Russell’s Ramblings

Those who do not hear the music might think the dancer mad

God Bless You Mrs Trumbell

The following column was written for a special publication called Flame. The contributors to this monthly online publication are business leaders and coaches in the Lake Norman region. I am fortunate to be a contributor.  Below is my column about a woman who used Faith to influence my life – Mrs Trumbell, a Bible Teacher who visited Finley Road Elementary School in Rock Hill, SC when I was a little boy. This article was written Pre-Pandemic.

A couple of weeks ago, the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce hosted a luncheon which was keynoted by Mark Johnson, North Carolina’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. He shared what our public schools are doing to get students “Career Ready” as they look at two- or four-year institutions. According to Mark, some students are pursuing apprenticeship programs, while others may elect to go straight into the workforce.   The Chamber also used the luncheon to recognize three Lake Norman teachers as the Outstanding Educators of the Year.

Mark Johnson

Mark Johnson, N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction speaks to Lake Norman Chamber members on what teachers are doing to get today’s students “Career Ready.” Photo by John McHugh, Ocaid Photography

As we sat at our tables during lunch, invariably the subject of “Which teacher influenced you the most came up.” I listened intently as several business owners and managers shared their stories, recalling fondly, how this special instructor significantly touched their life.

Leaving the luncheon, someone stopped to ask me, “Was there a special teacher in my life?”  To be sure, there are quite a few memorable mentors who have made an indelible impression. But the individual who comes to mind was not an educator in the conventional sense. She wasn’t paid to do her job, yet she had one of the most fulfilling roles any teacher was ever provided.

When I was in third grade, a retired lady would visit our elementary school once a month.  She would hand out little red Bibles to the children and spend half an hour telling Bible stories.  Our parents had to sign an approval form before we could attend her story telling sessions.  Those who did not want to participate could go to the back of the room and take a nap or play with some of the games and puzzles kept there.  However, many of us chose to listen to Mrs. Trumbell’s stories of David and Goliath and King Solomon’s Mighty Temple.

Today, fifty years later, children do not have the choice between taking a nap and Bible stories.  Religious displays have been banned in public buildings and on municipal grounds. As we approach the Easter Season, you are not likely to see offensive crosses to some in a retail store, but there will be bags of candy and plenty of baskets for the Easter Bunny.

Prayer in school, invocations at sporting events, and references to the Ten Commandments are being challenged by the ACLU and those who are offended at the thought of religion threatening their freedoms.  Separation of church and state is their battle cry.

A few weeks ago, I attended a meeting in which the discussion centered on the declining work ethic in today’s employees.  The Internet is filled with marketing campaigns by major retailers with strong sexual images targeting millennials and we continue to read heartbreaking stories committed against children by their parents.

The state of our workforce, our families, and our communities tell me that people like Mrs. Trumbell are sorely missed.  I agree you cannot legislate morality. However, we as parents, community leaders, and volunteers can work with children and help them understand and appreciate simple values.  The education the children receive at home, through the examples set by parents, are stronger than any instruction they can receive at school.

An issue I am very concerned about is the very bitter, divisive way we treat each other in social media.  Friends, coworkers, and family members are using adjectives such as racist, sexist or perhaps just ignorant, if someone dare disagree on political policies or candidates.  Perhaps a greater concern for me personally, is what impact does that have on our children – the generation which will succeed us tomorrow?

The students educated today are the business and community leaders of tomorrow.  I applaud our elected leadership who insist God still has a place in our society.  To whom we pray is less important than the fact we should pause each day and give thanks for the blessings from above. We are all so fortunate to live in a nation founded on strong principles and paid for by the blood, toil, and sweat of the generations who came before us.  We should never forget the sacrifices made by so many so that we could enjoy the privileges we have today.  And let us pause and give thanks for these blessings, while America still has a prayer.

W.E. “Bill” Russell CCE, IOM

President & CEO

Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce

 

 

April 7, 2020 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Leadership Lessons, Personal, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Fighting Chance

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Scarlett and Mike LaPierre.

Last month, business, community, and elected leaders gathered along with health care officials at the opening of Atrium Health Levine Children’s Pediatric Emergency Room at Lake Norman. The new facility located at exit 25 in Huntersville is a 24/7 emergency room specifically trained in caring for children.

The highlight of the morning was hearing from the parent of a young baby who was evidence of a death-defying miracle – Scarlett LaPierre. Mike LaPierre, the general manager of Skybrook Golf Club in Huntersville, shared how Scarlett was delivered by a C-section at 26 weeks, weighing less than a pound and a half. Two weeks after her premature birth, Scarlett developed a massive clot inside her heart.

Fortunately, the doctors at Levine Children’s Hospital had advanced knowledge of a treatment that few babies in the world had ever been exposed. A new drug had recently been developed called “TPA” which busted the clot but not without concerns of side effects which threatened her life.

The parents Mike and Tracey LaPierre had been prepared to say goodbye to their precious little girl named after Scarlett O’Hara from “Gone with the Wind”. Much like the character for whom she was named, little Scarlett was a fighter and survived the ordeal.

Mike LaPierre credited the team at Levine for both finding and treating the clot. There had only been 10 similar documented cases published worldwide, so the odds had been heavily stacked against her. Had it not been for the outstanding physicians and resources of Levine, little Scarlett would have been another statistic.  Instead, she is a miracle growing healthier each day.

Listening to Scarlett’s story, I thought about a visit I took to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the Medical University at South Carolina in 1993.  I had recently been asked to take part in the Blue-Ribbon Commission Partnership with the March of Dimes.  The commission was an effort by the healthcare advocate to engage national civic organizations in their fight against birth defects.

I was 34 at the time and chairman of the board of the largest young people’s service organization in the country – the United States Junior Chamber. We toured several wings of the hospital before one of the physicians took me down a darkened corridor. There to the right and left were rows and rows of incubators with little premature babies who could have easily fit in the palm of your hand. I was told many of these babies were “crack babies” born to mothers addicted to cocaine. Others were the result of alcohol, heroin or other narcotics.

I stood at the glass and looked down at one of the babies. Bright pink, this little “preemie’s” eyes were closed tightly as they fought for each labored breath. I remember asking naively about the parents as the female physician looked at me, paused, and carefully chose her words which have haunted me since.

“In most cases these little babies are born to young mothers exposed to drugs such as barbiturates or heroin,” she replied. I asked what would become of them? The young physician looked away and then turned to me and replied, “Most will not likely survive the week. Those that do, may have cognitive or developmental issues.”

I didn’t dare ask another question. Instead, l looked back down, focusing on the little baby whose chest rose slowly up and down. His fingers were clenched tightly and every soften, seemed to take a wild swing through the air.

Today, we are so fortunate to have a facility like Levine Children’s hospital here at the lake. As a community, we are blessed to have outstanding providers like Atrium, Novant, and Lake Norman Regional Medical to take care of our employees, families, and children.

Listening to Mike Lapierre who held baby Scarlett tight in his arms, I couldn’t help but think of that young “preemie” almost three decades ago.

No child should be left alone in the darkness of that room, with no one to love and no one to love them back. It is important we educate young expectant mothers on lifestyle decisions and as importantly, we as a community need to invest in our healthcare, making sure each child has that fighting chance. It’s a fight we can win together and a fight we dare not lose.

Bill Russell

January 23, 2020 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Personal, Social Causes, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Business of Politics

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W.E. “Bill” Russell, CCE, IOM

This month marks my 25th year with the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce….a milestone from which to reflect on the past, but also look toward the future. Going through my files the other day, I found some letters we wrote to then N.C. Senator Fountain Odom in Raleigh years ago.
Most Chamber members join our association because of the many networking opportunities or for the chance to improve their marketing, management, or sales skills through our many seminars and programs. But a very important role the Lake Norman Chamber plays is being the voice of local businesses whether that’s at Town Hall, in Raleigh, or in the Halls of Congress.

In 1996, a group of our chamber members went to Raleigh to meet with Senator Odom regarding legislation he had sponsored. His bill would change the way our towns and cities annex. Our North Mecklenburg towns were opposed to the bill. While that may not sound like a business issue, the growth of our towns is very important to the overall vitality and health of our region. The chamber played, and still maintains, a key role in the economic well-being of the Lake Norman region.

It was my first trip to Raleigh and after a short wait we were escorted in to see the Senator. There was some small talk before we got down to the real reason we were there.  Senator Odom saw me looking at the beautiful ornate humidor sitting on his desk. He interrupted the Chamber Board Chair, Scott Lawrence, then opened the box and asked if we smoked. Indicating that we did smoke cigars on occasion, the Senator offered each of us a cigar, and took one for himself. He then leaned back in his chair, clipped the end of the cigar, and lit it up to my astonishment.

“Are you going to smoke that in here sir?” I asked, rather aghast. Senator Odom replied, “Son, this is Raleigh and North Carolina was built on tobacco.”

Senator Odom then asked if we were aware he had sponsored the Bill in question. “Yes sir,” I replied.  Odom took a few puffs on his cigar and with a glint in his eye said, “Boys, don’t worry.  That bill has been sent down to the rules committee where it will stay parked till we adjourn.” His language was clear – the bill would die in committee. Senator Odom sponsored legislation that pleased one group of supporters and had his own Bill sent to die in committee to take care of the other side.  In the end, nothing happened.

As we were walking back down the hallway, Charles Knox, our Chamber’s public policy chair at the time, looked at me and said, “Welcome to Raleigh.”

Over the course of the last 25 years, the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce has become very effective in advocating for our members. I could cite hundreds of cases where our chamber’s voice helped this region….whether it was assisting local businesses with zoning issues, overturning the county’s faulty property tax reval a few years ago, or bringing new health care facilities our classrooms our way. Statehouse Rediced

We successfully lobbied for new schools and expanded roads and stood up to Bond Packages which did not support our community. The Lake Norman Chamber led an effort to get a multi-jurisdictional transportation access management study when that type of study had never been commissioned before. We were able to get road improvements that had been denied to one of our towns by NC DOT.

But it’s the lesson I learned early from a freshman NC House Member I will always cherish the most.

On another visit to Raleigh, Representative Drew Saunders told us the greatest lesson he had ever learned was, “Never burn a bridge – whether that’s in business or politics! The person on the other side of the issue today could be one of your biggest allies’ tomorrow.”

In some respect Raleigh, much like Lake Norman has changed quite a bit in 25 years. Tobacco may have built North Carolina but it’s been replaced by finance and technology. But some of the games played decades ago are still going on, and not just in our state capital, but in Washington DC as well.

As we cross the bridge into our next decade, I am quite confident of one thing though – working hard, working smart and working together there is nothing that we cannot accomplish. Happy 2020!

Bill Russell

January 13, 2020 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Politics, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Guiding Light – Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas!

ChristmasThe Christmas season has always been my favorite part of the year. I cherish time spent with close friends and family and love all of the festivities and holiday decor that it brings. For many of us, this is the time to pause our hectic schedules and remember the true meaning of Christmas, and also reflect upon the past as we look to the future.

The past 11 months have been very challenging for me. I lost my father very suddenly in January. Dad wasn’t just a parent. He was my guiding star, my mentor, my confidant and the person I have strived most to emulate in my professional and civic career. Certainly, my Mom played a critical role in my life raising my brother, sister and me. She purchased most of our clothes if she didn’t make them herself. Then she stitched them back together when we wore them out.

Mom nursed us when we were sick, comforted us when we were in distress, and loved on us even when we were bad. (Okay, mostly it was me who was bad!) And while I love my Mom to the moon and back, I was always a daddy’s boy. I admired how involved he was in our community. As a kid, I was so proud watching him play ball, stand up and give a talk in front of the church, and when called upon – serve as the president or chairman of so many different local civic groups.

Later in life, when I led some of the same organizations that my Father guided in prior years, he counseled me. Perhaps his greatest advice when I was faced with several controversial decisions was, “Do the right thing no matter how unpopular it may be. Don’t make a decision in the moment because you’re going to remember it for a lifetime.” He also shared, “We do not choose when we set an example!”

Dad was never an executive with a chamber of commerce, though he was involved with the Rock Hill Chamber. But he recognized how much I enjoyed civic service and encouraged me to pursue a career in association management. This year marks 27 years at the helm of a chamber of commerce helping businesses grow and prosper while making it a great community to live, work, and play.

The hardest thing this year has been going through the boxes and boxes of personal papers, mementos, pictures, and notes at our family farm. I thought I was a pack rat until I started going through Dad’s closets and storage areas and emptying the attic at his home. Among the many letters and papers I found was a copy of a note he wrote to my brother’s daughter who was joining the church. In the letter he cited two guiding principles he relied on. One was a scripture verse from the New Testament, Matthew 5 Chapter 16; “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”Tree 3

The other was a line from the Jaycee Creed: “Service to humanity is the best work of life.” As I continued to read the letter, tears welled up in my eyes as I could hear his voice. The cadence of his words spoke boldly of his thoughts. The thoughts speaking to intention, and the intentions which were louder than the words. As I set the box of letters aside, I thought about how Dad’s life was a candle which burned brightly against the darkness. Before his flame flickered out too soon at the age of 81, he completed a lifetime of work, and left his community much better than he found it.

It was late as I finished for the night. I walked outside on the back deck and looked up at the twinkling stars.  The moon was full, and I peered across the pasture to the old ragged barn silhouetted against the horizon.

I couldn’t help but think in this Christmas Season what those travelers from the East thought two thousand years ago as they followed their star. Those three wise men who left behind their life and followed the light. The journey they made and the legacy we remember.

As I stood in the crisp country air, I heard the sound of a young calf piercing the darkness and felt a warm rush against the nighttime chill. It was as if my Grandmother was throwing a shawl around my shoulder to keep me warm….as she had many times when I was a child. In that moment, I could feel the love that surrounded me and the lessons that Dad left. Among them,  “It’s not just about the destination we seek but the journey along the way … and the many lives we touch getting there.”

In this holiest of seasons, I wish each and every one of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Bill Russell

December 23, 2019 Posted by | Personal, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Words do Matter

Like many of you, I have been following the back and forth antics in Washington between President Donald Trump and our leaders in Congress. The news media, Facebook, and Twitter are all inundated with pundits, politicians and sometimes “Friends” weighing in on who’s gone too far, who’s to blame, and just how wrong the other side is on the issue of the day.

amRegardless of what political party with which you may affiliate – you likely believe it’s the other political party and its leadership who could or would be leading this country in a direction which will surely spell doom for this and future generations.

I think both sides have gone way too far in this war of words and political theater. The President and Members of Congress may be playing to their political base, but it is not leadership and certainly not the example we need to send to our young people.

I am reminded of the adage – “Leadership is doing the right thing when no one is watching.”

As a kid growing up in Rock Hill, South Carolina, I still recall the taunts and jeers from other children who picked on me for being a small, thin, and somewhat puny little kid. Today, that’s called bullying and bullies are often harshly rebuked. Back then – it was toughen up or fight back.

Their harsh words stung and holding back the tears that welled up in my eyes, I countered the familiar refrain, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but your words will never hurt me!” But they did hurt… badly, and while time has faded the scars, the memories still linger.

Our nation’s history is filled with patriotism and prejudice. There is much to take pride in and much to give pause over. The indomitable spirit as Americans stormed the beaches at Normandy, led the breakthroughs in technology, medicine, and space exploration and emerged as the preeminent superpower and beacon of Democracy is the envy of much of the world. Conversely, the treatment of African Americans, Native Americans, and Japanese Americans are stains on a glorious landscape of unprecedented achievement.

Our political leadership toss around words like “racism” and “sexist” so cavalierly that it begins to lose its impact. If someone disagrees in a partisan or philosophical discussion, then they must simply be insensitive or just plain ignorant.Pic A National

This past August (August 6th) an event took taking place across this country.  No, it wasn’t a protest or Antifa demonstration. Instead, it was an opportunity for our local citizens, and in particular families, to participate in National Night Out. The community event is a night where local police and public safety officers, including our firefighters and EMT’s, come together each year with our community, as we work to create safer communities for our families and businesses.

While we may not be able to change the tone in Washington, together we can set an example at home with our children – the generation who will inherit this nation – and say Thank You to the Men and Women who bravely serve and protect us each and every day.  If you missed this year’s event – it will take place again the first Tuesday in August 2020.

President Ronald Reagan said, “It’s not enough to be equal in the eyes of God, we must be equal in the eyes of each other.” That message can begin one family and one community at a time, and it can start with us here at Lake Norman!

Words can hurt – or they can heal. Perhaps we all need to ask ourselves one thing when we prepare to lay our head on the pillow tonight – “What did our own words do today?”

Bill Russell

September 18, 2019 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Politics, Social Causes, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Promise to Keep

Bill on Dynamite

Bill Jr. on Dynamite with William E Russell Sr. – 1966

When I was just a young boy, I would ride my little pony from my Grandparent’s house to my Great-Grandfather’s home. The small white house sat perched high on a hill overlooking the lush pastureland where cattle grazed lazily on those warm summer days.

Great-Granddaddy Adkins would always give me with one piece of “Bazooka Joe Bubble Gum” for the pony ride over to see him. It hardly seems now that such a small token was incentive enough for a little boy, but at the time, it was a coveted treasure and well worth the ride. When he passed away in 1966, the old home which had served our family so well, stood vacant, a silent sentinel guarding the memories of lives lived well.

I found out some time later that the old farm house, which initially had been a log cabin held together by timber and mud, had gone back many generations. It had been deeded to my ancestors during the time of King George of England.

Unfortunately, after Granddaddy Adkin’s death, the proud old manor fell into disrepair and eventually time and mother nature took their toll. The roof sagged, its once sturdy walls collapsed, and a few decades ago it was torn down before the cattle, or worse, a family member or hunter, was hurt venturing into the failing structure.  A house which welcomed back Revolutionary and Civil War Veterans, providing a warm shelter and home for my family for generations, lost its battle against time.

Many Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce Members may not know of the Chamber’s commitment to our historical and cultural past. In 1997, I was contacted by Reverend Jeff Lowrance about joining the Board of The Hugh Torance House and Store in Huntersville.  Rev. Lowrance knew of my passion for history and the store is the oldest standing attraction of such designation in North Carolina.  It also has special interest to me, given its historical place in regional commerce and trade in Mecklenburg County, and specifically Lake Norman.

I have served as President and chaired the Hugh Torance Board since 2007 and all 23 of the Chamber’s Leadership Lake Norman classes have toured the local treasure as has our Junior Leadership program. In addition, the Chamber’s Young Professionals organization recently conducted a very successful fundraiser for the repairs of the House & Store. The Huntersville Town Board has also generously supported efforts to preserve this precious piece of our history and a Grant submission is being reviewed by Lowes Company.

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Bill Russell leads a tour of the Hugh Torance House and Store to Leadership Lake Norman participants.

Mark Twain once said, “We can’t know where we’re going until we know where we’ve been!” While our Chamber is not only committed to the economic well being of our community and region – we will continue to work to enhance our quality of life and protect the cultural and historical past which has made the Lake Norman region a great place to live, work, and visit!

I have watched a piece of my own family history return to the dust from which it came.  It is important that we do not let a true community treasure like the Hugh Torance House & Store meet the same fate. If we do not owe it to the people who settled here, then it is certainly a responsibility we have to the generation who will inherit our community and region next. A debt to our past and a promise to keep for our future!

Bill Russell

September 16, 2019 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Personal, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Making the list

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Steve Gilliland, Motivational Speaker and Best Selling author at the Lake Norman Chamber Small Business Event

This afternoon, while waiting for an appointment, I picked up a recent copy of TIME Magazine’s List of the 100 Most Influential People in America.  I was disappointed again to see that I wasn’t listed. Actually no one I know personally was listed but as every seasoned South Carolina Gamecock fan will attest to – There’s always next Year!

It did make me think about something motivational speaker Steve Gilliland spoke about at last month’s Small Business Luncheon. He asked the 150+ people who attended the event to create a list of what five people (outside of your family) have most influenced your life and left that indelible mark.

It didn’t take me long to ponder. In 1985, I met a man who profoundly shaped who I am and what I do right down to the core. Ray Parlier certainly didn’t look the part. Ray, with ears two sizes bigger than his head and cheeks that always seemed flushed, was the picture of a country boy right out of Bristol, Tennessee. He also had a stutter when he got excited, which seemed to be most of the time!

Put Ray in a room of 100 people and he might just be the 100th person you’d pick to lead your organization or business. However, leave him in the room alone with the group and come back an hour later, and he’d be the one that they would all be huddling around.

Ray began a career as a trainer for the Furman University Paladin Football Team. He went on to be an assistant coach before becoming Athletic Director for the team that won a National Championship.

When he wasn’t coaching, he put in time with a civic group called Jaycees where he led

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Ray Parlier and Bill Russell at the 72nd Annual Meeting – US Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees)

our organization as state president. I had the great  fortune to serve as his Vice President. Ray loved to cite Vince Lombardi quotes and he had us all memorizing the lines that became our mantra – none more important than “Winning is not a sometimes thing…. It’ s an all the time thing…”

As any great coach does – Ray pushed us to excel and reach past the limitations we imposed upon ourselves.  We set goals together, but Ray always seemed to squeeze more out of me than I thought possible.  But perhaps the biggest lesson I learned from Ray was to love your people. If you demonstrate to the people you lead how much you care about them – really care – then, they will help you reach the goals you set, no matter how difficult the task.

This month, the Lake Norman Chamber will hear from just such a man, the new head football coach at UNC Charlotte.  Coach Will Healy, in his first year with the Forty-niners, will discuss how leadership is not about a title or designation, its about the impact you make on the people you lead – whether in the boardroom or the gridiron.

Like Coach Parlier, Coach Healy is a Champion having served as Team Captain on the University of Richmond 2008 FCS National Championship Team.

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Coach Will Healy – UNC Charlotte 49er Football Coach

When I was elected National President of the United States Jaycees, Ray Parlier, along with my father, was by my side. I will never forget the hug I received from Furman’s Athletic Director. His cheeks were a bright pink.  His misty eyes reflecting the bright lights of the stage, and with a smile from ear to ear said, “Remember Bill, love your people.  They’ll love you back.”

It wasn’t hard at all for me to list five of the most influential people who have shaped my life. However, Steve Gilliland left us with one more important thing to consider as he concluded his remarks at our Small Business Luncheon –

“Are you on somebody’s list?”  

W.E. “Bill” Russell, CCE IOM
President

June 4, 2019 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees), Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Growing Pains” – Lake Norman Chamber May Message to the Membership

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to appear on a special Town Hall version of WFAE’s Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins. The event, held at CPCC – Merancas Campus, featured our Town Managers, Transportation Planners, NC DOT staff, and Mayors.

The Charlotte Talks program was a discussion on issues ranging from transportation, and education to affordable housing and the pressing need for a magistrate in North Mecklenburg.

Pic c Charlotte-TalksNCDOT’s Scott Cole and Huntersville Transportation Planner Bill Coxe discussed the nearly half billion dollars in approved transportation projects planned for Huntersville, Davidson, and Cornelius and the improvements which will be made to our east- west arteries: Gilead Road, Sam Furr (NC Hwy 73), and Catawba Avenue.

Both pointed out with the improvements to other secondary roads, alternative modes of transportation such as Bus Rapid Transit, Rail, and Bike Paths, and the soon to be opened Managed Lanes – we could see congestion relief.

When Mike Collins asked me directly, what is the message I convey to businesses interested in locating to the Lake Norman region?  I could have taken on the role of cheerleader and sugar coated the issue.  I chose not to do that.

Instead, I responded that I-77 is the “Most Critical Issue” facing our lake communities and the aforementioned projects and alternative means of transportation will not dig us out of the hole we are making when it comes to our diminished quality of life and negative economic impact the Managed Lanes will ensure.

The Toll Lanes will not solve our congestion issue – they will guarantee it! 

As a Chamber of Commerce, we will continue to advocate that the project be finished, and the state buy out the contract and convert one of the proposed Managed Lanes to a Free General-Purpose Lane.  In the meantime, we must harden the shoulders of I-77 and provide additional General-Purpose (Free) lanes which could be used during peak driving times.

Some critics and toll road supporters have likened the efforts of our grass root opposition to tolls as foolhardy, wasted effort, or simply a belief in fairytales. Well, count me as one of the many who still believe in Fairytales!

Neil Gaiman, an English Author said, “Fairytales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

We do have a great many dragons facing us as we grow: our transportation challenges, overcrowded schools, affordable housing for our teachers, police, and firemen  – all critical to our basic needs as a community.

However, these are all challenges which come from growth.  I don’t think any of us would rather live in a region that is stagnant and dying such as a rural community that lacks the basic infrastructure to support business and industry.  It would be devastating to live in a community like that where children leave when they graduate from school on a quest to find employment in a different community that is vibrant and growing.

Each of us have a responsibility to leave our community better than we found it. That is our charge and by Working Hard, Working Smart, and Working Together – we will slay those dragons.  They can be beaten. Quite simply, it is the responsibility we owe to the generation who succeed us and we cannot settle for anything less.

Bill Russell

Picture:   Mike Collins and Doug Boraks of WFAE along with Chamber President Bill Russell on the Town Hall Edition of Charlotte Talks. Photo Courtesy of Ellen Stafford, LKNConnect.com

May 9, 2019 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Transportation & Road Improvement, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Life Well Lived

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William E Russell Jr and William E. Russell Sr at the Panthers Game

One month ago, I lost my father to cancer. Daddy was much more than a dad. He was my mentor, my confidante, my supporter, my best friend and the inspiration for much of what I have done in my life. My mom has also been a guiding influence and I love her dearly. But as Lewis Grizzard put it best, “My daddy was a pistol and I’m a son of a gun.”

If you’ve been a Chamber Member for a while, you may have read the countless articles and columns I have written about my father and grandfather and the lessons I learned growing up on our family farm. The house and the halls where my father and his father roamed, along with the pastures they trod, and the rich soil we turned in the garden together, hold special memories for me.

My dad, a lifelong member of Bethesda Presbyterian Church, was an Ordained Elder of the church, and served as Clerk of Session. It surprised me when I learned that he did not want a church funeral. Instead, he requested a small graveside service and a visitation of just family and close friends upon his passing.

While my Dad spent much of his lifetime committed to civic service, with years of dedication to the Red Cross, Kiwanis, Jaycees, Little League and other community activities, deep down he was simply a quiet man and was not one for show.  That’s one quality I’ve yet to learn from daddy. I have always struggled with the “humility thing” and since I was young, I kind of thought the world may indeed revolve around me.

Daddy would have been taken aback by the hundreds of people who crammed into Greene’s Funeral Home in Rock Hill on that mournful Saturday afternoon. Jaycee friends from across the state drove hours to visit with our family, and to share in our moment of reflection on the life that had impacted so many in 81 years.

In addition to the family and friends, more than 50 Lake Norman Chamber members also drove down to South Carolina for my father’s funeral. Some were former or current chamber board leadership, others were long time chamber members, and many were Lake Norman neighbors I’ve been lucky enough to meet and call friends. A few never met him, yet they all gave up their Saturday and drove for several hours through the challenges of I-77 for one reason – to show they cared. And to each you who were there on the saddest day of my life, your presence was a comfort that I will never forget.Pic A Dad

I’ve often been asked what makes the Lake Norman Chamber different from any other Chamber. The answer for me has always been simple – We are a family.  We encourage each other when we need inspiration and we’re there for each other when times are tough. And we celebrate together. This month we added to our family at the Chamber with the addition of Sylvia Spury who many may know from her 18 years of service with the Mooresville South Iredell Chamber. She has 20 years of Chamber experience and we are so lucky to have her on our team.

The past month has been one of tremendous difficulty for me personally due to the loss of my father. The announcement that Sylvia had been selected as the new Executive Vice President caused some to wonder if I had left the chamber or was retiring to our family farm. But the reality is we hired Sylvia to complement our chamber leadership team and we are very excited to have her on our staff.  She brings new ideas, vision, and synergy to our organization.  We’ve also just unveiled a new chamber website which will allow us to unleash unbridled opportunities when it comes to marketing and promoting our chamber membership.

At the end of the graveside service, after most had driven the long road home, a close friend shared a conversation that she’d had with a previous chamber board chairman. When she thanked Bob McIntosh and his wife Ann for coming to support us that day, Bob simply said, “It’s all about family. We show up because it matters. It’s what we do.”

I am grateful that the Lord gave me a great father to learn from and love.  While his saddle may now be empty, his presence in my life still fills my heart and lifts my soul, as so many of you have also done this past month.

The words Bob McIntosh conveyed that afternoon embody why I have spent 23 years at this Chamber of Commerce. We’re family here at Lake Norman. That is and will always be the difference. We do the things we do because it matters. It’s what we do.

Bill Russell, Jr.

March 6, 2019 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees), Personal, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Creating Magic

bill

W.E. “Bill” Russell President & CEO Lake Norman Chamber

Perhaps no American in my lifetime has stimulated our imagination more than Walt Disney. As a child I went to the local Cinema along with the other kids in the neighborhood to see the new Disney films: Mary Poppins, The Love Bug, and The Jungle Book. Fifty years later, the studio is still cranking out hits like Beauty and the Beast and A Wrinkle in Time.

I still marvel at my first trip to Disney World. As a small boy I looked on in wide eyed wonder at the world that Walt built. A world he reminded folks that began with a little mouse. Walt’s ultimate dream was to create an amusement park bigger than Disney Land. A park which we now know as “The Magic Kingdom”, opening a year after his death in 1967. It was indeed “Magic.”

Disney’s brother Roy once told a story about a much younger Walt. When Disney was in fifth grade, his teacher told the students their assignment that day was to draw and color a flower garden. The teacher walked down the aisles looking over the student’s shoulders as they busied themselves in their task.

She stopped dead in her tracks as she stared down at Disney’s desk.  Walt’s drawings were quite unusual. “Walt,” she began, “Flowers don’t have faces on them.”

He looked up and said confidently, “Mine do!” And they still do.  Any trip to Disney Land or Disney World you will encounter flowers and they all have faces.

Lee Cockerell, an Executive Vice President for Walt Disney World Resort led a team which carried out Disney’s charge of creating magic for the millions of children and adults who visit the parks and resorts each year.  Cockerell told his staff, “It’s not the magic that makes it work, but the way we work that makes it magic.”

Entrepeneur

Joe Douglas, Founding Partner of Captiva Restaurant Group receives the McIntosh Law Firm Passion to Succeed Award as the 2018 Entrepreneur of the Year.

Last month, the Lake Norman Chamber recognized Joe Douglas, founding partner of Captiva Restaurant Group (CRG) as the 2018 Entrepreneur of the Year.  Captiva developed 131 Main in 2004 and Cowboy in 2017. Joe’s company now has five restaurants employing 400 people serving 60,000 diners a month.  In 2009, CRG developed the Tenders / PDQ concept which has grown into a national chain with 70 units nationwide.

It was inspiring as he stood in front of 200 Lake Norman business leaders singled out as The McIntosh Law Firm’s Passion to Succeed recipient.

Quite often an entrepreneur’s idea starts at the kitchen table with a checkbook or credit card. An entrepreneur reaches for the stars and even if they fall short, they clear the tree tops, leaving the ground far below.  Douglas, much like Disney himself, started with a vision of what could be if you used your imagination and perhaps added a little magic.

Sam Ewing, former Major League Baseball Player once said, “Nothing is so embarrassing as watching someone do something that you said could not be done.”

That is the spirit of entrepreneurship.  Being told you can’t do something and you go out and do it anyway.  Simply, not allowing others to place limitations on what you can accomplish.

Entrepreneurs know they cannot really rely on magic to make their ideas work. It takes vision, hard work, and perseverance. Sometimes like the Major Leaguer, you swing and you miss… but when they succeed, they create a little magic of their own.

Bill Russell

March 1, 2019 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment