Russell’s Ramblings

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

My Wish This Holiday Season

billThe holiday season is upon us and with it comes the sights and sounds of Christmas. Regardless of your faith, December is often a special month of reflection, generosity, and family.  Listening to my favorite carols and songs brings back long cherished memories of family and friends. For many, it’s a spiritual season with thoughts of life’s purpose. But others face much darker days with the struggle of addiction. Providing them and their families, relief from the pain would be the greatest gift of all.

Last week, I attended my weekly Rotary Club meeting and listened as a young lady shared her story of addiction to opioids. The daughter of a Rotarian, she fought through tears as she shared her innermost struggle with substance abuse. She was an honor student, gifted athlete, and popular classmate. Yet, she still felt a lack of esteem and confidence, which led to handfuls of pills that wrecked her life, leaving a wide wake of personal destruction with family and close friends.

I squirmed in my seat as I listened to her recount how her parents tried desperately to reach out with counseling and assistance. But in the end, they were forced to lock her out of their house. It was a story I was all too familiar with as my stepbrother faced the same insidious demons.

The opioid epidemic is now considered the worst drug crisis in our nation’s history. These drugs kill more Americans than automobile accidents and opioids now claim more than 27,000 lives each year. Addiction knows no discrimination as every demographic segment has seen a dramatic rise in deaths from overdoses of prescription opioids and heroin.

In 2014, friends from my High School lost their son to his struggle with substance abuse. Their family was close and Hendon was a popular and gifted young man and a talented athlete. Their son was one of the most likeable young men you would ever meet.  But again, addiction does not discriminate – and another life ended entirely too soon – and another family faced unimaginable heartache.

Earlier this year, I attended the funeral of a very successful young chamber member. She was the mother of two little girls. Bethany lost a battle that far too many wage. Her family and her faith simply could not compete with the pull of addiction – the momentary high that robs from the future.opioid

The young lady at Rotary ended by telling us how each day is a struggle, but she is winning that battle one day at a time. It takes courage, time and tons of support. Ultimately, the answer must begin with an acknowledgement that there is a problem and there must be resolve to overcome it.

If I could have one gift this Christmas, it would be for our nation to put aside all the petty political bickering and focus on the real threats which face our great country, robbing each of us of our greatest living treasure – the sons and daughters of America.

Country Singer Vince Gill sings a song called, “Go Rest High on that Mountain.” In the song, Gill sings, “…only you could know the pain. You weren’t afraid to face the devil, you were no stranger to the rain.”

Let us hope as we face this year ahead, we do so resolved to ending the addiction crisis threatening our young people. United in a common cause to bring awareness to the issue and compassion to the cause. While we may not win every battle, no one should ever have to face the devil alone.

Happy Holidays and God Bless!

Bill Russell

 

The above column first appeared in the last issue of The Lake Norman Citizen Newspaper – Final Thoughts – November 29, 2017.

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December 5, 2017 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Personal, Politics, Social Causes, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Grandmama Tillie’s Chow Chow Recipe

Chow chowIngredients

4 cups Green Tomatoes

4 cups Cabbage

4 cups Onions (Vidalia) *

12 Green Peppers – Hot & Bell  (Hot sweet Bananas) *

3 cups sugar (Original recipe! – I cut back on sugar, no more than 1 1/2 cups) *

1/2 cups salt

1 tablespoon Celery Seed

2 Tablespoons Mustard Seed

1 1/2 Teaspoon Tumeric

4 cups Vinegar (Tillie used white vinegar.  I prefer Apple Cider and just a splash of Balsamic for additional flavor) *

2 cups water

Chop vegetables up and let stand overnight in salt. Rinse vegetables and drain 24 hours later and then combine other ingredients. Bring to a boil and simmer 3 minutes.  Seal in hot sterilized jars.

  •  I take liberties with the original using the Apple Cider and Balsamic Vinegars (just a splash of the Balsamic as you do not want to discolor the batch. I also add just a touch of fresh garlic to each jar and always use vidalia onions.  For a slightly hotter batch, cut a slice of hot pepper and put in the jar before sealing.

Mama (Sarah Feemster Russell) says you should always let the batch set up a couple of weeks before serving.  I tend to put a small jar in the fridge I’m tasting from.

This is the recipe that Jim and Tillie Feemster passed down – my grandparents. Enjoy!

June 25, 2017 Posted by | Personal | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Planting Seeds – our harvest of hope

Garden 1

Our garden

Spring! It’s the time of year I look forward to most of all. While I spend my weekdays working at the chamber, I look forward to those weekends when I can travel down to our family farm in Rock Hill and work in the garden that I have toiled in for almost five decades.

My passion for gardening began as a little boy when my Grandfather Russell first had me plant watermelon seeds in his garden. At the age of seven, I was creating little hills with my small hands, dropping in my precious seeds, and waiting for that day when I could plunge my fingers into a delicious Crimson Sweet.

Granddaddy didn’t confess up front all the work that went into harvesting that plump juicy melon. Instead, over the years, he broke me in slowly. By the age of 16, I was helping both Grandfathers (Russell and Feemster) with their gardens. Typically, on Good Friday (but never rotten Saturday), we planted our seeds and sometimes our plants that yielded the corn, tomatoes, beans, melons, squash, cucumbers, and peppers that we hopefully harvested later that summer.

A few weeks ago, I listened as a couple of local entrepreneurs shared the challenges they faced with their small business and I couldn’t help but realize the similarities between those aspiring entrepreneurs and any determined farmer.

First and foremost, it all starts with that single seed. For many entrepreneurs it might begin with a credit card and a dream sitting at a kitchen table. I still remember Jim Engel, the President of Aquesta Bank, sharing how the Lake Norman-based bank started in the basement of his home. Like most entrepreneurs, he began with a vision, surrounding himself with a close knit team, facing challenge after challenge, on their journey to success.

Both the farmer and the entrepreneur will put in long hours and hard work and for a farmer the heat, weeds, and critters will challenge you every step of the way.

Garden

Bill Russell working the garden.

Farmers can usually recount the one good year versus all the bad. They must be patient and optimistic, realizing that perhaps next year can be better than this year.

As a farmer, you pray for good weather, and in some years it seems, the sweat and tears were about the only moisture that kissed the soil that whole summer. Yet, the risks should never be obstacles from pursuing your dream. They are merely steps along the way and we learn from each and every one.

Entrepreneurs face a new challenge every day. Challenges which require perseverance and creativity. There are no shortcuts to success. Instead, they toil each day, creating new relationships, and nurturing existing ones.

Perhaps there is no better example of entrepreneurship than Tom and Vickie VanWingerden who immigrated to Huntersville from The Netherlands. They started their business in 1972 with a 20,000 sq. ft. greenhouse on Old Statesville Rd. That 1 acre plastic covered structure has blossomed today into Metrolina Greenhouses which employs 725 people year round and another 600 seasonally. It is also largest single-site heated greenhouse in the United States at 162 acres under roof. Quite an accomplishment for a farmer and entrepreneur!

My grandfather was never a wealthy man. Just an old country farmer who toiled from sun up to sun down. Yet, he taught me a great deal – not just about farming, but life.   Anyone can plant a seed, but it takes a farmer or an entrepreneur to envision what it can become. It takes passion, perseverance, and yes, luck. But in the end, the fruit of our labor is the harvest of hope.

Bill Russell, Huntersville

The above post ran as a column “Idea Exchange” in the March 29, 2017 issue of The Lake Norman Citizen Newspaper page 33.

April 4, 2017 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Personal, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Business of Education

The uncharacteristically warm days these past few weeks had me climbing into the attic to retrieve my summer clothes in anticipation of the spring and summer days ahead. Grabbing what I thought to be a box of summer shirts, turned out instead to be old scrapbooks and albums.

First G

Mrs Hope – First Grade Class Finley Road Elementary, Rock Hill, SC  1966

Feeling nostalgic, I found myself perusing through a worn binder filled with grade school pictures and most of my early report cards. I laughed when I read the comments from my first and second grade teachers who cited “Billy is much too talkative” and “Billy is a really busy boy,” which was polite southern speak for “Billy simply cannot stay in his seat!”

The truth is I was a very bad student in elementary school and there is a real place in heaven for those teachers whose patience was extremely taxed teaching such an immature and talkative kid. It was not until high school that I hit my stride and found a love of history, political science, and writing. I have to admit, there are times I wish I could go back and thank those women who persevered with me. I wish I could express my gratitude to Mrs. Hope and Sellers whose names I still fondly recall fifty years later.

Education is the foundation of our economic and business development at the lake.  Perhaps no single issue impacts commerce more than our workforce development. The strength of our American economy hinges on our public and private school systems as well as post-secondary education and vocational training.

Recently in a Chamber meeting of Corporate CEO’s and entrepreneurs, they pointed to a lack of a skilled workforce as a challenge to their success. They stressed it is critical that we develop our talent and prepare our young people who will soon enter the workforce.

This Thursday, March 16th, the Lake Norman Chamber will have an opportunity to hear from both our current and incoming Charlotte Mecklenburg School Superintendents when we host our Education PowerLuncehon at NorthStone Country Club.  It will be an opportunity to thank Dr. Ann Clark for her service as well as welcome new School Board leader Dr. Clayton Wilcox.

The following day, Friday, March 17th, the Chamber will host a Focus Friday with our area Charter and Private Schools at the Chamber. Both events are a chance to hear how our educational leaders are developing our future employees.

This past week we have held School Career Fairs at both Pine Lake Prep (3/7) and Hough High School (3/8). It was a chance for area businesses to meet with students and help them prepare for their vocational future.

027

Future Business Leaders of America – Hough High School

Joseph Addison once said, “I consider the human soul without education like marble in a quarry, which shows none of its inherent beauties until the skill of the polisher fetches out the colors and makes the surface shine.”

Looking at those handwritten notes from my teachers brought a bright smile to my face and a little tug on my conscience.  We can all mentor a student, provide a business internship, participate in a career fair, and donate to a school fundraiser. That is the responsibility we have to the future and the obligation we all have to the past.

Bill Russell

The above column appeared in The Lake Norman Citizen (March 1, 2017 page 39) as Take Time to Mentor a Mind of the Young.

March 10, 2017 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Personal, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Well Done John Kurti, Well Done

kurti-and-bill

Bill Russell and John Kurti at a Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce AfterHours Event

Once in a lifetime, if you’re lucky, the Lord will place someone in your life who makes a lasting impression. Someone who quietly goes about their life’s work with little fanfare, yet leaves you in awe of the impact he or she makes on the lives in a community. John Kurti was such a man.

I met John in the late 1990’s when he owned a Mail Box, Etc store here at the lake. Somewhat like Sam in the old TV series “Cheers”,  John would greet his customers with a smile. He wasn’t a man who simply mailed parcels – he knew you by name and you left assured your special package was in good hands.

John opened and sold several of the franchise stores and in doing so garnered a keen insight of how to market and manage a small business. Later, he served as a SCORE Counselor, the Small Business Group, who gives critical advice to both startup and existing small businesses. John often met his clients at the Lake Norman Chamber where I had the opportunity to watch him in action. He didn’t just impart lessons in entrepreneurship. He left his clients with the assurance that someone was in their corner. John cared and it showed.

John Kurti served three terms on the Lake Norman Chamber Board; longer than any other person in our 30 year history. He was also a founding board member of Visit Lake Norman and served that organization for 16 years before health issues plagued his final months.

John was not just a mentor, board member, and friend. He was often my roommate on chamber trips to Raleigh for Governor’s conferences and to Washington for legislative briefings. John was also one of three other chamber business leaders who accompanied me to Washington DC on a day none of us will ever forget –  September 11, 2001.  We heard news from then Senator Lieberman that a plane had struck the World Trade Center.  Moments later, while exiting one of the Capital buildings, we watched in disbelief and confusion as black smoke billowed from the Pentagon and the nation’s capital was filled with panic and fear.

The four of us drove the ten long hours back home in silence, wondering how life in America had changed. John, himself a past Israeli Air Force officer, was no stranger to the face of terror. He reassured each one of us that life would go on, and our country would emerge stronger – and it did.

kurti1

2002 Chamber  Board Chair Chris Angelino and Karen, 1999 Board Chair Scott Hinkle and Business Growth Chair John Kurti

John had dealt with health issues for many months prior to the day he made his triumphant return to the weekly North Meck Rotary Club meeting. As his presence was recognized, members applauded. His face filled with pride as he waved an arm high in the air signaling his deep appreciation and his return to our club. There were hugs, laughter, and love as the Rotary friends he cherished all shared how much he had been missed. John had previously served as our club president, and his passion for truth, fairness, and service above self, knew no bounds.

Perhaps that was God’s gift to both John and his friends that day.  One last chance to say how much we loved each other. One more hug before we said goodbye. Later, John passed peacefully away – just moments after our Rotary Club meeting ended. Just after the last toast and the last rap of the gavel. Now we all know, it signaled not only an end to the meeting, but a close to a chapter.

All of us would like to think our lives matter.  That we changed hearts, righted wrongs, brought peace to those who struggle, and strength to those who fear. That we used the talents God gave us to make this community and our world just a little bit better. John Kurti did that and more.

I know one thing for certain. He left this world knowing how much he meant to all of us at Rotary. I also have little doubt that he was greeted by his father in heaven, who took John by the hand, with the words we should all long to hear…..”Well done my faithful servant… well done!”

Bill Russell

January 26, 2017 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Personal, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Portrait of a Life well Lived

Ask anyone who knows me well and they will likely tell you I am a creature of habit. A typical work day begins with cups of coffee, looking through email, scanning the headlines of various news sites before I turn to social media and catch up with the unfiltered discussions of the day.

Last Friday was a day like many others as I perused Face Book, looking over the rants on I77, comments on the new Beach at Ramsey, and upcoming events over the weekend. I also took note of the birthdays and sent notices to those who were celebrating their special day.

That night was the annual Symphony at McGuire and for those of you who went, you may recall the brief intermission taken to allow for the bad weather to pass.  I took that opportunity to check out Face Book on my phone and there, among the many posts, was one which said that Donna Mitchell was losing her fight with cancer. She was one of those who I had written happy birthday earlier that morning.

It was perhaps fortunate that the darkness had fallen on McGuire as the symphony began to play again. It hid the anguish on my face and the tears which filled my eyes.

I wasn’t particularly close to Donna or her sister Tabetha, though both are chamber members. They joined a couple of years ago with their business Cork & Canvas and celebrated their ribbon cutting at the Chamber.

Donna Pic for Cluttered DeskIt was on a January night last year that the two ladies sauntered up to my table at a Lake Norman restaurant and presented me with a cup of mint chocolate chip ice cream. Donna explained they were celebrating Donna’s daughter’s birthday. It was something they did each year to remember Destin who passed away in a tragic car accident a few years ago.

Last fall, I read a post on Face Book from Donna as she shared they had found cancer and she was being treated at Novant here in Huntersville.  I asked Tabetha would it be okay to drop by and she indicated Donna would love it.

When I poked my head into the room, Donna was hooked up to an IV Machine. She apologized for how she looked as the chemo had taken a toll on her long locks of golden hair. But what I saw was the radiant smile that I remembered each time that we had met.

We spent the next hour talking about the highs and lows of life. Her low – the tragic death of her daughter. The pain of losing a child and the grief she carried. She had stopped painting, a gift she inherited from her father. But it was the love of her sister Tabetha who encouraged her to move to the lake and start a business with her that filled her life again.

Donna’s love of painting and Tabetha’s entrepreneurial spirit launched the Cork and Canvas painting parties as the two sisters helped people around the lake find their hidden talents.

Then the unexpected – the unwelcomed thief who steals moments and brings pain – cancer.

I followed Donna’s ordeal mostly through her posts on Face Book. When I recently read she was at Wake Forest and undergoing treatment, I thought about stopping by on my visits to Raleigh. But like so many of us, time also seemed to get in the way.  Maybe next time!

On June 1st, I read a post where she spoke of her challenge and how much she appreciated the support of so many. I sent her a personal email encouraging her and reminding her she was in our prayers. She thanked me and then sent the little Smiley Face emoticon. That was our last chat and looking back, I cannot help but think how appropriate.  It’s the smile I do remember the most.

The painter’s hands are resting now. Her canvass is complete. A life filled with the bright bold colors of love in the lives she touched and the light pastels that spoke to her lows. Donna was a wife, a mom, a sister, a daughter… and yes a painter. Her illness cut short our time together but it left a portrait not of an unfinished life, but a bright splendid painting of triumph over adversity and the realization to seize every moment with broad bold strokes.

Our last words at Novant was for her to get better so she could teach me to paint. Looking back on that moment, I realize she taught me much more than that. It was really a lesson in how to live.

July 5, 2016 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Personal, Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

The regrets of a southern strategist

Russell thoughts 1Last year, many of us watched the Senate campaign between Thom Tillis and Kay Hagan play out on our televisions and splashed across the papers in the most expensive race in U.S. history. More than $103 million was spent as the candidates engaged in a spirited campaign.

Thom is not just a huge supporter of business at the lake or simply one of our own.  I have known the Senator and his wife Susan for more than a decade and they are both personal friends. I cringed watching the attack ads on TV and seeing the messaging in newspapers.  Much of it was baseless and untrue.  I’m also quite certain the same could be said in regards to the attacks on then Senator Hagan.

A product of South Carolina, one of our native sons was a master of negative advertising.  The late Lee Atwater had few rivals in his ability to spin, boxing candidates into corners, and helping his party and their candidates onto victory.

In the last few weeks I have read things on social media about local candidates for office that I think would make even Lee Atwater blush.  Social media such as Face Book and Twitter allow anonymous critics to hurl filth with the only true goal – to maliciously hurt another individual.  Some keyboard cowboys and cowgirls launch personal attacks that they would never do face to face.  What some claim as fact is nothing more than pure fiction designed to prop themselves up by pulling others down.

In the end, it is our community which is hurt most by the baseless accusations and negative attacks. Negative campaigning is nothing new.  The founding fathers of our country did not get along either. Even George Washington was falsely accused of being senile by those who sought to take his office.lee-atwater-1138-20070813-4

Perhaps no one said it better than Lee Atwater himself.  Facing the illness which eventually took his life at age 40, he said, My illness helped me to see that what was missing in society is what was missing in me: a little heart, a lot of brotherhood. The ’80s were about acquiring—acquiring wealth, power, prestige. I know. I acquired more wealth, power, and prestige than most.”

“But you can acquire all you want and still feel empty. What power wouldn’t I trade for a little more time with my family? What price wouldn’t I pay for an evening with friends? It took a deadly illness to put me eye to eye with that truth, but it is a truth that the country, caught up in its ruthless ambitions and moral decay, can learn on my dime. I don’t know who will lead us through the ’90s, but they must be made to speak to this spiritual vacuum at the heart of American society, this tumor of the soul.”

The words we choose can be daggers to the soul or inspire others to reach new heights. In the end – the choice is ours.

October 27, 2015 Posted by | Personal, Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Life’s Great Lesson’s – #2 Small acts of kindness are the greatest rewards

Grandmamma Feemster - Mother's Day 2009

Grandmamma Feemster – Mother’s Day 2009

The hustle and bustle of this holiday shopping season reminded me when I was a little boy my Grandmother Feemster used to take me shopping with her. She lived about 15 miles outside of Rock Hill (SC) in what we called “the country.” On Saturday mornings, she would wake me to a bowl of Frosted Flakes cereal and then it was “off to town.” Grandmother enticed me on the excursion with the promise I could pick out a toy, typically a model, I could put together later that day if I joined her.

It seemed I spent five minutes picking out my model and five hours waiting on Grandmother as she went from store to store looking at all the latest women’s fashions. After many hours of looking at garment after garment, Grandmother would take my hand and walk me into the Shoney’s where I always purchased a “Big Boy” hamburger and Grandmother had a salad with French dressing.

We still had two stops left. I was once again treated for my patience with a Vanilla milk shake at the Crown Creamery and Grandmother purchased a Black Cherry ice cream, usually one scoop in a cup. The last stop was at the fabric store just before we left town.

There she would buy patterns, fabrics, zippers, and thread for all the pretty garments she had seen earlier in the day. Granddaddy Feemster was typically off fishing with his buddies on those weekends. So, Grandmamma would serve me up a Turkey TV Dinner for supper which was always my favorite as I watched Mannix on TV.

She in turn would hover over her Singer sewing machine and began re-creating the pretty dresses she had seen earlier in the day. Some she would sell for spending money. Others she made for her daughters – my mother Sarah and Aunt Betty. But rarely, perhaps never, was one of those pretty dresses for herself.

A few night ago, someone asked what was the most memorable Christmas I had as a child? It didn’t take me long to think. When I was 7 or 8, Grandmamma went to town and bought all the grandchildren Christmas Gifts. I don’t recall now what she purchased my cousins Jim or Kim, but when I opened up my box, in it I found a stuffed monkey.

I still remember crying that I wanted what Jim had received. Not some old stuffed monkey! My mama explained that the gift I received was actually more expensive than both of their gifts put together. But she couldn’t stop my tears. Who wanted a dumb stuffed monkey?

Well, my Grandaddy Feemster didn’t tolerate such behavior and he promptly took the monkey, opened up the front door, and tossed it out in the front yard in the dark abyss beyond my sight. I can still remember my shock as I thought about my poor old monkey laying out there in the cold.

I ran outside and rescued him and from that day forward I slept with him until we put aside little boy ways. I still have my old monkey. He’s tattern and torn. One felt hand is missing and an ear’s about chewed off. He’s been ripped and sewed up more times than I can count. He and I have both been through a lot but we’re both still here and my monkey is the only toy I have from my childhood.Billy's Monkey

Granddaddy Feemster passed away in December of 1988 and we lost Grandmamma in February of 2011. My grandparents were never wealthy people and what little granddaddy had he spent on fishing and drinking – his favorite past times. It was largely grandmamma who worked from the time she rose until the time her head hit her pillow. Her nickname was Miss Tillie from Tillie the Toiler and toil she did.

As I listened to the folks share their Christmas memories the other night, I thought of Grandmamma – Miss Tillie. Everyone in her life came first. What I wouldn’t give to turn back the clock and spend one more afternoon with her. I’d love to be able to buy her one of those pretty dresses or treat her to a Back Cherry Ice Cream – just one scoop.

But I know she’s in heaven with all her brothers and sisters and the man she loved so much – my granddaddy. She’s Walking in the Garden, a song she hummed so often while she sewed, and she’s wearing a pretty dress all her own. A dress woven of love and stitched by the hand of God himself.

January 1, 2015 Posted by | Personal | , , , | Leave a comment

Barium Springs – A promise of hope

The article below appears in the August issue of Cornelius Life Magazine.

Isn’t it amazing in this fast paced world of smart phones, laptops, Facebook, and texting, it’s the simplest of things that teach us what’s really important in life. I was reminded of that by a teenager whose words made my heart tremble and brought tears to my eyes.

As the president of the chamber, I am keenly aware that while we are blessed to live in the Lake Norman region, there are still many in our community that need a helping hand. The generosity of our residents is nothing short of spectacular as we give freely of our time, talents and financial resources from Habitat Homes for single parents to Big Day at the Lake.

Mooresville Mayor Miles Atkins with Bill Russell at Barium Springs Luncheon

Mooresville Mayor Miles Atkins with Bill Russell at Barium Springs Luncheon

 

A few weeks ago, I attended a fundraiser for Barium Springs at The Cove Church in Mooresville.  Surrounded by approximately 400 other community and business leaders, we networked and discussed the issues of the day ranging from taxation to tolls waiting on the program to begin.  

Then the lights dimmed and I heard those words, those chilling words which seared into my soul.  I looked into the eyes which stared back into mine and the face of innocence weathered by years of abuse and neglect.  I listened as Barium Springs volunteers and school officials shared their own particular stories. Barium Springs provides an array of services for children, families and individuals throughout our state.  Their main objectives are to provide a safe home through residential homes and foster care; to heal the hurt for children who are troubled, abused or neglected; and to encourage a healthy start through educational and prevention programs.

I grew up with two parents who loved their children.  Mom and dad were both very active in the Rock Hill (SC) community serving in civic organizations like the Jaycees, Kiwanis, United Way, Red Cross and our church.  Dad worked with other kids as a commissioner of Little League Baseball and ironically daddy led an effort to create a Boys Home for kids who found themselves in need of mentoring and guidance.

To this day, when I call my mom she always ends the conversation telling me “I love you.”  And her words still warmly embrace me just as they did in my youth when she tucked me into bed each night.  Those words come harder for dad.  It’s his actions which speak louder than the words as we enjoy a Saturday afternoon football game together or a horseback ride through the woods on our family farm.

I listened that May day as teenagers told their stories of neglect.  Parents who sometimes never got out of bed, their minds and bodies wracked by years of substance abuse, leaving a trail of victims in their wake – among them their children.  Kids that before Barium Springs, never had a bed to sleep in or a pillow to rest their head. 

As I watched a short video, a young man appeared on the screen.  He spoke of the years of abuse at the hands of his father.  But it was the eyes which touched my heart. The pain and anguish that no child should ever have to endure.  Barium Springs has turned his life around and today he is a good student, involved in athletics, with a chance for a scholarship and a bright hope for the future.

 

Cody

Cody

Then he said it, those words which still bring tears to my eyes.  The first time they escaped his lips, I felt my eyes well up and I hoped those at my table wouldn’t see me weep.   At that moment in time, he was not speaking to a camera or the other 400 people in the room.  He was speaking to me when he said, “I want to grow up and be the daddy my father wasn’t.”

No one can undo the hurt or the scars they leave.  Memories may linger, but with a new day comes a promise of hope. The volunteers and contributors to Barium Springs provide that hope through support and unconditional love…and perhaps the chance to be a parent that their mother or father wasn’t.  

ill Russell

Bill Russell is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce.  For information about Barium Springs, to set up a tour of their campus, or make a contribution call 704-872-4157 or visit  www.bariumsprings.org.

July 29, 2013 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees), Personal, Social Causes | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Father’s Gift

Dad, his long time friend Harold Ramsey, and myself at a Carolina Baseball game.  Baseball is one of dad's passions!

Dad, his long time friend Harold Ramsey, and myself at a Carolina Baseball game. Baseball is one of dad’s passions!

Pope John XXII once said, “It is easier for a father to have children than for children to have a real father.” A few weeks ago I was invited to speak at the induction of the National Honor Society at Lake Norman Charter School.  I spoke to many of the parents there, who beamed at the success of their sons and daughters.  Having parents that are involved with their children, serving as mentors, and showering them with love are the greatest gifts you can give a child.

My brother, sister and I had parents who did just that.  Father’s Day is a chance to say thank you – thank you for picking me up when I was down.   That no matter what crushing blow I felt, I would always get past it.

A dad shakes his head at your mistakes, hoping you learn, as he takes your hand, and pulls you up.  He’s there to teach you life’s lessons…and in my case, sometimes over and over again.

Billy on board dynamite - 1965

Billy on board dynamite – 1965

I was born and raised in Rock Hill (SC) and my father’s family owned a farm where he still lives.  When I was five, my parents purchased me a black and white pony that I appropriately named – “Dynamite.”  That little fellow lived up to his billing as he seemed to take great delight in throwing me time and time again.  Dad, simply picked me up and put me back on the horse, sternly counseling me, “You have to show him you’re not afraid.  You have to show him who’s the real boss.”

Between sniffles I pointed out I was afraid and there was no doubt…he was the real boss.  But dad simply sat me back up in the saddle, put the reigns tightly in my little hands and off we went. In truth, just about anywhere that pony really wanted to go which was usually to the barn!   Many including mom and Grandmamma Russell were not real happy with dad’s insistence.

Looking back though, I’m not sure who suffered more – my backside or dad’s ears.  Mama really took dad to task and to this day, none of us have forgotten those Sunday afternoons with “Billy breaking Dynamite.”   “But at the end of the day, it was an important lesson.  Life will throw you time and time again, but you have to get back up in the saddle, hold on tight, and ride the  rough out of it.  It’s okay to be a little afraid but never, ever give up.

Dad was there when I lost my first election running for president of my college fraternity.  He shared the first time he too had lost an election, but the next time out, he won his race.  He pointed out that in retrospect, he was perhaps a better leader learning from the earlier setback.  And once again, he was right.

Dad was there to help with my homework. He tried so hard to help me master the ground ball.  He tied my first tie and walked down the aisle with me the first time I said “I do.”  Mom and dad both were there to hold me when my world seemed dark and stood on stage years later when the world was so right.

Former North Carolina State Coach Jim Valvano, a life lesson himself, said of his dad, “My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me.”

And perhaps the greatest gift a child can give to his or her parents is simply to say, “l love you both!  Happy Father’s Day, Dad.”  And while I’m at it – I love you too mom, both of you!!!

Bill Jr.

June 7, 2013 Posted by | Leadership Lessons, Personal | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment