Together, we do great things!

Bill Russell, Sr. (Dad) with Traveller and Jill

A few weekends ago, I spent an afternoon helping my dad down at our farm in Rock Hill.  My father, who is retired, still maintains a farm that goes back many generations.  Actually, the land itself was settled by my family going all the way back to Colonial America.  Dad has a couple of dozen head of cattle as well two horses.  Duke, a quarter horse and Traveler, a Tennessee Walker, are his pride and joy.  Dad rides daily and enjoys spending time on the land on which he was raised.     This particular afternoon we were unloading a trailer load of hay bales when he shared with me how our Great Grandfather Morrison Russell used teams of horses to plow the grounds we now disc up with tractors.

Dad told a story he had heard once in his youth about a horse-pull at the County Fair.  That is an event where horses compete to see which one can pull a sled with the greatest weight.  One year, a local horse pulled 4,500 pounds.  The runner up pulled 4,400.  Wondering what the two could possibly do together, the two horses were teamed together.  They pulled more than 12,000 pounds!  An increase of more than 33% over their individual efforts.

While many of us are truly capable and talented, we are much stronger working together as a team.  This past month was certainly a testament to that fact with a very successful Business Expo.   While it was hot and we had a great many challenges, the staff of CPCC and our event management team transformed a transportation systems complex into an exhibit hall.  It allowed us to showcase the “Best in Business”, network, and give our members an opportunity to build relationships and expand their customer and client base.

I have been so fortunate to serve this Chamber of Commerce as the chief executive officer since 1996.  However, each and every day, I continue to be impressed by the talent we have in the Chamber in the volunteers who serve in committee roles, our dedicated Ambassadors and staff, and the strong leadership of our Board of Directors.     Each bringing a unique talent and perspective – but collectively, providing a resource that enables us to far exceed any goal or objective obtainable by a single individual or business.

Mother Teresa

The power and influence of the Lake Norman Chamber is not in the sheer number of our members but in the ability of those members to work together and effectively for a common goal.  Mother Teresa perhaps summed it up best, “You can do what I cannot do.  I can do what you cannot do.  Together we do great things.”

Whether it’s lobbing successfully to open Lake Norman for public access swimming, expediting the completion of I-485 or obtaining a magistrate for North Mecklenburg – we are certainly stronger working together.    Time after time, our Chamber overcomes obstacles some see as barriers to create memorable events.  It seems the more looming the challenge, the more resilient this chamber and its membership becomes.

Perhaps it’s because, here in the lake region, we realize that “working smart, working smart, and working together – we do great things!”


Lake Norman Citizen Newspaper – Letter to the Editor

Letter to the editor written to the Lake Norman Citizen by Bill Russell, President & CEO of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce.

The following Letter to the Editor was written and appeared in the April 16th issue of the Lake Norman Citizen in regards to an article which appeared April 9, 2010 “Rebranding talk: Is the ‘lake’ history.”

Dear Editor,

Bill Russell

Last week’s article in The Lake Norman Citizen cited discussion among some community leaders about the most appropriate regional brand for the Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville and Mooresville communities.  These community leaders cited the ULI’s recent recommendations to revise our use of “The North Corridor,” to be more inclusive of Charlotte, as a mandate to revise our regional brand.  As a member of the Lake Norman Transportation Commission, I believe the most compelling recommendation of the committee was to continue our collaboration, inclusiveness and regional cooperation.
I have been fortunate to serve as the president of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce since 1996.  During my tenure, I have witnessed our evolution as a dynamic and diverse region. I believe there are three significant catalysts for our unprecedented growth and prosperity:
• Our proximity to Charlotte provides us with the arts and cultural resources that are the foundation for our excellent quality of life, and the Queen City’s corporate and business district is the heart of our economic engine.

• Our transportation resources such as Interstates 77 and 85, along with Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, serve as the arteries which are critical to sustain our economic health and quality of life.  Other Charlotte neighboring communities have the aforementioned resources, yet they have not quite enjoyed our economic vitality.  So what’s the missing ingredient? The lake!

• Lake Norman is Charlotte’s lake.  It is our lake.  It is more than the 520 miles of majestic shoreline on 32,510 acres. It is a region recognized as the best in business by Site Selection Magazine (Mooresville).  It has received accolades from Business Week as one of the Best Affordable Suburbs in the Country (Cornelius and Huntersville).  It is home to one of the nation’s finest liberal arts colleges.  Our lake is recognized by sports and recreation enthusiasts as among the best lakes in the country.  However, to many of us, it is simply the place we call home.

The Park Huntersville Aerial

I am reminded of the words of President John F. Kennedy, and I paraphrase — Those who look only to the past, or present, are sure to miss the opportunities of the future. —  Lake Norman is that future.   The article also cited Davidson residents who questioned whether an association with the lake was prudent in a proposed branding for the Town of Davidson.  I attended that meeting and was astounded when another resident questioned whether Davidson College should also be deleted from the new campaign.  The Town of Davidson distancing itself from Davidson College is as absurd as claiming residents of Huntersville do not recreate or benefit from Lake Norman.

Lake Norman is the common bond that ties our communities together. It is a great place to live, visit and grow your business.  The real strength of our community is the ability to see past the municipal and county boundaries that can become limitations for some.  However, the only real limitations are those we impose upon ourselves.

We will continue to grow and prosper because we understand that by working hard, working smart, and working together, there is simply no limit to what we can accomplish as a region!

— Bill Russell, CCE

Bill Russell is the President and CEO of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce with 1,100 members in the Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville, and greater Lake Norman region.

Showtime at Lake Norman

The out of breath delivery man from Barefoot in the Park
The out of breath delivery man from Barefoot in the Park

This past month I was flattered when I was asked to participate in the Davidson Community Players’ production of Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park.” A few local elected and business leaders were asked to do a cameo role as the out of breath Lord and Taylor delivery man in the first act   While the cast was small – only five speaking roles – it is amazing what goes into a small production.  There was the stage hand that helped me prepare for the role and the prop manager who had the costumes coordinated for the 1960 scenes.  In addition, there was a stage manager in the booth who directed the assistant stage manager who actually gave the cue for the actors to take their mark – as well as the actors themselves.   Behind the scenes were the people who built the set, the businesses who supported the production, the Board who coordinates the season and the list goes on and on with the successful production we were treated to a few weeks ago.Sailboat

It is old news that in June, Huntersville was ranked by Forbes Magazine as the 2nd best place to move to in America.  This accolade coming on the March announcement by BusinessWeek that Cornelius was the 7th Best Affordable Suburb in the United States and #1 in North Carolina.  Mooresville has been consistently ranked as the #1 Micropolitan Community by Site Selection Magazine and while Davidson as a town does not have the population density to be considered in national polls, the college has made a name for itself in both scholastics and athletics.   Much like Neil Simon’s play, the success does not just lie in the talent of the performers.  While those major characters are critical, everyone plays a role in the success of the production.  The national recognition of the Lake Norman region is a testament to the vision and commitment of our community and business leaders, both now and those who have served.  Equally important is the role that the crossing guard plays each morning helping the kids get safely to school and the teacher who educates them for the starring role they will play in our future.

From the worker on the assembly line down at Prairie Packaging to the soccer coach teaching sportsmanship.  The server who brings the meals and the housekeeper who cleans the room is as important to our hospitality industry as the Director of Sales who books the events and the owner who operates the hotel.   The bottom line is that business, community, and elected leaders must model appropriate behavior at all times.  Whether we like it or not – we are always being watched and evaluated.  We often do not pick the times when we model our behavior for others to notice.  When each of us arrive at work each day, whether we are the owners or managers of our business or organization or the secretary making sure the work of the business gets accomplished – we need to imagine a big red curtain opening.  We must perform like a professional and like a good play, our actions will determine the success or failure of the production.

Curtain Call
Curtain Call

True professionals love what they do so much that when they get up in the morning, they are inspired by the work that awaits them and anxious to tackle the challenges of the day.  It separates the best from the rest and singles your community out as the very best of the best.   Here at Lake Norman, we know the sun may set, but the curtain never closes, on our award winning performance as an outstanding community.

My Big Day at the Lake


In 1986, Janet Jackson broke through on the Pop and R&B Charts with a little ditty, “What have you done for me lately?” and that refrain has become ingrained in our popular culture today.  We’ve all heard it – perhaps some customer or client feels your performance doesn’t measure up today no matter what you might have done yesterday.  An employee is dissatisfied or feels unappreciated no matter what you might have done for them recently.  Maybe it’s a family member who thinks you’re unreasonable despite the sacrifices you might have made on their behalf in the past.   As a Chamber of Commerce representing 1,100 members, you are going to hear that line occasionally. It’s the reason we work so hard to make our membership aware of the programming and opportunities available to them.     Last month, I was surprised when I attended a BusinessWorks program and at the conclusion, the co-chairmen announced they had come to the part of the program that was entitled, “What has my Chamber done for me lately?”  It was led by Joe Carbon, who himself, was recently diagnosed with cancer.  You might recall last month I wrote about Joe as the unidentified Chamber Member who compared this organization to a family.  Joe talked about the outpouring of support in his battle to lick the “Big C”.  There were few dry eyes in the room as we recognized how much he loved the folks in the room and how much they returned that feeling.  Another member, Kevin Cole, spoke about how he saw first hand the seven touches of the Chamber.  Nearly every client he had could be traced back to our Chamber.  Members around the room talked about how the relationships they made in the Chamber paid off for their business and I left there feeling great!  

Charlene and Zion at Big Day at the Lake 5
Charlene and Zion at Big Day at the Lake 5

But none of that could compare to the conclusion of my week.  That Saturday, I joined several hundred volunteers and boat hosts in hosting kids at Big Day at the Lake 5.  I was the guest of Huntersville Commissioner Brian Sisson and his family as we entertained Charlene Whitaker (Big) and Zion Black (Little) on Brian’s boat and Jet Ski. At first timid, Zion really opened up and you just about had to pry her off the Jet Ski.  All of the kids and their Big Brother / Big Sisters were then treated, along with the hosts, to lunch at the Energy Explorium.

I had to leave early to attend Bob & Louise Cashion’s 5oth Wedding Anniversary.  There, as I moved from table to table, person to person, I was enthralled with stories about how Bob & Louise had impacted our community over their lifetime together.  I wasn’t surprised at the stories. I’ve heard them many times before and witnessed their community leadership firsthand. Their generosity is renown throughout the lake region. The Cashion’s have spent a lifetime of sharing their success.  They have used the gifts God has provided and left their community a much better place than they found it.  They are truly a community treasure.

Bob & Louise Cashion
Bob & Louise Cashion

When I laid my head down on my pillow that night after a long but wonderful day, I couldn’t help but think how fortunate I am to work and live in the Lake Norman region.  It was a day when kids, most from single parent families, walked on sunshine.  Their laughter and splashes heard from the Energy Explorium to Cashion’s Cove.  Where the love, charity, and compassion ran as deep as the lake itself.  And I witnessed a community return thanks to two very inspirational and special people.   It was a very good day.  It was my big day at the lake.

Speech to the South Carolina Jaycees Fall 1993

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

South Carolina Junior Chamber of Commerce

Fall Board of Directors Meeting

Columbia, South Carolina

Sunday, November 14, 1993


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


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


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


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


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


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

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




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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Precious Memories

Granddaddy Russell working in his garden
Granddaddy Russell working in his garden

     A few weeks ago, a song came on the radio.  Just the few opening notes brought a warm shudder across my body    Precious Memories.  The song was a favorite of my Grandfather Russell.

     “Precious father, loving mother fly across the lonely years and old home scenes of my childhood in fond memory appear.”   I sang along and as the words rolled off my tongue, memories of years gone by played through my head.

     I spent many summer afternoons working out on the family farm with Granddaddy.  Feeding the cows, working in the garden, and tending downed fence line was an every day chore.  On one particular, hot summer day, Granddaddy and I were replacing an old rotten post down by the creek.  

     The decaying post still held the fence in place but the cows now squeezed through and occasionally were found on the other side. Granddaddy dug out a bit from the post until it rocked loosely in its hole.  He then looked over at me and asked me to go ahead and remove it.  I was perhaps twelve at the time as I wrapped my arms tightly around the pole and gave it a mighty tug.

     It raised out of the ground but suction pulled it back and it sank back to the bottom.  No matter how much I wrestled with it, I simply couldn’t free the post from the persistent ground.  Granddaddy smiled at me and asked if I was using all of my strength.  When I replied certainly I was, he chuckled a bit.

     Granddaddy, who had been leaning back on the tractor, took his gloves out of his pocket and replaced them on his old calloused hands.  “No doc,” he said, “if you used all of your strength you’d ask me to help ya’.  Working together, we can get it done.”

     Sure enough, with both of our arms tightly wrapped around the post, it hesitated, and then slipped from the earthly grip.

     The Chamber of Commerce is a powerful tool when it is used and its real strength is when businesses work together.  No doubt we face challenging months ahead with this economy.  However, we can support each other by purchasing our goods and services from one another.  Refer Chamber members to other friends and associates and make it a habit to get involved.

     We are going to continue to provide you outstanding networking opportunities and seminars that provide you the tools for your toolbox that makes you competitive.  However, you have to take advantage of your membership and get in the game, as our Chamber Chairman John Hettwer would say.  Often, we have the strength to overcome any adversity if we just realize we’re not in this thing alone.  Let’s use our greatest strength and work together.

     My Dad still lives out on the family farm tending our cows.  Occasionally, I’m asked to come down and replace another of those aging posts, many of which were put in the ground when I was a little boy.  They stand as silent sentries to my granddaddy’s hard work.

     The summer days working with my grandfather still linger in my mind.  The lessons learned flood my soul.  Those precious memories …

how they do linger.