Russell’s Ramblings

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

Our American Right

One of our chamber members and local business leaders has recently taken another step into the international business arena. Ralph Daetwyler, President of Max Daetwyler Corporation in Huntersville, was recently honored when he was named the Honorary Consul to Estonia for North Carolina. In this distinguished role, Ralph will assist Estonians in North Carolina as well as abroad in business and investment related recommendations and general informative work on topics such as society, education and culture in Estonia.

I had the honor of attending Ralph’s appointment for this role at an event at his home in Cornelius along with govt officials from Estonia, Switzerland and Huntersville. Ralph proudly told us all, “It is my privilege to be named honorary consul to Estonia. Daetwyler USA provides manufacturing expertise on various projects to our Estonian subsidiary, and this working relationship has given us a very good understanding of their culture. This insight will enable us to effectively assist any Estonian company that is exploring North Carolina as a potential base for their U.S. operations.”

While there I had the opportunity to chat with Marina Kaljurand, Ambassador of Estonia, Sten Schwede, consul general of Estonia and Heinz Roth, honorary consul of Switzerland, as well as Huntersville Mayor Jill Swain and board members Sarah McAulay and Melinda Bales. That evening reminded me about an experience I had in 1991 with the Estonia Junior Chamber that I shared with the Ambassador.

That year, I served as National Vice President of the US Junior Chamber and attended the Junior Chamber International (JCI) World Congress in Helsinki, Finland.  At that event, Junior Chamber Estonia was recognized as a fully affiliated national organization in JCI.  I will never forget watching Erlend Tammenurm from Rapla, Estonia as he took his place on stage in front of more than 4,000 International delegates waving his country’s flag with tears in his eyes.  At first I was taken back that this professional and reserved man would openly show such emotion on the occasion.

Estonia Ambassador Kaljurand and Bill Russell

Then I was reminded it had only been a few years since Estonia was a country of the Soviet Union and public assemblies and the right to freely associate would have not just been discouraged – many would have been imprisoned.

As President of the United States Junior Chamber (Jaycees) and later as an International officer, I had the chance to visit with delegations from throughout the world. However, the single most powerful occasion was seeing the impact that moment had on Erlend.

This month, on November 6th, Americans will have the chance to exercise a right we often take for granted – the right to vote for our elected leadership.  As Americans, we have the freedom to choose who will represent us in Washington, Raleigh, and right here at home in Mecklenburg County. We should not forget that throughout this world many people do not have that right – their voice cannot be heard and the will of the majority does not prevail.

Each of us has that right because generations of Americans have paid dearly though their sacrifice – young men and women who stand watch and in some cases pay with their lives, so that we may vote on Election Day.

It was a privilege meeting the Ambassador of Estonia and honoring Ralph in his new role. I regret though that one detail, small as it may have been, was omitted when I shared with Ambassador Kaljurand my story.  I neglected to tell her as I watched Erlend Tammenurm wave his country’s flag – his smile as big as the stage he was on – with the tears which streamed down his cheeks …  maybe it was the moment, I’ll never know… but I cried too.

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October 30, 2012 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Will the “Millennial Generation” Hear the Lion’s Roar?

This past week, I was speaking to Benny Ellerbe,  Executive Director of Optimist International.  Ellerbe is the chief executive officer of that non-profit service organization with roughly 100,000 members worldwide.  Prior to assuming that role, he served Junior Chamber International as their Secretary General.  It is through the Junior Chamber that I met Benny about 30 years ago.    We were both lamenting a report from the Service Club Leaders Conference (consisting of many of the nation’s service and civic organizations) which continued to show a marked decline in membership among organizations such as Kiwanis, Elks, Rotary, Jaycees, Lions, and many of our other clubs.

Participation in civic organizations, service clubs, and political involvement has decreased dramatically over the last three decades.  According to a report I read a few years ago, the average age of someone participating in a community service organization is 47 and the leader of the club is typically 53.  The average new member joins at 33 with a gap of 20 years between the new member and the leader of the organization.    Why the decline in civic service?  Most service clubs were, generally speaking, very successful from 1910 to 1950 when: a) business was more local; b) people lived where they worked; c) and there were not many options for civic engagement.

According to research on today’s “Generation Y or Millennial Generation,” most aspire to be self-employed and do not desire the leadership or personal interaction provided by clubs.  They demonstrate a neoliberalism approach with an increased use and familiarity with communications, media, and digital technologies.    Robert Putnam documented this phenomenon a decade ago in his book, “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.”  It is a fascinating look at the disengagement of our young population over the last few decades.

In 1992 – 1993, I had the opportunity to serve as the president of the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees), the largest young people’s organization in the country.  The membership of the association when I was president was approximately 140,000.  Today, it is less than 50,000.      I was taught by my parents that civic service was not a hobby but a responsibility we had and the debt we repay to those countless individuals who paved the way for the freedom and livelihood we enjoy today.

Lake Norman Chamber Interns, Georgie Wackerman, Chelsea Davis, Lauren McAlexander and De’Mon Brookes are pictured speaking with Bill Russell, the Chamber President and CEO

On a very positive note, this past summer the Chamber has employed a variety of Chamber Interns who are all active in their area high schools.  They are members of the  DECA Club, involved in Church activities, teach basketball in youth leagues, and a variety of other service projects.     Last month, I met with a group of young professionals who had re-chartered the Lake Norman Jaycees and we discussed a variety of projects they were implementing to make our region a better place to work and live.

America is facing challenging times.  While it is still up to many of us to serve as mentors and train our successors to lead this nation, America must feel the power of her young people.  I can see a sense of civic duty and responsibility in the faces of our young interns, the young professionals I met with weeks ago, and the countless young volunteers who recently helped out with Big Day at the Lake.    As the generation which will pass this torch of leadership to the next, we must instill in our young people that earth’s great treasure lies in human personality, and that service to humanity is the best work of life.

August 2, 2010 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Lula Bell

Lula hiding from the camera - Garden City Beach trip 1975

Lula hiding from the camera - Garden City Beach trip 1975

Recently I was going through old family photographs when I stumbled upon a picture of a lady who used to help my mom, and before that, my grandmother with their housekeeping.  To say she was merely a housekeeper would be completely disingenuous.  When my aunt was a little girl, an African American lady named Lula Bell Wilson helped my Grandmother Russell around the house and kept my Aunt Terry until my grandparents arrived back home from work.

When I was three years old, I was by all accounts a precocious little tyke.  There is a good reason why my mom waited seven years to have another child.  My mom was almost a nervous wreck when my grandmother suggested strong reinforcements in the guise of Lula Bell.  Mama has always told me I had a difficult time pronouncing Lula’s name and instead called her “Wuda Bell.”  For the next six years, Lula kept me during the day while Mom and Dad were at work.  While I’m sure that many of the values and beliefs that I cherish today were no doubt passed on to me by my parents, I have no doubt that Lula herself also had a profound impact in shaping my world.

While I sometimes have difficulty remembering what I did last week, I can recall with clarity sitting out in the back yard with bologna sandwiches Lula had made us or walks up to the ice cream shop, roughly a mile round trip from our house on Carey Drive.  Mom said Lula would often pay for the ice cream cones out of her own pocket.  I was after all – her little boy.    I suppose it’s because of the time I spent with Lula that I’ve always had such difficulty seeing the contrast between black and white.  The differences between races, between those who have and those who have not have always been blurred for me.

Exchanging gifts with JCI Japan National President - 1993

Exchanging gifts with JCI Japan National President - 1993

In 1994, I had the chance to attend the Junior Chamber International Japan  Academy with students from approximately 80 countries. Over the next two years I would serve Junior Chamber International as General Legal Counsel and then Treasurer, traveling into Japan, Korea, Central America, and Eastern Europe.  It was a rewarding experience sharing ideas and appreciating the diversity and customs of other cultures.

This month the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce launches the first of its Women and Minority Business Development programs.  This is an opportunity to engage the diverse population that makes up our region.  Our hope is to create programs that strengthen us as a region, to open doors of opportunity, and provide resources for our citizens to help them reach their potential.  After all, we are at our best when we help others achieve their dreams. 

This past Sunday, I traveled to Rock Hill to help my dad on the farm.  On the way back to Huntersville, I drove to our old home where I grew up as a child.  I parked the car and looked at the little house on Carey Drive.  I stood in the drizzling rain peering into the back yard, beyond the little fence, where Lula and I would sit and eat our sandwiches.    I can still hear her laughing at my many antics.  She would put her hand to her face and laugh with a sparkle in her eye.  To me Lula wasn’t a black woman or a white woman, she wasn’t well off or poor  – she was my Lula and I was her little boy.  While she has passed on now, her laughter still warms my soul.  The days we spent together, four decades later, are etched in the memories of my mind and through the eyes of a young boy I remember.

May 27, 2009 Posted by | Personal | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Jaycee National President Bill Russell Remarks Portland Oregon – 1992

Inaugural Address Closing Ceremony
72nd Annual Convention Unites States Junior Chamber of Commerce
Portland, Oregon
June 25, 1992

Junior Chamber International President Herrberando, Junior Chamber President & First Lady Thomes, Fellow Members of the Executive Committee and Board of Directors, JCI Vice President Yoshida, Past National Presidents, our Good Friends from the Japan Junior Chamber, Ambassadors, Senators, Jaycee Delegates, and guests:

This organization has been filled by generations of young people, each with the challenges of their day.  It was through commitment and courage that we as an organization have stood the test of time.  Challenges have always faced us…they did yesterday and they will tomorrow.  Like the past generations of Jaycees, we embrace those opportunities…and not one Jaycee member out there tonight … would shrink from that responsibility.

We will meet them head on.  Together!  Like Plato once said, “The beginning is the most important part of any work.”  Tonight we embark on a new beginning… a new Jaycee year.  There is a new world facing us out there.  It is a world filled with discovery and promise.  It is a world that we can use to unlock the potential of America’s young people.

Sworn in by 72nd USJCC President Greg Thomes

Sworn in by 72nd USJCC President Greg Thomes

Our future is unstructured as a dream.  The only limitations we have are those we impose upon ourselves. Someone once said that the world changes at such a pace, that each day writes a fresh page of history before yesterday’s ink has even dried.  Today, the task at hand is simple – the Junior Chamber of Commerce must lead again.  As it always has – as only we can.  It is time to write history.  Not content to merely be a part of it.

June 30, 1971 an amendment to the constitution was ratified giving 18 year olds a right to vote.  Young people making decisions about the future direction of their nation.  This is the 21st anniversary of that amendment.  Throughout America, people are disillusioned about their government leaders.  They are desperate for leadership.  However, our country has always survived and leaders have always emerged.  It is time for that leadership to emerge again…  It is time America felt the power of her young people.power0001

It falls to our young people to lead this nation…to restore her.  This year our Jaycee Chapters will register voters, sponsor candidate debates, and get the issues out to the communities through a program called “Wake Up America!”   We will again be young people of action.

Over the last couple of decades there has been a decline of family values.  Times are different from when you and I were in grade school.  Teachers have been replaced by TV’s and VCR’s.  Kids learn more from Doogie Howser and Bart Simpson than they do from mom and dad.  This year the United States Junior Chamber will answer the needs of our single parents and young families through a program called Junior Jaycees.  Getting our kids, young kids involved… instilling in them the values we cherish as Jaycees.

wake0001Over the past few years we have placed more emphasis on short term goals and rewarded people for short term success.  People are recognized for what they do this year with no consequences to what becomes of their chapter next year.  Our Blue Chip program is the key to chapter success.  Long term goals and the commitment to carry them out.  We must not sell ourselves out to short term success.  We must stop living for today with no plans for tomorrow.

Most of all – we cannot and will not settle for mediocrity. We must build a strong Junior Chamber chapter – one that is better today than it was yesterday.  Continuing to fulfill our mission of providing leadership skills to America’s young people.  We are a leadership training organization and it’s time we got down to the business at hand.  Teaching young people the skills they will need to be more productive and competitive in the business world.  Give them the chance to nurture networking skills, meeting other young people, fostering strong relationships, building bridges to the future.

The number one reason people leave our organization prematurely is because we do not deliver on our promise.  People leave feeling they have not received what they were looking for and they walk away…empty handed.  We must train our chapters to deliver on those promises…today.

It is time the United States Junior Chamber came out of its isolation and joined the Junior Chamber organizations of the world.  Junior Chamber International is growing, prospering, and delivering on its promise of leadership training through community service.  It uses the principles of those young men from St. Louis, Mo. whose dream it was to give young people business and community leadership opportunities.  I am asking each of you, if your chapter is not already, consider twinning up with another Jaycee Chapter in another country.  We can learn so much from each other as we move to an age of Global Citizenship.

There is the story of the great French General Lyautey who once asked his gardener to plant a tree.  The gardener objected that the tree was slow growing and would not reach maturity for hundreds of years.  The Marshall replied, “In that case, there is no time to lose, plant it this afternoon.”

We are faced with unbridled opportunities – let us embrace them.  The affects of our programs may take months, years to see…but let us plant the seed tonight.  Jaycees…Founder and Past President Henry Giessenbier said, “In your hands lies the destiny of a great organization.  Let us build it to national prominence and let us not fail in that task.”

United States Jaycees, I believe in you with all my heart and all my soul.  Let us prove this year, we are the premier young people’s organization in America…and let us not fail in that task.  Thank you.

April 29, 2009 Posted by | Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycee) Speeches | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment