Russell’s Ramblings

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

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.


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

Driving Home Your Point


Granddaddy Russell in his garden

Yesterday on a Face Book Page called I77 Animal House, I was taken to task by an anonymous poster who said my constant criticism of Governor Pat McCrory and his reluctance to cancel the I77 Cintra Contract was in a word “Disrespectful.” While it is true the Governor can, with a stroke of the pen, cancel this very bad deal, he has been steadfast in his refusal to listen to the Lake Norman Town Boards, State Legislative Officials, and more importantly the voters who sent him to Raleigh in the first place.

While our chamber of commerce and business leaders have made the case why this is bad for business, now the NC Justice Department is investigating the company who was awarded the contract by NCDOT.

I have served the Lake Norman Chamber as its executive for twenty years with the primary objective of leaving this community and region better than I found it. Unfortunately the Chamber’s earlier support of this P3 Project, and my very real insistence we had to go along with this bad plan, was a mistake. Settling for the lessor of two bad deals still leaves you with a bad deal.

One wonders whether the anonymous poster is just caught up in partisanship and will go to any lengths to toe the party line or was she one of the former elected or community leaders who pushed this project through and now cringes at the notion she too may have to admit a grave mistake.

Ironically, in deriding me for my position she said in her post, “Your granddaddy would be proud.”

Anyone who has followed my career knows I like to write and many of those stories and articles have included stories about my Grandfather Russell who lost his battle with Alzheimer’s more than a decade ago.

I loved working in the garden with granddaddy. From the time I was a little boy, he had me digging post holes and then chogging the dirt.  No matter how deep I dug those holes, he always insisted just a little deeper.

A few weeks ago, I was visiting my father down at the farm, watching the cows that would graze close to our white picket fence. We had to tear down the fence that granddaddy built and replace it with a plastic version that can better withstand the elements.  But looking at the fence, I couldn’t help but recall one Saturday afternoon I was helping granddaddy repair the old one.

As we toiled that hot afternoon making repairs, I shared with my grandfather problems I was having managing the staff of an office furniture company. We had all agreed on sales goals and for a while things ran smoothly.  But after a few months, our sales staff settled back into old routines and performance declined.

After listening to me vent, granddaddy stopped his hammering, took off his old work gloves, and wiped the sweat from his brow. He looked at me for a second, gathering his thoughts, before he asked me to take a nail and strike it on the head as hard as I could into a board.

I did as he asked.  He then asked me to take the claw of the hammer and pull the nail out. Once again, I did as he directed, finding it a fairly easy task as the nail was driven in just so far.

Granddaddy then asked me to take a new nail and drive it repeatedly into the board until the head was flush with the board. Upon completing the task he asked me to remove that nail as I had the other.

I could not.  The nail was flush with the board and there was no leverage to remove the nail. My grandfather in his wisdom explained just as I drove that nail in repeatedly, you sometime have to drive your point home with colleagues, staff… and sometimes a stubborn Governor.

Some might call it disrespectful to question the foolishness of a fifty year bad deal.  People can certainly draw their own conclusions.  I prefer to look at it as fulfilling a promise I made to the businesses and citizens of Lake Norman. I will do everything I can in the time I have left at this chamber of commerce to leave my community and region a better place than I found it.

And to that end, I will on every occasion I have, drive home the point – Toll Lanes at Lake Norman are bad for our citizens, bad for our communities, and bad for business.

Would Granddaddy Russell be proud? He didn’t quit until the job was done and neither will I.

Bill Russell

February 2, 2016 Posted by | Leadership Lessons, Politics, Uncategorized | , , , , , | 3 Comments

Huntersville needs behavioral health hospital

A couple of weeks ago, I spoke at a certificate of need hearing for a new 66-bed behavioral hospital planned for Huntersville by Carolinas HealthCare System.  I shared with officials from the Division of Health Service Regulation the need for such a facility and the Lake Norman Chamber’s strong support as our community and region continues to see a dramatic increase in our population.

Del Murphy, Jr. vice president of Carolinas HealthCare System’s Management Company shared with our Chamber leaders the overwhelming need for additional beds for behavioral health services.  Murphy pointed out that on an average day between 20 and to 30 patients are held in the emergency departments and general acute care beds at CMC hospitals in Charlotte, awaiting psychiatric bed placement. CMC-Randolph inpatient occupancy exceeds 100%.  There are simply not enough beds to service our growing population.  I pointed out that the community in which I live, Huntersville, was roughly 3,000 people in 1990.  Today there are 46,773 people living in our town.

Granddaddy Russell with my sister Tanya at our farm (1994)

I also shared a personal story that my Grandfather Russell lived the remaining six years of his life with Alzheimer’s and my Grandmother Feemster battled dementia before we lost her this past February.  I loved my grandparents dearly and spent many weekends with them in the twilight of their life.  I  sat by their bed looking in their empty eyes that stared back at me, wondering who was that stranger holding their hand.  It still brings tears to my eyes to think of those final years we had together.  But just as they took care of me as a child, my family took turns staying with them.  However, many families in North Mecklenburg and South Iredell simply do not have that resource.

Mothers Day 2009 with Grandmamma Feemster at her house

Many families have husbands, wives, sons or daughters who battle mental illness who have yet to be treated or in some cases diagnosed.  Their extended family resources may be limited and their options few.  That’s compounded when they have to travel to outlying counties for service when they live here in our lake region.

We are fortunate to have outstanding healthcare providers in the Lake Norman region, but there can be no dispute that we are sorely lacking when it comes to psychiatric health.    As business and community leaders, we cannot settle for anything less but the very best when it comes to the health of our citizens and employees.  The Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce supports this proposed facility

August 8, 2011 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Greatest Gift of All

Bill Russell alias "GI Joe"

At the age of six, I was pretty certain of my career path – I would likely be a soldier or a cowboy.  I looked pretty sharp in my new G.I. Joe uniform my Grandmother Feemster bought that year and I had a rather nifty little salute. It was about that time though that dad and Granddaddy Russell bought me a pony and I was also pretty sure I could be the next John Wayne.  That same year Santa left a “doctor’s kit” under the Christmas tree.  My present included a microscope and a doctor’s bag equipped with stethoscope, a little flashlight to peer into ears and mouths, and little candy pills to remedy nearly any non-life threatening ailment. 

Mom had also purchased me the Board Game “Operation” that had players remove items from the board without touching the sides setting off a buzzer. My family marveled at my steady hands and surgical abilities. Granddaddy Russell often served as my patient over and over again as I gave him one examination after the other, always leaving him with a “pill” to take to cure any sickness. Granddaddy started referring to me as “Doc” and often called me that long after I grew out of my doctor phase. I never made it into medical school, instead turning my attention to business.

Tall in the Saddle at 2 years old Jan 1961

Recently in a staff meeting, we all spoke about the tremendous activity at the Chamber. While business may have slowed down over the last couple of years, there are more seminars and programs going on at the Chamber than ever before.

Our Chamber coordinates consultations and business assistance with the SBA and SCORE to help our businesses create or redefine their business marketing and financial strategies. In essence, the Chamber is much like the doctor’s office as we help the struggling and ailing businesses get back on their feet, ready and able to compete in the marketplace. This month, our Chamber members and service organizations will collect “Coats for Kids”; deliver toys, clothing, and food to families needing a helping hand; make Santa visits to shut ins and kids in hospitals; and volunteer their time, talent…and yes, dollars to make this a memorable Christmas for those who are less fortunate.

I cannot count the number of times I have participated in a “Christmas Charities” event, providing for that family who would otherwise go without that family Christmas celebration. Having that mother look me in the face, with tears in her eyes telling me she had explained to the kids there would be no Christmas – no Santa this year. “I didn’t think anyone cared,” one woman once said to me as her little boy hugged tightly at her waist.

Merry Christmas from Bill, Gipper, Abbey, and Mad Dog Murray!

Long ago, I came to understand that it’s not what we get in life that matters but what we give to others that counts and what we become by doing it. That service to humanity, service above self, is the greatest gift. In a way, I became that doctor that I envisioned as a little boy. In a real sense, that’s what our staff here at the Chamber means to our local businesses. And yes, at times, I may still be a little bit of a cowboy.

As we enjoy, this holiday season, let us all remember the real purpose of our celebration, and perhaps share with others … the greatest gift of all.

December 16, 2010 Posted by | Personal | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Planting Seeds

While old man winter may still give us a fit or two before Spring, we can take comfort that soon the frost will give way to the morning dew and summer will not be far behind.  We’re just a few months out from one of my favorite past times, planting the garden at our farm in Rock Hill (South Carolina).   I’ve been a gardener since I was just a little tike with my Granddaddy Russell instructing me on how deep to dig holes in which to plant my watermelon seeds.  Actually, both my Grandfathers had a garden each summer.  Granddaddy Feemster took special pride in his tomatoes and peppers while Granddaddy Russell planted plenty of corn, beans, and melons.   There were also lots of other goodies like peas, cucumbers, beets, and peanuts!  Later in his life, I spent many afternoons with Granddaddy Feemster as we tended the rows, weeding them out, and later sitting back in a chair seemingly watching it grow.  It’s funny how much you learn from someone working side by side in the garden.  I perhaps learned more about Granddaddy Feemster in the three or four seasons we worked together in the garden than all of our years together as his grandson.

I  can still remember the anxiousness I felt as we visited my grandparents each weekend as a boy.  I would tear down the pasture to the garden, slipping through the gate, to see how much my plants had grown.  It seemed to take forever for the plump melons and juicy tomatoes to find their way to my belly.  Later in the summer, I would awake to find Granddaddy Russell had swung by our house and deposited several juicy Congo watermelons on the back doorsteps on his way to work or mom had a big bag of fresh squash and tomatoes from Granddaddy Feemster’s garden.  Through the years, my work in the garden became a little more intense with the disking, tilling, and weeding that must be done.  Tying up tomato plants, taking hoe in hand to rid the garden of pesky weeds is a task.  But at the end of the season you enjoy the bounty and your hard work is rewarded.

This past month, the Lake Norman Chamber recognized an outstanding business in our region with the Cashion Business Person(s) of the Year.  Instead of a single business owner, the Chamber recognized a family.  A family who has had a profound impact on our region.  Tom VanWingerden, who was born in Holland, immigrated to the United States in 1971 and rented a 20,000 square-foot greenhouse on three acres in Charlotte.  Four years later, he moved to Huntersville, opening a 40,000 square-foot greenhouse on 50 acres of land.  Metrolina now employs over 600 full-time employees and 200 part-time employees and was named Lowe’s Vender of the Year in both 2005 and 2009.

It’s a business that mixes science and art with precision and patience.  Metrolina finished growing 4.8 million poinsettias across 120 acres in just four weeks for the Christmas holidays.   Forty percent of the business is raised during the peak of the growing period from March to June with tens of millions of mums, marigolds, pansies, petunias, dahlias, begonias, and zinnias.  Metrolina is also in the final stages of a three-year expansion to 150 acres from 100, at an investment of $1 million per acre.  This expansion has added over 150-200 new jobs in the last 3 years.  To be completed next month, the facility will span 5.8 million square feet. That’s a footprint larger than four Concord Mills malls, more square footage than the former Sears Tower in Chicago, and a bigger floor area than the 4.3 million-square-foot Boeing plant in Everett, Washington.

Tom VanWingerden

Tom, who tragically passed away this December in an accident, had turned the operation of the business over to his family.  Abe runs sales, marketing, IT, and the company’s sister company, Plant Partners which provides labor that goes into the retail outlets like Lowes and Wal-Mart and assures the product is maintained, positioned, and managed.   Plant Partners alone has over 800 employees across 11 states.  Art runs daily operations at the greenhouse and heads the main operational divisions of the company. Michael heads shipping and distribution, and Thomas is in charge of construction and maintenance. Sister Helen handles information technology and analysis duties for the company and another sister named Rose opted to become a teacher (now retired).   Her husband, Joey, is responsible for materials tracking at the greenhouse.

Tom passed down two main philosophies which drive the success of Metrolina:  “Get one percent better every day” and “If your memories are bigger than your dreams, then you are falling behind.”  Tom VanWingerden left far more than dreams at Metrolina – he left the community and our region a legacy of leadership.

February 9, 2010 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , | 1 Comment

Lessons from an old country church

Bethesda Presbyterian Church

Bethesda Presbyterian Church

Over the years, I have written many articles about my childhood and early life in Rock Hill, South Carolina. While I live in Huntersville (NC) now, I still attend church when possible at Bethesda Presbyterian.  It’s a little country church located in McConnells, a sleepy little town, just outside of York.  Members of my family count among the early founding members which date back to 1789.  A few years ago, the late Rev. Jeff Lowrance of Hopewell Presbyterian Church in Huntersville and I discovered that one of the earlier ministers served both Hopewell and my church – Bethesda.  I cannot tell you how ironic it felt to me that 200 years later, a young man from Bethesda would travel to the Huntersville community, working with other business and community leaders as we seek to reach our potential as a community.

Rev. Jeff Lowarance

Rev. Jeff Lowrance

Growing up in a small country church, we didn’t have all new equipment and audio visual aids that churches like Huntersville Presbyterian have today. While our choir was quite dedicated and the members rarely missed a practice, the men of the choir in my earlier years were not particularly talented.  Most were pretty handy when it came to repairing the cemetery fence.  However, when it came to singing – few, if any, could carry a tune.  One Sunday, the Session of the church bought the Choir new robes.  They looked grand but sang just as bad. The next year, the congregation bought a new organ. Instead of drowning out the off key choir, the newly inspired group sang that much louder. Finally, the Session of the church hired a Choir Director who moved the choir to the balcony in the back of the church.  Now it seemed, no matter how badly the choir sang, no one actually had to endure watching them do it.

One day after church I was walking back to the car and I decided to ask my Granddaddy Russell why the Elders of the church didn’t simply ask those who couldn’t sing to drop out of the choir. He stopped walking, looked down at me, and took my hand. “You must use all the talents and abilities you have,”  he said.  “The trees would be very silent if no birds sang but the very best.”

songbirdToday, each of us as chamber members, civic club participants, school and church volunteers, and active citizens try to give back to the community we love. We strive to make it a great place to work and live.  Some do a better job than others, but every time we do something for someone else, we use the unique talents God gave us for that very purpose.  And the trees would be very silent indeed if no birds sang except the very best.

August 21, 2009 Posted by | Leadership Lessons | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Are you Stuck in a rut?

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

Granddaddy Russell with my cousin Chris at the farm - 1982

Granddaddy Russell with my cousin Chris at the farm - 1982

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 30, 2009 Posted by | Leadership Lessons | , , , | Leave a comment

Jaycee Speech – “Dirt Roads” Circa 1994-1999

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 21, 2009 Posted by | Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycee) Speeches | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Requiem For a Friend

High School Class Photo

High School Class Photo

 To paraphrase Winston Churchill, “In every individual’s life, comes that special moment when he or she will be called upon to do something great, and what a tragedy it would be, if at that moment, they were unprepared for the task.”

 My grandfather spent his whole life preparing for this moment.  Not that he didn’t appreciate life.  He did.  But he looked forward to the day when he would stand at the door of his father’s house…with all of the world’s mysteries unveiled…and where he would be reunited with Glenn, Harry, Ernest, his mom and dad…and Louise.  

And I’m sure for the first time in several years he is hearing that familiar refrain we heard so many times, “Now Elie, you know that ain’t right!”   You see, on many occasions when my grandfather recalled an instance that happened in his past, my grandmother would reply, “Now Elie, you know that ain’t right!” and she would quickly point out the way it really occurred as she remembered it.  Perhaps in heaven my grandfather might actually win an argument…but I fear St. Peter has his hands full with “Bumba”.

Growing up as a boy, I would spend weekends with my grandparent Feemsters and with the Russell’s.  On Saturday night after supper, Granddaddy and I would sit on the backdoor steps where he would polish his shoes.  He would look over at me and ask, “Doc, you got those shoes shined up for church tomorrow?”  I would say, “Well, my shoes are already clean.”  Granddaddy would be quick to reply; “Those shoe’s aren’t polished.”


Granddaddy would spit on his shoes as he polished and bring them to a high luster…and I would spit on my shoes because that’s what granddaddy did.  Afterwards we would retire to the dining room table to do our “lessons”.  That’s what he called it.  I would rather watch TV but granddaddy said we had to study for Sunday School.  “But why do we have to read all that?” I would ask.  “We’ll be reading it again tomorrow.”  “You need to lead the discussion.” He would point out.  “You need to be prepared.”


In the twilight of his life, the grandchildren would stay with him on Sundays.  On one particular Sunday, I ventured through the house and peered into his closet.  Granddaddy did not own many suits.  The one tie I recalled him wearing often, I was told yesterday, actually belonged to my father, as did the shirt he wears today.   


If you walked through the house, many of the books you would find belong to my dad who reads about one a day.  The books that belonged to my grandfather can be found in the hallway in the bookcase and on the headboard of his bed. You would find they are study guides on Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John…the meaning of Revelations, a Biblical Concordance, and a Bible.


You see my grandfather was a simple man.  During his lifetime he worked at the bleachery I am told, at the JP Stevens Plant, drove a taxi cab, worked with the chain gang with my Great Granddaddy Will.  He was farmer who raised his own crops and cattle, served with the volunteer fire department, and served as a Sunday School teacher.  He was a husband, father, grandfather, and great grandfather.


Throughout his life he placed God first, his family second, and his work third.  And he was a hard worker.  If he told you in the morning he had just a few chores to do, that meant he would be out till the sun went down. 

There’s a passage in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare.  Shakespeare penned, “And when he shall die, cut him out in little stars and cast him to the sky.  So that all the world will be in love with the night…and pay no attention to the garish sun.” 



Bumba and Elie - 50 Years!

Bumba and Elie - 50 Years!

Tonite, when I look to the heavens and see the stars twinkling bright.  I will think how fortunate I…all of us in this room…and the countless numbers whose lives he touched…how fortunate we were…to have known Elie Russell. 

Relaxing at home

Relaxing at home

March 24, 2009 Posted by | Personal | , , | Leave a comment

The Big Picture

 A couple of months ago while eating lunch in a  Lake Norman restaraunt, a couple of ladies sitting beside me started ranting with each other about the shortcomings of the region.  Their conversation segued into school and transportation issues and before long it was a full fledged gripe session.  There were several instances I wanted to jump into their conversation and point out how fortunate they really were.  However, I bit my tongue and did my best to ignore the negativity beside me.  It did however remind me of something I learned long ago.

gardenAs I have written many times, when I was a very young lad my Granddaddy Russell allowed me to “help” him in his garden in Rock Hill.  More often than not, I was probably more of a nuisance than a helper.  Granddaddy could work from sunrise to sundown with a mere water break in between.  I remember one particular hot Saturday afternoon that I whined about how long we were working, just why did we have to pull out the small weeds growing next to the corn, and why did we have to hoe everything when we could probably just use the tiller between the rows?

Granddaddy took a break, removing his glove, and wiping his bare hand across his brow – ever the sure sign he’d had enough complaining.  “Billy”, he said.  “Did I ever tell you the story about Mr. Johnson’s hunting dog up the street?”  Now let me stop right here and say that Granddaddy himself was an avid hunter.  He had a brown dog named Browney and a white dog named Whitey.  Granddaddy was never very creative when it came to naming dogs.     “Well Mr. Johnson had an old black lab named “Blackey”.  One day while hunting, Johnson shot a quail which landed in the pond.  Blackey proceeded to skip across the water and retrieved the bird.  Johnson couldn’t believe his eyes that the dog ran across the water.  Thinking no one would possibly believe his dog could walk on water, he invited Mr. Hagler to go hunting the next day.

Again, Mr. Johnson shot and killed a quail and once again it landed in the water.  And like before, old Blackey ran across the water and retrieved the bird.  Johnson asked Hagler, “Did you see that?”  “Sure did,” replied Hagler.  “Well what do you think?”, he inquired.  “Well,” said Hagler, “I don’t think your dog knows how to swim.”    Sometimes people just don’t get the point.   They don’t see the big picture.  While we may have challenges to our schools and roads because of growth – the picture is our area is growing.  When regions are losing jobs and have empty store fronts – we enjoy a vibrant and growing region.  We have the good fortune of living in a great community.  A community adding new families and businesses everyday because they realize what some of our residents seem to have forgotten – Lake Norman is a great place to work and live.Bird dog

I remember trying to mull over his lesson that day as he continued to work me ‘till the sun went down.  However, as much as I disliked all the hard work, the red ripe tomatoes, big ears of corn, and cool crisp bites of watermelon later that summer reminded me that all the hard work paid off.  People can sweat the small stuff or they can see the big picture.  It’s all up to you.

March 13, 2009 Posted by | Leadership Lessons | , , , , | Leave a comment