Russell’s Ramblings

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

Access Granted – Working Together Works!

A few summers ago, I wrote an editorial called “Access Denied” which our Charlotte area media picked up.  In the editorial, I wrote about the “then-ban” on public access swimming in our Mecklenburg County Parks.  I pointed out that if you are not fortunate enough to own lakefront property or a personal watercraft or know someone who does – you have no access to our beautiful lake.  While there are some businesses which rent watercraft, for many in Mecklenburg County who may not have the financial resources to do so, they are left “high and dry.”

I have written in the past and shared with countless others in talks to business and civic groups, elected leadership, and the media that many of our county residents simply do not have the resources that many of us take for granted.  Individuals and families who do have lakefront homes and watercraft should enjoy what they have worked hard to attain.  However, access to the lake should be made available to everyone.

Anyone who has ever participated in “Big Day at the Lake”, a program for Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Charlotte, can attest first hand on how a day at the lake affects a child’s life.  I have been so fortunate to see kids who have never been on a jet ski, pulled behind a boat on a raft, or in some cases just been swimming in a lake, enjoy our great lake for the first time.

Last evening, at the North Mecklenburg Candidate Forum, Mecklenburg County Commissioner Karen Bentley announced that Parks and Recreation Director Jim Garges had informed her that the county will allocate $430,000 in the FY14 Capital Projects list for Ramsey Creek Beach.  Jim stated with these funds, Mecklenburg County will be able to plan, apply for a permit, construct drawings, and hopefully have enough funds to build the beach.

While the county is dependent on permitting, and funding will always take top consideration on capital improvement projects, this is great news for our lake communities and the residents of Mecklenburg County.  It also will have a profound impact on travel and tourism and the families and children who visit us in the future.

Our region has been recognized as both a great place to live as well as a great place to do business, evidenced lately by the opening of ABB in Huntersville and the recent MSC Industrial Direct Co. announcement relocating jobs to Davidson. Sports enthusiasts recognize the lake and our recreational facilities are among the country’s best.

The announcement last night by Commissioner Bentley was welcome news.  In my bucket list of things to do, we cannot quite strike Public Swimming at the lake off the list yet.  However, we are one step closer to hearing the laughter of children and the splashing on our shores from children and families of all walks of life – not just the privileged few.

I’ve always thought our greatest liquid asset shouldn’t be off limits to the public.  Lake Norman is not just a body of water with 520 miles of shoreline – it is a lifestyle everyone should have the opportunity to experience.

Now let’s go build us a conference center at the lake and prove to world, we’re serious about business.  A destination for some, a wonderful experience to remember for others…and to those of us who live here – a great place we call home.

October 5, 2012 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Lake Access | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Big Day at the Lake

Perhaps no other single event at Lake Norman impacts children as much as Big Day at the Lake.  “Big Day,” which takes place on a Saturday in July, was created by Business Today publisher Dave Yochum.  On July 21st, the Lake Norman business community, along with quite a few retired and active community citizens, opened their checkbooks and shared their time and resources with 144 at-risk children from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Charlotte.

Close to 80 boat hosts took out the Big Brother or Sister (Bigs) along with their “littles” who enjoyed a morning on the lake – many for the first time.  Then it was off for lunch at the Energy Explorium where 600 hot dogs, 75 pizzas, and 20 pounds of Cole slaw was dished out by the volunteers from many of the lake’s active civic clubs.

Big Day organizers set a goal of $50,000 in cash, and while businesses are just beginning to see the clouds of economic recession fade, the group exceeded their goal with slightly more than $60,000 collected.  It is estimated that 83% of every dollar collected goes right back into the charity itself.  Those contributions will help assist the organization long after the summer has passed.

I have been fortunate the last few years to be the guest of the Brian Sisson family as Brian, Tricia, Kaitlyn, and Sam typically hosts a “Big and Little.”  This year the Sisson’s took Willie and his Big Brother Aaron Grissom out on the lake.  Willie is a fifth grader and you could see the excitement in his eyes as he stepped aboard the Sisson boat.

Willie with his big brother Aaron and Aaron’s girlfriend at Big day

Aaron and Willie have been teamed up for a couple of years.  They have battled the rapids at the WhitewaterCenter in Charlotte and taken in Carowinds but I don’t think any of that compared to piloting the boat back to the Peninsula Yacht Club or making the flip off the back of the boat into the cool water with all the other children watching.

Hearing the splashing and laughter last Saturday at Big Day at the Lake brings back so many fond memories I have as a child with the wonderful trips our family took to the beach and our days out on Lake Wylie (SC) that we just affectionately referred to as “the river.”

Kids like Willie will never forget their Big Day at the Lake.  A day when strangers became friends.  When the families of Lake Norman opened their hearts to impressionable young people letting them know we care.

It was a day when Charlotte’s kids were our kids. A day filled with a compassion as wide as the shoreline and deeper than Lake Norman’s deepest point. It was a day like no other.  It was our Big Day at the Lake.

July 30, 2012 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Social Causes, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

People are the greatest profits

The international pharmaceutical corporation, Merck and Company, has always stressed that it was not just another drug company looking at making a profit.  It has always impressed upon its workforce that service to humanity is the best work of life.  About three decades ago, in the 1980’s, Merck and Company developed a drug that could cure river blindness, a disease that infects and causes blindness in millions of people, particularly those in developing companies with diminished infrastructure.

While it was a great product, the targeted consumer was perhaps the least able to afford the drug.  The customer simply could not afford to by it.  So what did the pharmaceutical company do?  It developed and manufactured the drug anyway and in 1987 announced that it would give the medicine free to anyone who needed it.  By the following year, the company had given away more than 250 million tablets.

George W. Merck said, “We try never to forget that medicine is for people.  It is not for profits.  The profits follow, and if we have remembered that, they have never failed to appear.”

This past month the Chamber heard an outstanding presentation from Jim Stella, a retail development specialist from ElectriCities.  Recently the utility company studied demographics and buying trends from the North Mecklenburg Communities of Cornelius, Davidson, and Huntersville.

A particular focus was what market segments do we have an over-supply, what segments could be targeted for retail growth, and what is the leakage to other communities.  The big take away from the session was how much we as a community and region support our fellow businesses.  The data strongly supported families who lived in Cornelius shopped in Huntersville and residents in Davidson bought goods and supplies in Mooresville as well as their own town.

As a Chamber of  Commerce, the message of “Buy Local” is extremely important.  Those dollars we spend in a local retail store or restaurant are turned several times in our community putting people to work and growing the local business community.

While no doubt the reason folks shop at stores and businesses in the lake is because of the deals they find and the service they receive.  But a big part of it is also the relationships we enjoy here.  We’re all one big family.   We also have some of the most compassionate and generous businesses owners, managers, and employees you would ever meet.  Our local charities: Ada Jenkins, United Way, Big Day at the Lake, Habitat for Humanity, Angels and Sparrows and many countless others are testaments to the fact that local businesses at the lake are not just focused on being great businesses, they are part of being part of something bigger than their own business.

Christmas in Davidson

This holiday season, when you look at buying that gift for someone special – shop the lake and the many businesses that make our region so special.  When you see that volunteer asking for a contribution to help someone in need – consider giving just a little bit more.  Do something good in business – profits will follow.  Do something good for someone else – you change a life. Quite possibly – your own!

 Happy Holidays!

December 21, 2011 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chambers of Commerce feel Lake Norman is The Great Lake

Recently the Lake Norman and Mooresville Chambers of Commerce launched a branding campaign which has people talking – “Lake Norman – The Great Lake.” I wrote a letter to the editor discussing why many peeople who live and work in the Lake Norman region feel Lake Norman is simply that – The Great Lake…


What constitutes “Greatness”? In a sports team do we measure greatness by how old the team is or by how many games they have played?  In a restaurant is it the number of items on the menu or how much is charged for the meal?  When it comes to a city or town, is greatness determined by the population or where that municipality is located?  Finally is the greatness of a lake measured by how deep, how wide, or how much shoreline it has?

The Mooresville South Iredell and Lake Norman Chambers of Commerce have recently, at the request of the Lake Norman Transportation Commission, examined the branding of the lake region. We first looked to the past, recognizing that long before the creation of the lake itself, the Catawba Indian Nation, who settled this land referred to the Catawba River as “The Great River.” I am sure in the eyes of those from the Mississippi Delta, such a notion might be met with ridicule.  However, for the Catawba’s, as is the case today, greatness lies in the land and the people itself, not the water contained by its shore.  Some might point out that Lake Norman is a man made creation, not a body of water carved out from the land over time. But aren’t both the handiwork of our creator?

I have visited the northern Great Lake region several times and enjoyed the scenic beauty our Great Lakes offer. I marveled at trucks and cars driving over frozen Lake Michigan. They are indeed majestic “Great Lakes.”  Perhaps I am a fair weathered guy but I cannot envision myself drilling into the ice to fish in the bone chilling cold. Those dedicated anglers watching the scenery walk by bundled in their parkas and mitts. I much prefer fishing off the back of a Ranger Bass Boat at Lake Norman. The sun gently kissing the back of my neck, listening to Buffett, Beach, or a colorful country classic as much more alluring scenery passes by – often in the same season of the year!

As a product of the Carolinas, I know it causes some degree of anxiety for those on the west coast that “The USC” is in Columbia, South Carolina. Likewise for people of the south, real barbecue is pork, mustard or vinegar base, not chopped up beef with some tangy ketchup slapped on it. While we can debate which state university should bear the name “Carolina” or whether New Jersey is really “The Hot Dog Capital of the World,” – it is not debatable for me that we live and work in a great community.

Like the Catawba’s who settled this great land, I believe I live in the most dynamic and vibrant region of the nation. It is defined by the people who live here and who accept nothing less but their very best. It is the legacy of a people whose heart is as large as the shoreline itself and whose compassion for projects like Big Day at the Lake are deeper than her deepest point. I am fortunate to live, work, and play in the greatest region of our country – “Lake Norman, The Great Lake”. To some – our lake has become a destination and still others a relocation.  However, for the rest of us, it is simply the place we call home.


April 12, 2011 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Our Big Day on Lake Norman

My sister Tanya, Brother Todd, and neighbor Karlie on a family Beach outing

From my earliest recollections, I cannot remember a time not filled with trips to the beach or lake. My summers were spent at Myrtle, Cherry Grove, and Ocean Drive with outings to Ebenezer Landing and many of Rock Hill’s (SC) lakeside parks.  As a child I spent many a morning and afternoon building castles in the sand, diving through the ocean’s waves, or collecting seashells from the shore.  Later into my teens and adulthood, I would trade in my pail and shovel for cold draft beer, visions of Carolina girls stretched out on the beach, and trips to Crazy Zacks, Mother Fletchers, the Afterdeck and Bowery.

When I was fifteen, I began taking trips out to Lake Wyle with my boyhood friends, Bryan, Bynum, Charlie and Eddie.  We would board Bynum’s small outboard motor boat which we used to pull each other on skis.  Thank goodness none of us were bigger than a minute as the small engine often strained to tug us out of the water.  I was perhaps the last of the bunch to actually learn to ski.

On one of our excursions out on Lake Wylie we were joined on the lake by a neighbor of Bynum’s, whose father owned a fairly large vessel but more importantly to us, had a young daughter that was the vision of absolute loveliness.  While only thirteen, she had all of us teenage boys transfixed as she stood before us in her little yellow two piece bikini.  If my blood had not stirred before, this young goddess would forever be etched in my mind as a true joy of life.

When I admitted sheepishly that I had no experience on skis, she offered to show me how behind her father’s boat.  My friends looked on with envy as I stepped aboard their vessel, donning a life jacket, and slipping into the water with this object of our fascination.  She wrapped her small bronze arms around my chest, showing me how to hold the rope, and encouraging me to bend my knees until the boat began its strong pull lifting me out of the water.  I wasn’t sure whether to fail at my attempt to gain another lesson or to succeed and feel her pride in our success.  That afternoon 35 years ago and the memories we all shared from our summers together are as fresh as yesterday.  The experiences with my family and friends aged with each passing summer are the well worn pages of my life.

Brian Sisson and Honesty

This past weekend Lake Norman played host to Big Brother Big Sisters of Charlotte as 138 kids and their Big Brother – Big Sister were hosted by 85 boat hosts.  I was fortunate again this year to be invited by former Huntersville Mayor Pro Tem Brian Sisson, his wife Tricia and daughter Kaitlyn.  The Sisson family hosted Big Sister Monica Croskey and her “little” sister Honesty along with Mecklenburg County Commissioner Karen Bentley.  Honesty, who attends elementary school in Charlotte, has been partnered with Monica for about a year.  Monica is a financial analyst with the City of Rock Hill and we spent some time talking about her employer and my home town.  By the end of our conversation, it was evident that Monica loves Rock Hill as much as I do and that the city has one outstanding Ambassador in Monica!

Brian tied up with several other boats hosting kids as they jet skid, rafted, fished, and swam.  We were all amazed as one young child who could be no more than ten caught a catfish among all the splashing, laughter, and noise.  Honesty spent most of her time lying on a float as she basked in the hot sun. The kids feasted on hot dogs and sodas before they headed out to McGuire’s Energy Explorium for a cookout. The afternoon on the lake will never be forgotten by the kids who enjoyed their “Big Day on the Lake.”

A few weeks ago, I had a chance to get together with my buddies Bynum, Charlie, Eddie and their wives as we swapped stories and reminisced about our youth.  Years from now, the kids of Big Brothers – Big Sisters will do the same.  They’ll talk about the afternoon that stranger’s opened their arms and their hearts and welcomed them in.  They did so with hearts as deep as Lake Norman itself and arms as wide as the shoreline it covers.

Honesty with Big Sister Monica Croskey

This past weekend the families of Lake Norman gave some wonderful children a very special gift and the families of Lake Norman received a special gift of their own from God.  Gifts that everyone will remember – “Our Big Day on the Lake”.

July 26, 2010 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lake Norman – Family, Fun & the Fourth!

Lake Norman-morning pier viewThe summer is in full swing at the lake.  July is a month for family vacations, community festivals, and a chance to celebrate the freedoms that generations of Americans have paid dearly for us to enjoy.  Perhaps no month says “fun” more than July with the Big Day at the Lake, Davidson’s Concerts on the Green, and the Fourth of July celebrations that will be taking place.   My family – on my mother’s side – has always celebrated the Fourth of July with Family Reunions taking place at our church in Rock Hill.  As many as 200 family members show up for the annual celebration that has gone on for decades.  There are literally so many cousins, we have to wear name tags to identify who is who!

Recently, one of our Chamber members stopped by for a cup of coffee and to share their excitement that their business was again beginning to take off – a sure indicator to them that the economy was warming back up at the lake.     During our conversation, they shared how much the Lake Norman Chamber seemed to be a big family.  “While other Chambers I belong to certainly promote my business – this one is unique.  I feel we’re all one family,” they stated.  It’s a story I’ve heard countless times but one I can never hear enough.  We are indeed a big family – with all the highs and all the lows.

A few weeks ago, I was invited to attend the Eagle Scout Ceremony of

The Boss Family - U.S. Citizens

The Boss Family - U.S. Citizens

Phillipe Boss.  Phillipe is the son of Heinz and Erika Boss, owners of The Coffee Boss – themselves, an inspirational story.  Heinz joined the Chamber  when he and his wife moved to Cornelius and opened their store.  Heinz and Erika were one of the lucky few who won a chance to immigrate through a lottery from Switzerland.  Shortly after joining the Chamber, Heinz sponsored a PowerLuncheon at NorthStone Country Club and standing before his fellow Chamber members proudly proclaimed, “We are living our dream!”   I cannot even begin to share how much pride I saw on Heinz and Erika’s face as their son achieved something that less than 5% of Boy Scouts achieve – the prestigious Eagle Scout designation.  

In the same week that I attended that wonderful occasion, a very involved Chamber Ambassador stopped by my office to share some troubling news he had received from his doctor.   He pulled my staff together in my office and shared his condition.  He began like so many others I have heard, “You guys are like family to me…and I need my family right now…”   Even as I write this, tears are filling my eyes and I feel the all too familiar lump rise in my throat.  We all hugged and with steel resolve he stated he would meet this challenge with the same determination he puts into his business every day.    The good news is the early prognosis is very positive and I know he will win that race – the most important he has ever run.

Chamber Ambassadors

Chamber Ambassadors

The Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce is many, many things.  For most, it’s a great way to network, build important relationships, and to improve business skills.  To others it is the voice of business at Lake Norman… and to still others, it’s a special family.  We care about our community and we care about each other.  After all, at the lake, business is a family tradition.

June 29, 2009 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Access Denied

 Big DayOnce a year, a group of kids get to experience what many children experience summer round – access to Lake Norman.  In June, Big Brothers and Big Sisters participate in the Big Day at the Lake that Business Today publisher Dave Yochum has poured his heart into.  The project typically pairs 120 to 150 kids with a Big Brother or Sister for the day.  Local lake businesses and community citizens have embraced this project providing a day of fun, food, and fellowship on the waters of Lake Norman.  Simply put, it is a great event!

The shame is for the other 364 days of the year, the region’s greatest recreational asset is largely off limits to a huge segment of our population.  Not since the civil rights struggles of the 1960’s has one demographic of the population been denied the privileges afforded others.  Lake Norman, which covers more than 32,500 acres with 520 miles of shoreline, has only one public swimming area and NONE on the Mecklenburg County shoreline of the lake.  Certainly people who have worked hard and earned their respective lakefront property deserve the fruits of their labor.  Thousands more have boats and personal watercraft that give them access to our greatest liquid asset – Lake Norman.  However, if you do not know someone with lakefront property or someone who has a boat or watercraft, you are one of the growing majority denied access to North Carolina’s largest man-made lake.

Residents of North Mecklenburg and South Iredell and our visitors have one alternative – Lake Norman State Park located at exit 42 in Troutman.  The park is a nice amenity with hiking trails, picnic shelters, and a public swimming area.  But the point is that taxpaying residents of our region, the visiting public, and perhaps most importantly – our children – should not have to travel to Troutman to access the waters of Lake Norman.  The real shame is Jetton Park in Cornelius, with its beachfront, was originally designed for public access but the threat of liability has led Mecklenburg County to enforce a strict “no public swimming” policy for its parks.jetton_park

There is a great injustice to thousands of families and residents who are denied the privileges of swimming at Lake Norman because of one simple demographic – household income.   The issue of public access at Lake Norman is not a racial issue but it is one of fairness and we should do something about it.   One thing is for certain – nothing will change until the cry for change is heard so often and so loud that it cannot be ignored.  As the civil rights leaders of a generation ago would admit – no great struggle is easily won.  However, the struggle for fairness will always win the day if you believe and work hard enough for the outcome.

March 13, 2009 Posted by | Lake Access | , , , , | Leave a comment