs. We're all really close. We're not alone in anything."
When the quadruplets were 7, they welcomed brother Graham to the family. Brother Hatchett followed a few years later.
"We had each other, but we're all the same age so we always wanted a younger sibling," Boone said. "Getting older, it's great being able to teach them."
Boone shares his love of football with 11-year-old Graham, who was once the waterboy for his big brother's team.
Graham said Boone is teaching him "how to catch the ball off my chest and how to cut on the field."
"He can play wide receiver, corner and safety," Boone said.
While Burke shares his light-hearted, comedic traits with the youngest Russell, their mother said Hatchett, 8, and Turner are best friends.
Although living in a large family is normal for the youngest Russell boys, Graham admits "it's pretty crazy."
Spreading their wings
This fall the Class of 2019 graduates will attend college within a one-hour drive of their Watertown home. All four are "A" students, each earning college scholarships.
"We're all close to our younger brothers so it would be really hard to go far away," said Turner, who is pursuing a career as a family and children's minister at Cumberland University in Lebanon.
"My love for children probably came from my great-granny Rosie. She was a teacher her entire life," she said. "I've always loved children. I've always loved teaching them the Bible. Those go hand-in-hand. I also loved going on mission trips."
Aubrey also will attend Cumberland University to study photography, while continuing to work at her photography business, Rose Garden Images.
"We tried to sync up our classes so we could have classes together," Aubrey said. "I've wanted to be a photographer since I was little. When I was 7 or 8, I asked my parents for a camera ... I always wanted (my business) to be a reflection of God because this is my ministry."
Boone plans to attend Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville on an ROTC Minuteman Scholarship as part of the Army National Guard. He's following in the footsteps of his father, who served in the U.S. Navy.
"Seeing my dad and other family members serve in the military, that's something I always wanted to do as well," he said.
Boone plans to study criminal justice and eventually serve the community as a police officer.
Burke is attending Volunteer State Community College in Gallatin to pursue a career as a paramedic/firefighter. He's currently a fire explorer, which is a junior firefighter program in Mount Juliet and Franklin.
Their parents believe they are uniquely suited for the career paths they have chosen.
"I am so incredibly proud of the adults that they have become and the paths they are seeking," Barrett said. "They have really diligently sought what God wanted in their lives. We have supported them in that. I'm really proud of them."
When the Russell teens were 4 years old, Steve began seeing some personality and character traits in each individual child.
"Aubrey is the leader. She's pretty much always been the leader of the bunch," Steve said, in a 2004 interview with the New Era. "Turner is the intellect, bookworm and talker. Boone's sort of the daredevil. He'll jump off anything; do pretty much anything. Burke is just non-stop. He never stops moving. He's in continuous motion."
Barrett said her husband's analysis of their children nearly 15 years ago holds true today.
"Those are all completely accurate," Barrett said. "Aubrey is very much the leader, but we've always said this, Turner is the mouthpiece. Boone has no fear. He'll jump off of anything. We were terrified when he started playing tackle football. Burke, that's why firefighting is so perfect for him, he loves the adrenaline."
As the Russell quadruplets expand their horizons, their parents wish for them to live the life God has for them.
"God has wonderful plans for these young men and women and I pray they accept those opportunities and live life fully and joyfully, always accepting God's calling and serving others in everything they do," Steve said.
"For me, emotionally, it's really bittersweet," Barrett said. "I know that God has got his hand on each one of them. I know that my children know and love the Lord and are seeking to serve him. As a mom, I can't ask for anything more than that."
Reach Michele Vowell at 270-887-3242 or firstname.lastname@example.org.