Birmingham native, Anne Bruno LaRussa is the founder of “Oasis,” a non-profit organization that provides mental health counseling to women and children in the Birmingham area.
Anne Bruno LaRussa graduated from the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 1993 with a master’s degree in counselor education and two years later, founded “Oasis”, an organization that mainly serves less privileged families in the Birmingham area.
While being involved with “Oasis,” Anne Bruno LaRussa has also become involved with writing. She debuted a new book in early 2017 based on her family life, struggles with mental health and life experiences.
“The Knitter” mainly focuses on Anne Bruno LaRussa’s paternal family tree and growing up as an Italian American in Birmingham. Daughter of Joe Bruno, founder of the grocery chain Bruno’s, Anne Bruno LaRussa has fond memories of growing up.
“All of my memories [of childhood] were about family because my father was such a strong figure in our family; he was someone who was a model for our children.” Anne Bruno LaRussa said.
She is deeply in touch with her Italian roots and cites food as a way that she is able to connect to her culture as well as pass it along to the next generations.
Growing up, Anne Bruno LaRussa recalls her Sicilian grandparents and the emphasis they put on food whether that be how they prepare it, serve it or passing down recipes to the next generations.
“Their way of cooking was very important to them so, of course, that’s what I learned,” she said.
Anne Bruno LaRussa also recalls her memories as a child at the St. Joseph Altar during World War II. With most of her male relatives out fighting in the war, Anne Bruno LaRussa, only about 5 years old, remembers helping her grandmother serve the poor of Birmingham.
“When I think of food, I think of big family dinners, and when I cooked for my own family, I take a lot of pride in my meals,” she said.
Anne Bruno LaRussa is adamant that the cultural values that were instilled in her when she was a child are just as important and something she is proud to pass down to her children and grandchildren.
“I think of the values of our family that begin with my father that
Her son, John LaRussa, adds how the family’s tradition of food has helped keep the family together and has helped them better connect with their heritage.
“It’s so easy to just go pick up a jar of pasta sauce and put it on the stove top,” he said.
John LaRussa, who will come to Auburn University in the coming months to talk to Italian classes about his family’s story, believes the more traditional Italian of pasta sauce can be superior in many ways.
“We’ve started to do the homemade spaghetti sauce even though it does take a longer time to get it right,” he said.
From growing up during World War II, watching her father manage a successful grocery chain, raising six children, fighting a mental battle with depression, earning a master’s in counseling and, now, writing her personal memoir, Anne Bruno LaRussa has certainly done a lot with her life.
Through her upbringing as an Italian American, the values that were instilled in her and the passing down of the many cultural traditions, LaRussa is certainly a family woman – proud in her heritage, children and the life that she has lived so far.