Russell’s Ramblings

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

A Life Well Lived

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill Russell, Jr.

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

Lessons from the Sea

I was recently lucky enough to be invited to visit a friend in “Sunny” Florida. It was a wonderful short break and a chance to relax a little before jumping head first into the Chamber’s planning which takes place as we prepare for a new year of events and programming for our busy business organization.

As I strolled past the million dollar yachts in Fort Lauderdale, tucked in between was a small boat and a weathered old sailor, straightening his rig on a vessel that had certainly seen its share of adventures. This aged wooden structure stood in stark contrast to the large, sleek ships and their capable young crews. I couldn’t help but think that the old ship, like the captain that manned her, was winding down her years of service.

The Old Man and the Sea Ernest HemingwayAs I ventured up the road by the canal, I stopped by a little tavern and I ordered a beverage taking in the sun which glistened bright orange on the water. I’m not sure why, but my mind kept wandering back to the aged sailor who reminded me so much of Santiago from Ernest Hemingway’s, The Old Man and the Sea.  For those who may not recall the Pulitzer Prize winning book, its release launched Hemingway’s career and also won the renowned Author a Nobel Prize for Literature.

The book tells the story of an aging sailor whose most productive fishing days may have passed him by. He takes his boat out every day but the big catch always seems to elude him. Many of the town’s fishermen fear he is simply bad luck. Santiago though is persistent and eventually lands the elusive Marlin that he straps to his small raft. Unfortunately, on the way back to the village shore, sharks eat at the carcass of the giant Marlin.  Santiago fends them off, preserving his life, but losing the coveted trophy he had worked so tirelessly to attain.

Santiago reminds me of many of the entrepreneurs here at the Lake region. They launch their boat in search of their own Moby Dick. Equipped with a sense of optimism, persistence, a fishing pole and their own jar of Tartar Sauce, convinced if they work hard enough, they’ll land that big fish one day.

Some of us head into this New Year on a high note. Perhaps in 2018, you finally turned the corner and enjoyed the success you had hoped to achieve. Maybe you came up a little short, but you know that Marlin is just off the shore and you can pull him in with a little bit of luck and persistence this coming year.

Successful entrepreneurs cannot begin to count their failures. They don’t reflect much on the ones that got away. Instead, they look at each challenge as a stepping stone to their eventual success.

As the afternoon was slipping away, I passed back by the dock where I saw the old sailor. I was just in time to see him under way one last time. The sun had almost set, burning bright orange on the water as his boat sliced quietly through the smooth sea. The old man turned his boat, making his way back into the waterway. One last venture before the day yielded to the twilight of the night. His gaze firmly fixed on the horizon and his elusive fish was perhaps just a catch away.

Bill Russell

February 12, 2019 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Personal, Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Lessons from a lemonade stand

GardenPerhaps my favorite summer activity is gardening. I really enjoy going down to our farm in Rock Hill and working the ground that my dad, grandfather, and great-grandfathers toiled.  Perhaps the best thing about the garden is that the investment in labor always yields a bountiful harvest of fresh vegetables that keep my family and friends very happy.

A few summers ago, I drove through the back roads to the farm and passed by a little lemonade stand by the side of the road.  A little girl sat at a folding table and chair with a handwritten sign that said, “Fresh Lemonade.”  There was also what appeared to be a glass pitcher and a few Dixie cups stacked as she waited patiently for a thirsty customer who would certainly come along.

I did not have time to stop then, but made a mental note to drop by for a cool drink after working in the garden in the hot afternoon sun.  After spending a few hours tilling the soil and tying up the tomatoes, I packed up and headed home.  The little girl was still in her chair, head resting on her left hand, as she slumped down on the table.

I pulled my car over and walked over to her stand.  She jumped up and beamed a big smile as I asked her for a cup of her cold lemonade.  To be truthful, the lemonade was a little warm as the afternoon sun had taken a toll on the ice.  However, after a long day in the garden, the beverage was tasty and really hit the spot.  She charged me a whopping 25 cents.

After downing the delectable treat, I asked if I could have a refill.  She indicated that would require another quarter.  She carefully poured a second beverage, handed me my drink, and held out her hand for payment.  I pulled out a $5 bill and her eyes widened and mouth dropped in awe. The little girl timidly said, “Sir, I do not have enough change.”  I told her that was okay, she could keep the change as a tip.  As I drove away, I watched in the rear view mirror as she dashed back to her house waving the money.  Based on her excitement, I am guessing that she made more in one visit with me than she did all day.

The little girl’s location was not ideal – located on a lonely country back road where you’re more likely to see a stray dog wander by before the occasional car.  She clearly wasn’t prepared for any large transactions but I really admired the fact she stuck it out through the hot summer heat.lemonade-stand

That lemonade stand was similar to many businesses that are located in low traffic areas or operate without a solid business or marketing plan. The Lake Norman Chamber helps in those situations. We provide businesses with numerous opportunities to build new relationships through our many networking opportunities. Our chamber also gives business owners and managers’ new tools and knowledge needed for success, including presentations in financial planning, sales training, marketing, risk management, HR issues and other personal and business topics.

Unlike a lemonade stand, our lake businesses cannot afford to make critical errors in planning, financing, and marketing their business.  Our businesses are like a garden which requires constant attention. You do not just plant a seed – you have to constantly provide care.  Tilling, hoeing out the rows, fertilizing the ground, and supplying it with plenty of water.  However, if you put in the effort and investment in the business, the time spent building new relationships and cultivating existing ones, will yield a bountiful harvest and a successful business.

I’m not sure how much lemonade that little girl sold that afternoon but just thinking about her brings a big smile to my face. I hope she’s back there again this summer. A fresh pitcher of cool lemonade and perhaps this time a cookie or two.

Bill Russell

May 29, 2018 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Personal, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Place Called Hope

billThis past week, I stopped by one of our local Chamber Members – Kilwin’s Chocolate, Fudge, Ice Cream in Birkdale Village. Bill Kenney, the owner, has always been a very engaged member of our business community, often lending a hand to local charities and non-profits. When I asked how the New Year was starting off for his business, he smiled broadly as he reminded me we’re approaching Valentine’s Day and “these are the biggest weeks of our year.”

Valentine’s Day is that time of the year when we tell that special someone in our life just how much we love them. As I reflected on that notion the other day, I could not help but think just how much I simply love Lake Norman, and for many of us, there is quite a bit to love!

Arriving at the lake some twenty years ago, I met a young man who was just starting a local newspaper. Scott Hinkle was the editor and publisher of The Lake Norman Times which predated today’s Lake Norman Herald Citizen.

Scott’s paper focused on our lake communities and the great things happening in the region. He later became the 1999 Board Chair of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce and later Chair of Visit Lake Norman. Scott used to crack me up doing a spot on impression of former President Bill Clinton. He’d poke out his lip, cock his head, and with his thumb squarely pointed to the sky, he’d utter the line in a croaky Bubba accent, “I still believe in a place called Hope.”

Scott Hinkle personified leadership and he would be excited to know that next month, the Lake Norman region will have its very first leadership conference. Business Coach and John Maxwell Trainers Dave Ferguson and Titus Bartolotta will join communications consultant Heidi Hansen and myself as we headline what we hope is the first of many Living to Lead Leadership Conferences.

It will be held Wednesday, March 7th at Grace Covenant Church in Cornelius. The net proceeds of this conference will go to The Hope House Foundation. For those unfamiliar with The Hope House, this outstanding organization provides a safe home to females, whose lives have been turned upside down when she becomes displaced from a home due to job loss, illness, or a major life change. Her safety net may be broken and she needs her community’s support to help her work toward self-sustaining goals.

The Hope House is dedicated to helping women who are experiencing “situational” homelessness.  With 12 beds in a pleasant, congregate living environment, The Hope House encourages transformative life choices and helps women from various backgrounds, age groups, and all walks of life.

Neither a battered women’s shelter nor a substance abuse recovery center, The Hope House is simply a place for residents to call “home” for up to six months as they get back on their feet.Living to Lead Leadership Conference

Sadly, we suddenly lost Scott Hinkle a few years ago but his dream of a place called “Hope” still lives in the hearts of many people who call the Lake Norman region home.

The 2018 Living to Lead Leadership Conference will be a great opportunity to prepare your mind for leadership and your heart for service. In the process, your participation and support provides hope for those who need a helping hand.

Philosopher Thomas Paine once said, “We have it in our power to change the world.”  It starts, one person, one community at a time.  For women and children who are looking for that outstretched hand and a second chance – it often starts at Lake Norman. It starts – at a place called Hope.

Bill Russell, President

Information about the 2018 Living to Lead Leadership Conference is available by visiting LakeNormanChamber.org  or by calling the Chamber at 704-892-1922.

February 12, 2018 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Personal, Social Causes, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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