Are you Stuck in a rut?

A few days ago, I was enjoying lunch at one of our Lake Norman restuarants while catching up my reading on the week’s events.  Two people settled into the booth behind me and were having a very engaged conversation about business.  Actually, one was complaining about their business in particular.  I overheard as this individual ticked off all the reasons the “store” was experiencing problems.  While I’m not making light of their troubles, I think we all know times have been tough for all of us. With each positive suggestion, the despondent retailer would point out all the reasons they could not do that – cost too much, didn’t have the staff, they had tried it before, not quite their market.  At one point I wanted to turn around and tell them I thought the biggest reason for their lack of success might be the face they saw in the mirror each morning when they got up!  They dripped in negativity.

Granddaddy Russell with my cousin Chris at the farm - 1982
Granddaddy Russell with my cousin Chris at the farm - 1982

It reminded me of a story my Granddaddy Russell told me a long time ago.  Granddaddy didn’t go to college and I’m not sure he ever owned a copy of any leading business book of its time.  But he did have a heck of a career.  He drove a taxi, worked in a textile mill, spent most of his liesure time, if you call it that, tending the farm where he raised cattle and produce, and studied his church “lessons” at night.

My Granddaddy Russell owned a farm in Rock Hill where he raised a couple of dozen head of cattle.  He passed away in 1999, but not before he left me with a treasure trove of little stories and a lifetime of wonderful memeories.  On one particular weekend, Granddaddy Russell and I were walking through some of the trails behind the house checking the fenceline.  I was fresh out of college and gainfully employed at a local office supply and furniture company as a salesman.  I was making the sales calls but my commission check certainly indicated my lackluster performance.

After listening to me grumble about how my customers weren’t buying and I wasn’t getting the support I needed from my company, granddaddy looked over and asked, “Doc,” (one of the many pet nicknames he had for me but that’s a different story) “Did I ever tell you about that little bullfrog that fell into the deep, muddy tractor track?”  Without waiting for my reply, he began, “A couple of days later he was still there when his other frog friend happened by and found him…urging him to hop out.  He made a few feeble efforts, but he remained stuck in the quagmire.”

“Over the next few days, his fellow frogs tried to motivate the little frog to escape the rut, but they all gave up encouraging him and hoped back to the pond.  The next day the little frog was seen sunning himself contently on the shores of the pond.  “How’d you get out of that rut? ” he was asked.  “Well,” said the frog, “as everyone is aware I could not.  But along came that big red tractor again and I had to!”

Granddaddy looked over at me as we walked down the road waiting for his point to sink in.  “You waiting for something to come along and get you out of the rut?” he asked.  I do not know that I ever became the super salesman my manager hoped I would be but the point granddaddy made was not lost on me.  The ability to overcome my obstacles and rise to the occassion was within my means the whole time.  Most of it was my own personal attitude.  The bottom line:  you can motivate yourself or wait till outside forces do it for you.

I sure miss the long walks grandaddy and I took together, but I never forgot the lessons he shared.  Daddy still lives out on the farm and often we take walks together still checking the fenceline.  Occaasionly we will happen on an old tractor rut dug deep into the soft southern clay down by the creek.  I might even hear the splash of a little frog as we approach.  It brings a smile to my face as I think about all the wonderful times I’ve spent at the farm.  Perhaps an old farmer knows best, when there are so many reasons why you cannot be succesful, you succeed anyway.  You simply accept nothing less.


Address to the 73rd Annual United States Junior Chamber of Commerce Meeting Delegates

This speech was given during the annual business meeting of the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce by the 73rd National President Bill Russell asking the delegates to approve a $5 dues increase per member, an alumni membership, and a blue ribbon commission to create a plan for the future of the organization. All three initiatives were approved later that day.

Address to the 73rd Annual Meeting Delegates
United States Junior Chamber of Commerce
Wednesday, June 16, 1993
Greensboro, NC

This speech was given during the annual business meeting of the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce by National President Bill Russell asking the delegates to approve a $5 dues increase per member, an alumni membership, and a blue ribbon commission to create a plan for the future of the organization.  All three initiatives were approved later that day.

Delegates to the 73rd annual meeting, there is a word that keeps popping up time and again when we talk about the Junior Chamber and that word is leadership.  You have heard it this year.  I hope you come to understand it better.  Leadership is our chance to create a stronger organization.  An organization that will be there for your children and your children’s children.

delegatesYou can define leadership many different ways but in the Junior Chamber we know leadership is the key to everything else we do.  Without leadership, we become just another fundraising organization like so many other groups out there.  We lose our credibility, we lose our history, and we cut our roots.  While community service is the best work of life, we must not lose sight that our community development projects are just one slice of that work. The entire pie is created with leadership as the pan that holds it all together.  Leadership that understands where it is going and how to get there.

Jaycees, we have an obligation to prepare for the future.  Today we have that opportunity.  The opportunity to return our organization to financial stability, to tap resources previously turned away, and to create and implement a plan for the future.  I am asking for your support of the much needed dues increase, our alumni membership, and the proposed blue ribbon

Robert F. Kennedy, a young person who left us 25 years ago this month said, “Progress is a nice word but change is its motivator and change has its enemies.”  I believe in the American Dream because I believe in Jaycees.  You and I stand on the threshold of a new America…a new Junior Chamber…and America and a Junior Chamber filled with opportunity, challenges, and change.

Let us not be enemies of change.  The progress we seek in the Jaycees is not for personal gain, influence, or power.  It is change for our organization.  It is changing our way of thinking…thinking of leadership training and preparing our members to go out in their communities and lead.  It is change that is required if we are as a viable organization are to once again obtain our position of national prominence.  And its change we must have if we are to continue to call ourselves the organization of choice for today’s young people.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In the 1960’s, Dr. Martin Luther King stood at a podium in the deep south and reflected on where the civil rights movement was going when he said, “The measure of a man is not where he stands in the moments of comfort and convenience but where he stands at the times of challenges and controversy.”  I ask you today….where do you stand?  I stand on the side of change.

Change not for the sake of doing something different, but progressive, enlightened change. Change that will make our organization strong…and remain strong…year after year, in chapter after chapter.  It is taking a leadership stand.  Let us all stand against mediocrity. Let us take a stand against the status quo and business as usual.  Let us go somewhere we have not been.

Let us today…in this moment in time…go somewhere…we have not been.

Jaycee National President Bill Russell Remarks Portland Oregon – 1992

This is the speech 72nd President Bill Russell delivered to the delegates at the 72nd Annual Convention of the Unites States Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) in Portland, Oregon on June 25, 1992.

Inaugural Address Closing Ceremony
72nd Annual Convention Unites States Junior Chamber of Commerce
Portland, Oregon
June 25, 1992

Junior Chamber International President Herrberando, Junior Chamber President & First Lady Thomes, Fellow Members of the Executive Committee and Board of Directors, JCI Vice President Yoshida, Past National Presidents, our Good Friends from the Japan Junior Chamber, Ambassadors, Senators, Jaycee Delegates, and guests:

This organization has been filled by generations of young people, each with the challenges of their day.  It was through commitment and courage that we as an organization have stood the test of time.  Challenges have always faced us…they did yesterday and they will tomorrow.  Like the past generations of Jaycees, we embrace those opportunities…and not one Jaycee member out there tonight … would shrink from that responsibility.

We will meet them head on.  Together!  Like Plato once said, “The beginning is the most important part of any work.”  Tonight we embark on a new beginning… a new Jaycee year.  There is a new world facing us out there.  It is a world filled with discovery and promise.  It is a world that we can use to unlock the potential of America’s young people.

Sworn in by 72nd USJCC President Greg Thomes
Sworn in by 72nd USJCC President Greg Thomes

Our future is unstructured as a dream.  The only limitations we have are those we impose upon ourselves. Someone once said that the world changes at such a pace, that each day writes a fresh page of history before yesterday’s ink has even dried.  Today, the task at hand is simple – the Junior Chamber of Commerce must lead again.  As it always has – as only we can.  It is time to write history.  Not content to merely be a part of it.

June 30, 1971 an amendment to the constitution was ratified giving 18 year olds a right to vote.  Young people making decisions about the future direction of their nation.  This is the 21st anniversary of that amendment.  Throughout America, people are disillusioned about their government leaders.  They are desperate for leadership.  However, our country has always survived and leaders have always emerged.  It is time for that leadership to emerge again…  It is time America felt the power of her young people.power0001

It falls to our young people to lead this nation…to restore her.  This year our Jaycee Chapters will register voters, sponsor candidate debates, and get the issues out to the communities through a program called “Wake Up America!”   We will again be young people of action.

Over the last couple of decades there has been a decline of family values.  Times are different from when you and I were in grade school.  Teachers have been replaced by TV’s and VCR’s.  Kids learn more from Doogie Howser and Bart Simpson than they do from mom and dad.  This year the United States Junior Chamber will answer the needs of our single parents and young families through a program called Junior Jaycees.  Getting our kids, young kids involved… instilling in them the values we cherish as Jaycees.

wake0001Over the past few years we have placed more emphasis on short term goals and rewarded people for short term success.  People are recognized for what they do this year with no consequences to what becomes of their chapter next year.  Our Blue Chip program is the key to chapter success.  Long term goals and the commitment to carry them out.  We must not sell ourselves out to short term success.  We must stop living for today with no plans for tomorrow.

Most of all – we cannot and will not settle for mediocrity. We must build a strong Junior Chamber chapter – one that is better today than it was yesterday.  Continuing to fulfill our mission of providing leadership skills to America’s young people.  We are a leadership training organization and it’s time we got down to the business at hand.  Teaching young people the skills they will need to be more productive and competitive in the business world.  Give them the chance to nurture networking skills, meeting other young people, fostering strong relationships, building bridges to the future.

The number one reason people leave our organization prematurely is because we do not deliver on our promise.  People leave feeling they have not received what they were looking for and they walk away…empty handed.  We must train our chapters to deliver on those promises…today.

It is time the United States Junior Chamber came out of its isolation and joined the Junior Chamber organizations of the world.  Junior Chamber International is growing, prospering, and delivering on its promise of leadership training through community service.  It uses the principles of those young men from St. Louis, Mo. whose dream it was to give young people business and community leadership opportunities.  I am asking each of you, if your chapter is not already, consider twinning up with another Jaycee Chapter in another country.  We can learn so much from each other as we move to an age of Global Citizenship.

There is the story of the great French General Lyautey who once asked his gardener to plant a tree.  The gardener objected that the tree was slow growing and would not reach maturity for hundreds of years.  The Marshall replied, “In that case, there is no time to lose, plant it this afternoon.”

We are faced with unbridled opportunities – let us embrace them.  The affects of our programs may take months, years to see…but let us plant the seed tonight.  Jaycees…Founder and Past President Henry Giessenbier said, “In your hands lies the destiny of a great organization.  Let us build it to national prominence and let us not fail in that task.”

United States Jaycees, I believe in you with all my heart and all my soul.  Let us prove this year, we are the premier young people’s organization in America…and let us not fail in that task.  Thank you.

Speech to the South Carolina Jaycees Fall 1993

This speech was delivered to the South Carolina Jaycees at the Fall Board Meeting, November 1993. It was my first speech to my home state after serving 1992-1993 as President of the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce headquartered in Tulsa, Ok.

South Carolina Junior Chamber of Commerce

Fall Board of Directors Meeting

Columbia, South Carolina

Sunday, November 14, 1993


South Carolina Jaycees, it’s great to be home.  Live from St. George, S.C. the cultural Mecca of the South.  When I arrived on Friday evening, I had pretty much prepared my opening and closing remarks.  However, I have always thought, the best talks I gave you were the ones from the heart.  Sitting at the table yesterday, I listened as one of my Jaycee Heroes – Robby Dawkins addressed our Jaycees.  Robby began by dedicating his speech.  It dawned on me… I’ve never done that and I believe I want to today.


My first Jaycee speech came some ten years ago when I ran for district director for district three.  Since that time I have given speeches to many different organizations…the Rotary, Kiwanis, Moose, Elks and all of the other animal clubs.  I’ve given talks in 47 states in towns and cities I’ve long forgot.  But in all those times, I’ve never dedicated a speech to an individual.


I remember David Duncan, our former state legal counsel and a fellow Rock Hill Jaycee once told me, I’d go far in this organization if I could just learn to speak.  Well, in those ten years, I don’t know if I’ve improved very much, but I certainly have had more podium exposure than David Duncan…sorry David!


Portland, Oregon…and being elected national president of our organization was one of the biggest thrills of my life. South Carolina  Lt. Governor Nick Theodore said it best yesterday when he reminded us all that it was the generation of Jaycees who came before us, and many still in this room today, who gave Robby and myself the opportunity we experienced as national presidents of our great organization – The United States Junior Chamber of Commerce.  Many of my family members were unable to attend.  However, the national office captured much of the event and the speeches on video.  I remember my Grandmother Russell, after watching a video, said, “You speak as well as any of those Kennedy boys.”  I told my Grandmother being a Conservative Republican and compared to a Kennedy was not exactly a compliment.  


However, to my Grandmother Russell…it was the highest compliment she could pay.  To her, the Democratic party was the party that pulled her family out of the Great Depression.  It was the party of the working man…the farmer…the poor.  Two months after taking office as president, my father made a call to me.  They had found a cancer in grandmamma…”Bumba” we children called her. She was in her seventies and faced with radical surgery, my Grandmother said she would place her fate in God’s hands.  “Just pray for me,” she asked.  Throughout the year, Bumba rarely left my thoughts.


When I called home from our headquarters in Tulsa, she would tell me how proud she was of her grandson.  While she loved all the grandchildren, I had been the first and both grandmothers spoiled me terribly.  So I get it honest huh?  I invited her out to the Ten Outstanding Young Americans program (TOYA) – our premier Jaycee event.  Unfortunately her health would not allow it, although my grandfather attended with my dad.  She asked that I tape it for her….”I know you’ll do good.” I could almost feel the smile on her face from the end of the phone.

Bumba with Grandaddy Russell - 50 Year Anniversary
Bumba with Grandaddy Russell - 50 Year Anniversary




Three weeks after our summer board meeting, Grandmamma lost her battle with cancer … just two days shy of my birthday.  She never had the chance to see me speak in person.  She will today, this speech is for Bumba.


A little while ago, I passed someone in the hall who asked what I was speaking about. Before I had the chance to answer, some other Jaycee walking by and overhearing the question, shot back…”membership…doesn’t he always!”  It was much more of a statement than a question.  But I realized long ago, you can’t train people to be leaders if you don’t have people.  You can’t run projects without people.  No matter how good your individual development programs are, it does no good at all without people.  Face it…we’re in the people business.


Listening to Lt. Governor Theodore yesterday, I cannot put it any more eloquently.   His charge to you was to involve more people.  He knows what the Junior Chamber has meant to him…go share it with others…you never know where the next Lt. Governor…perhaps Governor will get their start!


I’d like to spend a few minutes talking with you about the challenges that face America…challenges I have witnessed in my travels across our country and the half dozen countries I visited representing our membership.  You see…there is much we Jaycees could change…if we wanted to.


If you were in Greensboro, NC you heard me talk about picking up a Tulsa World newspaper last December and seeing men and women surrounded by armed guards.  That may not sound unusual, but these men and women were not protesters or rioters.  They were Christmas Carolers.  The Town of Vienna, Virginia had outlawed the singing of religious songs on public property.  So the men, women and children of Vienna had to sing Silent Night behind barricades.


Sounds much like one of the countries Robby Dawkins traveled to in Eastern Europe while he was world president of Junior Chamber International … perhaps Russia or Estonia.  Instead it was America…1992.


There is an organization raising hell because we’re not raising enough money for AIDS research.  Don’t misinterpret what I’m about to say…we do need to educate more people about sexually transmitted diseases including AIDS.  But that very same group is introducing “How to sex manuals” in our public schools.  How to have sex with the opposite sex, same sex, sex in every conceivable way…to our children in schools?  Is that the education we need?


That same group, known as “Act Up”, are upset because we’re not spending enough money on AIDS research.  AIDS is the ninth leading cause of death in America. Yet, three months ago, President Bill Clinton slashed assistance to MDA, Cancer and Heart Disease while increasing AIDS funding by 30%.  While I’m not opposed to raising and spending more money for research on AIDS.  Who cries out for the child born with low birth weight?  Who’s wearing ribbons for the people suffering from cancer and heart disease?


What about the teenager who’ll never see 23 because of Cystic Fibrosis?  The activist of America have taken charge.  In Tulsa, Oklahoma, while flipping between channels a lesbian appeared on C-Span and talked about how she had recently introduced the book, “Heather has Two Mommies and Daddy Has A Boyfriend.”  She said that it was her goal to recruit those children to their lifestyle.  Listen – what consenting adults choose to do is their business.  But the children are a different issue.


Animal rights groups are showing slides on how some cow was put to death and mutilated so mommy can have meatloaf on the table to our kids in schools …and yet three weeks ago, the Gideon’s were kicked off a campus because they wanted to distribute Bibles to those who wanted them.


Thank goodness, there’s an organization of young people who believe that “Faith in God gives meaning and purpose to human life.”  In a time when we spend so much time segregating Church and State, we should realize you can’t separate God and Government.  This country was founded on freedom of religion…not freedom from religion.  The Ten Commandments are not the Ten Suggestions…they’re commandments.  Many of the religions of the world contain them as a basis for their core beliefs.


Jaycees have always supported the president and though I didn’t vote for Bill Clinton, I agree with him on the North American Free Trade Agreement.  NAFTA will be good for America.  It will be good for South Carolina.  However, a few months ago he introduced the National Service Act which will pay the tuition of college kids if they go out and perform community service.  In a country that is three trillion dollars in debt, we don’t need any more social service programs. On the contrary, we need to find a way to cut the national debt.  It is the responsibility of every American to improve their community.  It is our obligation as citizens.  You should not have to pay people for that.


Our government takes from the pockets of those who work hard and gives to those who choose not to work.  Our welfare program is nothing but legalized stealing.  What kind of incentives are we giving to Americans to give their very best?  Thank God there’s an organization who believe in “free men through free enterprise.”


I remember watching the film of John Kennedy who said, “Ask not what your country can do for you – but what you can do for your country.”  Today, that credo has changed…Today your government asks “what more can we give you?  …don’t worry, somebody else will pay for it.”  It’s time to take a stand.


Critics talk about the faults of our educational system.  But the education of children start in the home.  If you don’t teach children values, teachers will not be able to when they get to school.  Your children are a model of yourselves.  You need to look at Jaycee kids like Kelly Pickering and David Watson to understand what Jaycees and the Junior Jaycees program does for our children.


America is crying out for leadership.  Nick said it yesterday.  The future leaders of our communities, towns, and school boards are sitting in this room.  State President Young asked me to motivate you.  Well….I cannot.  You see, motivation is a personal thing.  It comes from within.  No amount of shirts, plaques, points, or parades are going to get you to do something you don’t want to do.  You have to feel passionately about something.  Motivation is a personal thing.


I can’t tell you what to believe nor would I try.  I can tell you I believe in those 65 words of the Jaycee Creed.  I believe that Government should be of laws rather than of men and it’s high time we stopped letting the activist groups of this country determine our future.  When extremist groups cry out loudly to be heard… the majority of Americans just want to be comfortable.  Well …I haven’t been comfortable in a long time.


I thank God I have the opportunity to work every day as a Chamber of Commerce Executive.  Working to improve the quality of life for our citizens; provide educational opportunities for our children; to bring quality health care to our region.  It gives me a chance to live out our creed.  There’s a quote I ran across long ago that represents what I live my life by.  Some credit it to Lincoln…others to George Bernard Shaw, it goes like this:


     “This is the true joy of life, that being used up for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one.  Being a force of nature, instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.  I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.  I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, because the harder I work the better I live. 


Life is no brief candle to me.  It is but a splendid torch which I have gotten hold of for just a moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before I hand it off to the next generation.”


You want a reason to get motivated….I can give you 200.  Two hundred children who have depended on the South Carolina Jaycees since 1960 for a summer camp in Clemson.  A dream for the mentally impaired children of our state…a dream called hope – Camp Hope.  This year we’ve raised $42,000 and that’s great.  But I see an organization made up of 10,000 South Carolina Jaycees raising $200,000.  I see an organization working hard so that one day, we don’t need the camp at all.


     Get that fire folks.  Ross Perot said it, Bill Clinton picked it up….Take this jfk00012country back.  You are the next generation of leaders.  The torch has been passed.  I know you can.  Because you would settle for nothing less.  South Carolina can feel the power of her young people.  God bless you and God bless the South Carolina Junior Chamber of Commerce.

Jaycee Speech – “Dirt Roads” Circa 1994-1999

This is a motivational speech I gave to Junior Chamber Chapters and other civic clubs like Rotary and Kiwanis in the years 1994 -1999. I referred to it as the “Dirt Roads” speech. Much of it was used in my campaign for United States Junior Chamber National President in the 1992 candidate video.

junior-chamber-logo0001Years ago, when I was just a teenager I remember taking a walk with my Granddaddy Russell through some of the back roads near his house.  He raised a few head of cattle and every once in a while they would venture to another pasture to graze on the tall grass.  I remember he made a comment to me, something I didn’t understand at the time.  “You know what’s wrong with the world”, he said, “there’s not enough dirt roads.” Being a city boy I replied, “Why would you want to live on a dirt road?” Mark Twain once said, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around.  But when I got to be 21, 1 was astonished at how’ much he had learned in 7 years.” I think I understand now what my grandfather meant…  the world continues to change… progress, evolution. Society, its values and customs also evolve.   Here in South Carolina, our communities continue to grow, prosper, and change.

Today we are faced with challenges that come with these changes … crime, drugs, school overcrowding,  family deterioration, traffic congestion, and yes even gang related incidents.  Challenges which could be solved with just a few dirt roads. You see, dirt roads build character.  People who live at the end of dirt roads learn early that life is a bumpy road… it can jar you right down to your bones-but its worth it if waiting at the end is your home with a loving spouse, happy kids, and a frisky puppy dog. We wouldn’t have near the problem with juvenile issues today if our kids got exercise walking a dirt road with other kids with whom they learn to get along.

There was less crime in our streets before they were paved.  Criminals did not walk two dusty miles to rob you when they knew they would be welcomed by five barking dogs and a loaded shotgun. Our values were better when our roads were worse.  People didn’t worship their cars and houses more than their kids.  Dirt roads were a sign of simpler times. But we out grew them.  America grew up.  The world grew up. Who would have believed 30 years ago when my Grandfather was still a young man – that in Russia –  the statues of Lenin would be replaced by the Golden Arches of McDonald’s. That Coke would replace Vodka as the beverage of choice. That the Berlin wall would crumble into souvenirs.

Here in America, young people continue to turn to drugs for an answer. Men and women line the city streets looking for shelter.  Health care costs are moving out of reach.    People are losing faith in their Government leaders, and volunteerism is on the decline. Where are we headed?  Never in the history of this country has volunteers been needed more than today. We stand at the precipice of tomorrow and America is calling out to its volunteers.  Men and women of vision and action.   President Bill Clinton took a step in the right direction in 1992 when he recognized the need for national citizen service.  We must understand that government can’t solve the problems of people.  Only people can solve the problems of people.

We must take responsibility for the future of our communities assisting bobby1those who cannot help themselves.  We should instill positive values in our young people by our actions rather than by our words.  We should make our communities the best possible place to work and to live.  And we should do it not because of what we gain, but what we become by doing it.  A revolution faces both this country and our government………. not a revolution of armed men and women, but a revolution of change.
Thirty years ago, Robert F. Kennedy had a vision of America, he said,  “A revolution is coming- a revolution which will be peaceful if we are wise enough; compassionate if we care enough; successful if we are fortunate enough- but a revolution is coming whether we will it or not … we can affect its character, we cannot alter its inevitability.” It’s time to rekindle the spirit of cooperation and volunteerism in this country.  We must use our talents to create a better place to live.  It is our responsibility passed down by the generations which came before us and the legacy we leave for the next generation.
Even the most active of us sometimes wonders whether our vote…our actions…the time we may volunteer really make a difference.  The world is so complex can we really change the face of our communities? I want to be honest with you.  I can’t motivate you to do anything.  I can’t get you to do anything you really don’t want to do.  But I can tell you…yes, we can make a difference. Do you realize that somewhere within ten miles of where you’re sitting… a child will go to bed hungry tonight?  That somewhere within 20 miles of where you’re sitting.. a teenager will try his or her first marijuana cigarette?

Somewhere today at one of our area hospitals…a crack baby will be born already addicted to drugs. Sometime tonight a teenager, perhaps neglected or abused by their parents, pushed by his or her peers, will commit their first crime. Can we prevent all this from happening?  Probably not.  But if we can feed one child, educate one mother on the effects of drugs and alcohol, on her baby….if we can steer one child away from drugs or crime by spending a little time with them.  Showing them that we care.  Shouldn’t we try?   Aren’t they worth it?

The cost for each of you may be a little extra time from your job…or perhaps an evening watching a rerun of Sienfeld.  It may mean missing that golf game this weekend or the trip to the lake.  But the cost to any one of those less fortunate… the one’s who need our compassion and understand.   The cost to them could mean their life. The question for you is are they worth it?  I think they are.  I think you  do to or you wouldn’t be here today.  Let’s work together to make our communities a better place to work and live.  Let’s make a difference in a few lives…today.

Brief Historical Sketch of Bethesda Presbyterian Church – Homecoming 1996

Brief Historical Sketch of Bethesda Presbyterian Church
Homecoming Address 1996
By Bill Russell, Jr.

2009_h1“Bethesda” is a section of York County about 16 miles square, eight miles southeast of the county seat.  The original population were chiefly immigrants from the North of Ireland, mostly Presbyterians, a few Roman Catholics- Some came from Pennsylvania and some from Native Ireland.  Many of our senior members have heard this origination for some time.  But today, I want to dwelve a little different.  I went to the library and began to research the time period our early ancestors migrated to York County.

While it is difficult to pinpoint the exact time the Scotch-Irish began moving in, we do know that they began to settle here as early as 1735.  The years 1753-1763 were the greatest  years of migration.  There were two substantial events which caused the settling of the Piedmont.  Both dealt with our existing Native American Indian Tribe the Cherokees.  On February 12, 1747 Governor Glen of South Carolina met with the Cherokee Spokesman “who was known to the locals as “Little Carpenter”.  He relinquished a vast area of land which at that time had been under the control of the Cherokee Nation.  All land South and East of Long Cane Creek which is now Abbeville County and running a line Northward and Northeastward was given in treaty to the “Great Chief in England”.  Most historians agree that this incorporates the greater Piedmont belt including York County.

The second event took place in 1775 when Braddock was defeated by the French & Indians in Pennsylvania.  Even though this event took place some 500 miles north of present day Bethesda, it had a decisive bearing on York County and this area in particular.  Braddock’s defeat left the western front of the Northern Colonies exposed to constant Indian raids.  To escape these hostilities, many Pennsylvanians and Virginians moved Southward to a more pleasant climate and genteel Indians.  While the Cherokee Nation was harshly mistreated and abused by the future Government of the United States, they were extremely good neighbors of the early York County settlers.

By the mid 1750’s, the fertile valleys and creeks around Bullocks and Fishing Creek were doted with Log Cabins and was yielding to the iron plows of planters.  In a confederation of family and religious ties, these early settlers found peace in the land around Bethesda.

Our church is one of the Four B’s (or Bees as in King George’s Bonnet) of the Bethel Presbytery.  The others being Bethel, Bullocks Creek, and Beersheba.  Two conflicting dates have been given for the organization of Bullock’s Creek- 1765 and 1769.  For many years there has been a friendly feud between the two churches of Bethesda and Bullocks Creek as to which is older.  Some church record place the founding of Bethesda in 1769, five years later than Bethel and along the same year as Ebenezer and perhaps the later date of Bullocks Creek.  That would also correspond to the 227 years we are celebrating today.

However, it has been documented that there had been preaching in the Bethesda community long before 1769.  It has been recorded that a church building, a log structure, was reared in 1760.  It was plain but substantial.  This was about one mile east of the present structure, and close by was the graveyard where the dead were buried.  Three of these headstones from the old cemetery were removed and placed here at our cemetery in 1979.  They include William Neely, Mary Neely, and Elizabeth Neely.

This building was burned by a fire accidentally set in 1780.  The next church building was a frame structure with sides of split board which stands a few feet from where our present sanctuary sits.  It stood for 40 years until the present building was built in 1820 for a cost of $5,000.00

Going back to the feud with Bullocks Creek, who claims to be the oldest.  S.M. Tanney a renown Curator for Montreat College notes that The History of Scotch-Irish Settlements written by Hanna records on page 116 of Volume 2 Bethesda of York District was organized in 1760 and Bethel four years later in 1764.  Since Hanna is considered the authority by research students, the data here, according to Tanney, should be deemed dependable. That makes Bethesda older than Bullock’s Creek and just to ensure their were no doubters, we held our Bicentennial Celebration, honoring 200 years of Bethesda Worship in 1960.  

From the best records available, it is thought that the first preacher may have been Rev. William Richardson, an Englishman who studied under Rev. Samuel Davis who later became President of Princeton University.  Among the early ministers was also Rev. Dr. James Alexander of Bullocks Creek.  Alexander is noted for his role as a Revolutionary War Patriot.  A preeminent educator, he also had some very famous students including Gov. Johnson of S.C. and Andrew Jackson, President of the United States.

One cannot talk about the history of the Church without mention of the Battle of Brattonsville.  The Church and its people are intertwined.  A party of Whigs under the command of Col. Bratton, Major Winn, and Captain McClure defeated the English under the command of Huck.  Huck’s Calvary made up of Royal Militia and Tories numbered 400.  Huck tried to induce Col. Bratton to join his force.  He wanted Mrs. Bratton to convince her husband, but she stood by her husband the cause of freedom.  At the Battle of Williamson’s Plantation, Huck was killed and his army routed.  Bethesda Cemetery is now the resting place of 37 Revolutionary War Veterans.

Perhaps Bethesda is best known for the Great Revivals and Camp Meeting of the early 1800’s.  Around the turn of the Century,  Rev. R. B. Walker, pastor of Bethesda heard of the great religious awakening in Kentucky and Tennessee.  It came from travelers who stopped by speaking to this energetic preacher.  He saddled his horse named “Old Dobbler” and made the journey up to Kentucky where he stayed for some time.  Shortly after returning to Bethesda, he instituted camp meetings here.  Neighboring ministers participated, and people traveled from as far as 40 miles to attend.  It is said that “the people were moved as the trees of the woods are moved by the wind.”  The record says that the first camp meeting is known in church history as “The old revival” and resulted in the conversion of 300 souls.  The next revival in 1817 saw 200 more souls added to the Lord.

In 1859, a large arbor was built on the church grounds to accommodate 2,000 people.  This large tent had no sides and could accommodate the large crowds.  In 1861, the War Between the States, impacted Bethesda and called many of her sons to war to fight for states rights and to keep northern invaders from southern lands.  In 1864, the last camp meeting was held.  Bethesda contributed heavily to the Southern Cause.  Again our cemetery is filled with young men who fought for Southern Independence and many never returned to be properly buried.  There are 81 Confederate soldiers interned at Bethesda among them Dr. Bratton, a confederate surgeon.

Bethesda’s history is filled with a moral and ethical code which would seem strange today.  One member was charged with fishing on Sunday.  Another had to fight off a drunk in Yorkville and apologized to the Session for his action.  Among the worst offenses were when Church elders investigated  homes where dancing was reported.

Bethesda Cemetery - 1986
Bethesda Cemetery - 1986

Incidentally, according to the Yorkville Enquirer of the time- well to do people were expected to own their own stills and everyone was expected to drink a toddy more or less frequently, and neither preachers, elders, deacons, stewards, or vestrymen refrained from the sprits when social occasions deemed necessary.

I could go on and on with the wonderful history of this church.  For those really interested, Roy Glover and Bobby Walker put together a great cemetery directory  in 1994 and Miss Rebecca Williamson and Hattie Lee Petty have tirelessly kept our history alive along with the recollections of Mrs. Bratton.

Mrs. Moore had asked that I blend in the physical history of the church with that of the evangelical history.  Well, I don’t know if I’ve done a rather good job of it.  I tend to be more of a student of Bethesda its church, its people, and the culture surrounding it.  I have tried to find one scripture verse that perhaps ties it all together.  While not as well versed in the scriptures as Rev. Carter, one passage in Joshua stands out to me.  Chapter 24 Verse 13:

I have given you a land for which you did not labor, and cities which you did not build, and you dwell in them; you eat of the vineyards and olive groves which you did not plant.”

My family roots the Adkins, Boggs, Browns, and Russell’s hail from Beersheba, Bullocks Creek, and Bethesda.  The Boggs dating back to King George and the settling of Bethesda.

The Lord provided for our early families, and here they made their home, built their church, and raised their families.  Some of us have moved away and come home again.  Sons and daughters enjoying the fruits and labors of their parents.  We enjoy the lands we did not plant and the Church we did not build.  But we have a responsibility and a privilege to educate the next generation, to pass on the virtues and ideals we cherish, as did the family members who came before us.   
Verse 27:
And Joshua said to the people, “Behold this stone shall be a witness to us, for it has heard all the words of the Lord which he spoke to us.  It shall therefore be a witness to you, lest you deny your God.”

So Joshua let the people depart, each to his own inheritance.

Tax Man – A Lesson in American Civics

Growing up in Rock Hill, South Carolina I learned early on the American concept of wealth redistribution as a kid Trick or Treating.

us-flagThis week marks an annual anniversary that Americans from coast to coast would rather not celebrate.  No – I’m not alluding to April 15th – but close.  This year, on April 13th we will celebrate Tax Freedom Day.  According to the Washington, DC based Tax Foundation, that marks the day of the year when Americans have earned enough money to pay off their total tax bill for the year.  In essence, every day you have worked through that date has been for Uncle Sam.  I have often wondered, if taxes were not taken out of each check throughout the year, what would the average American’s expression be when they wrote that check to the federal government covering the first four months of the year?

When I was in second grade, I went trick or treating with two of my neighborhood friends – Mike and Jerry.  Mike’s mother, Mrs. Tucker, volunteered to drive us around the neighborhood.  I was never sure why it was necessary as we ran from house to house.  But looking back now, I now know it was to keep an eye on us mischievous little tikes. I have always been fond of candy and I will say without shame that I dashed madly from one house to the next.  I’m sure the legendary Secretariat would have had a difficult time keeping up with me as I rang bell after bell, announcing my “Trick or Treat” war cry as loudly as possible to be rewarded with handfuls of hard candy.  I was also mighty proud of my “Batman” costume that my mother had sewn by hand.882210-thumb2

Mike and Jerry had a difficult time keeping up with me as I tore through the neighborhood in my quest to fill my bag to the brim.  Mike did his best but he fell far behind as did Jerry who never seemed to have his heart in it. Perhaps it could have been the clown mask instead of the gallant super hero but Jerry shuffled slowly from one porch to the next uttering his faint if not feeble “Trick or Treat.”  The competition ended with the loud honk of Mrs. Tucker’s horn and we all headed back to the car.  When we arrived she gushed how successful we all had been but when she carefully examined the bags she noticed while mine was nearly overflowing, and Mike’s contained a plentiful stash, Jerry’s little brown sack was extremely meager.

Mrs. Tucker gave a look only mothers can give, when she exclaimed, “Why Jerry, you hardly have any candy at all.”  With that, and much to my chagrin, she took healthy handfuls from my bag and a portion from Mike’s and gave us all equal amounts.”  “There now,” she said.with satisfaction, “Now you have as much as Billy and Mike.”  I remember to this day the dejection I felt riding back home as Jerry sat in the back seat eating my candy with a smug look on his face.  In a single act, Mrs. Tucker had taken a real swipe at American capitalism and crushed my incentive system.

Jerry, me, Mike, and Brent
Jerry, me, Mike, and Brent

As we celebrate April 13th this year – Tax Freedom Day – it still surprises me as a nation we take pride in the great strides we have made yet we do little to protect incentives that reward those who work harder and take more risk than the rest of the country.  Mrs. Tucker opened my eyes to the concept of redistribution of wealth.  It was an important lesson to learn.  On another note, I also learned never to go Trick or Treating with her son again.

The 35 little random truths I’ve encountered along the way

It’s hard for me to believe but in less than six months, I hit the big “5-0”.  Wow!  So, here are a few of the gems I’ve had to learn the hard way. The 35 little random truths I’ve encountered along life’s highway:


1. In any of my relationships, there have been highs and there have been lows and just one single high in each is greater than all the lows put together.

2. The worst truth is better than the very best lie.

3. In my Jaycee career, our local chapter in Rock Hill was recognized at the National Convention as the #1 Jaycee Chapter in the Number #1 Jaycee State (South Carolina) in America for two consecutive years in a row. That didn’t suck.

4. You cannot be successful standing on the sidelines watching the game of life played without you.

5. I’m not afraid of dying. I would be more afraid of never having fully lived. I have.

6. The most spectacular sight in the world is to see the sun rise on the horizon at South Beach (Miami). If you are a late riser, you can still see a spectacular sight at 2 pm out by the pool.

7. I was sixteen years old before I found out that Robert E. Lee was not the third member of the Holy Trinity.

8. The greatest reward for a person’s toil is not what they gain but what they become by doing it.

9. There was a couple of girls in high school whose kisses could make the world stop spinning. Congratulations to the men that married them.

10. Why is it easy to say “I do” and so damned difficult to say “I’m sorry”?

11. Dogs love you unconditionally. Cats are another story.

12. We could have saved a great deal of national anguish if Lee and Grant would have just stepped out the back of the tent and settled things. Give Ulysses a fifth or two and then just beat the crap out of him.

13. Dixie isn’t a black or white thing. It’s a state of mind. And if you don’t get it, you’re not from Dixie.

14. Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. But try explaining that to the dead guy’s family.

15. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. However, you can sure as hell make him wish he had.

16 Love what you do, do what you love, and deliver more than you promise – and my apologies to Gene Martin for stealing that line I’ve used for 20 years.

17 Anybody who does not think I’m patient did not sit with me in the stands at Williams Bryce for two years when the Cocks went 1 and 21 over two seasons.

18 We weren’t born racists.

19 The innocence of a child is God’s gift to humanity.

20 Speaking of God, I’m convinced he made me a Gamecock fan to keep me humble.

Go cocks!
Go cocks!

21 If there is a hell, and I believe there is, I would share it with 82,000 obnoxious fans dressed in purple and orange watching their team play for a national championship over and over for eternity. And did I mention that damn song? Go cocks!

22. Democrats believe government can solve any problem. Republicans believe people solve problems.

23. Those northern folks who always made fun of my accent are going to be real shocked when they get to heaven, and “She say’s ya’ll come on in.”

24. I’ve been a winner and I have been a loser. Trust me. Winning is a whole lot better. Coming in second sucks.

25. Some of us reach maturity faster than others. Some have maturity forced on them. And then there’s the rest of us that have to be whomped on top of the head.

26. If you are around long enough, bad things will happen to you. How you respond to those bad things reveal your character.

27. And when those bad things happen, remember – God never allows anything to happen that he (or she) does not expect you to be able to handle.

28. Life is a brief candle. Burn as brightly as possible and be thoroughly used up when you die.

29. Live life such that your friends and family say when you pass, “The Good Lord gave him the talents and abilities to change the face of the world – and he did.”

30. There was a elderly lady named Mrs. Trumbell who used to teach bible classes in second and third grade at Finley Road Elementary School in Rock Hill before the courts said we couldn’t have prayer in schools. She gave us all little red Bibles and recounted all the Old Testament stories that kept us in awe and made our imaginations race. God bless you Mrs.Trumbell.

31. Between Jeannie or Samantha – I’ll take Jeannie. That is if I can’t have both. And oh yeah, Mary Anne.

32. I cried when Dale won the Daytona 500. I wept again when he died there. And I still get tears in my eyes when I think about Junior going to the front six months later. Try and convince me God isn’t a NASCAR fan.

33. I’d love to have five minutes with Osama Bin Laden. I think God would forgive me.

34. I have always loved my mama, respected my daddy, and I sure miss my grandmamma Russell’s biscuits.

35. and I still believe the only limitations we have are those we place upon ourselves.

There endeth the lesson.


Taking Risks – Lessons from a Traveler

There’s a story about a traveler who was passing through a small rural town.  As he entered the town he saw a billboard.  On the white portion someone had drawn a target and right through the middle of the target was a shot through the bullseye.  He went down the road a bit and there was a wide magnolia tree with a target on it, and right through the middle of the target, he saw another arrow in the bullseye.  All over town…bullseyes. He thought to himself, “Somewhere in this town is one heck of a marksman and I’m going to find him.” 

By asking questions he finally did find him but it turns out the marksman was the village idiot.  The traveler said, “Sir you have a great gift.   No matter what they say about you…you have developed a unique skill.  Tell me, how did you get to be such a proficient marksman with the bow?”  The man answered, “Nothing to it.  First you shoot and then you draw the target!”

 That certainly takes out all the risk.  We are a nation that is sometimes scared to take the risk. Even though this country was founded upon the principle of taking risks.  We agree our health care, education system, and social security all needs to be reformed.  Yet, each election cycle we hear all the promises and each congress ends their term with little having been done.  On a more personal note, sometimes we’re all afraid of going out on the limb…reaching outside our own comfort zones.  Many of us equate taking risks to failures.  Failure will indeed confront all of us at some time or the other, particularly if we take risks.  I’m not talking about foolish or silly risks with dire consequences, but rather calculated risk – risks that are worth taking.

I remember the first time I ran for president of my local Jaycee Chapter in Rock Hill.  I lost.  Imagine if I had never ran again.  I would not have become state or national president of the Junior Chamber of Commerce and perhaps would not be in my vocation today.

1992 Campaign for National Jaycee President
1992 Campaign for National Jaycee President



Did you know Thomas Edison was thrown out of school in the early grades when teachers assumed he couldn’t do the work?  When Bob Dylan performed at a high school talent show, he was booed off the stage by his classmates.  Henry Ford forgot to put a reverse in the first car he manufactured.  A newspaper owner told Walt Disney to pursue another line of work, “You don’t have any creative, original ideas.”  All of these are instances where people took a risk, failed, and tried again.


Are we willing to take a risk for something we believe in?  Many would rather draw the target after they shoot and play it safe.  Personally, I’ll take a swing at it every time.  I say reach for the stars and even if you just clear the tree tops- you’ve left the ground and touched the sky!  It’s worth the risk.

Beating the Odds

In 1993, as President of the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees), I stood on stage in Tulsa, OK. recognizing the Ten Outstanding Young Americans.  The Jaycee’s TOYA program recognizes the best and brightest young people in America between the ages of 21 to 39 inclusively.  Standing on stage that night, I met a young man who demonstrated the qualities that set him apart from his peers.  John Foppe was born without arms.  John, 22 at the time, said on the stage that night, “Either God created me without arms or he created the will within me to deal with it and adapt.”  Adapt he did! 

John Foppe
John Foppe

When I met John, he was sitting on the floor behind the stage signing autographs with his feet.  Later that night, when I made a toast to our recipients, John picked up his glass of champagne with his toes, hoisted it to his mouth, taking a sip without spilling a drop.


John was recognized by the Junior Chamber for his humanitarian efforts.  While in high school he started the John P. Foppe Seminars and began an ambitious public speaking tour.  Proceeds from his events were donated to a Haitian orphanage.  When I met John he worked for Zig Ziglar as a motivational speaker and was recognized by Ziglar in the book Over the Top!

I watched John as he walked around the room that evening spreading encouragement and enthusiasm.  John said he looked at his limitations as opportunities.  Because of his handicap, he adapted and developed in other areas which could best serve him.


Today, our lake community and business leaders face opportunities brought on by this present economic challenge.  Companies and businesses face threats not seen in many of our lifetimes.  What we must remember, there is a correction with every economic cycle, and this too shall pass.  We are already seeing some very positive indicators which may point to our rise back up from this current downturn.


There has been strong participation in the Chamber’s many seminars, programs, and networking events.  Many businesses have taken advantage of the free counseling opportunities provided by SCORE and the SBA and will emerge from this situation a much stronger business.


John Foppe had every reason not to succeed in life.  He chose to meet the challenges head on and make something special of himself.  The things we take for granted have come hard for John.  On the stage that night, with tears in his eyes, he thanked God for the life he has and the success his challenges have brought him.


We should all keep in mind that the strongest steel is forged by the hottest fire.  It is through our many trials and mistakes that we learn and we grow.  We must live each day, adapting to the challenges we face, giving our absolute best…and like John, refuse to settle for nothing less.