Russell’s Ramblings

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

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”.

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

The day daddy died … or didn’t

Bill Russell Sr. & Jr. - 2010 Father's Day

On a Saturday morning, August 9, 1969, WRHI, the leading radio station in Rock Hill, led breaking news that a tragic boating accident had occurred during the late evening hours the night before on Lake Wylie.  Several prominent business and community leaders had been killed and among the missing was Bill Russell, past president of the Rock Hill Jaycees – my father.  The tragedy occurred following a regional meeting of the South Carolina Jaycees.  At the conclusion of the meeting, several officers from the Clover, Gaffney, and Rock Hill Jaycee Chapters (seven Jaycees in all) decided to enjoy a late night boat cruise.

A boat piloted by a Clover Jaycee was struck head on by a cabin cruiser.  The coroner’s report later determined it to be an accident. While no one was injured in the larger vessel, two young men from Gaffney, Thomas Baines and Michael Campbell, both 26, were killed along with the President of the Rock Hill Jaycees C. Well Hayes. Wells was just 28 years old. John Every, another Rock Hill Jaycee, who would later be elected South Carolina Jaycee State President, was severely injured and never fully recovered from the incident.

When members of the Clover and Rock Hill Rescue Squad arrived on the scene, the Jaycees involved were either badly injured or missing leaving officials to speculate who might have been on the boat. My dad was Rock Hill’s chapter representative to the Clover Jaycees having helped establish the organization and it was assumed he too was on the boat and missing. Ironically, it may have been his commitment with civic service that he was not. Dad was also a Commissioner on the Rock Hill Pony League sponsored by the City of Rock Hill Parks & Recreation.  The Championship playoffs were scheduled for that weekend.  Both the Jaycee and baseball events were scheduled for a Friday night. Dad was required to be at the Pony league game in case a protest arose and a decision would have to be made at the time of protest.  That requirement may well have saved his life.  Instead of attending the Jaycee meeting, he attended the Pony League ballgame with his nine-year old son “Billy”.

My mom received a phone call early that Saturday morning from Joyce Tucker, a close friend, whose husband Charles was both a firefighter and volunteer rescue squad member. Tucker was among the first to arrive at the scene and was told Bill Russell was thought to be among the young men who were missing.  One can only wonder now the phone calls that were made that morning before the advent of cell phones and answering machines.

Upon hearing the news, my parents immediately headed out to the lake to find out first hand what had happened to their friends while at the same time, put to rest any concerns as to the safety of my father. Mom and dad proceeded to the public boat landing where the rescue and recovery was being conducted.  Upon arrival, the first person they encountered was Mary Colvin, the director of the Rock Hill Red Cross.  At the time dad was also president of the Red Cross chapter. Dad said Mary on seeing him, ran up and hugged his neck telling dad the squad was in the process of dragging the river for him.

John Every Memorial Award - Bill Russell, Doug Griffin & Ray Parlier

Twenty one years later, I was elected the first president of the Rock Hill Jaycees whose father had also served in that capacity.  We had a great year and it culminated with the Rock Hill Junior Chamber being recognized as the #1 Jaycee Chapter in the state.  We were presented a #1 Trophy and a plaque citing our outstanding achievement.  While I was thrilled with that recognition, my hands literally shook when I was presented the C. Wells Hayes Memorial Award as president of the Best Jaycee Chapter in the District.

A couple of years later, I was presented with the John Every Memorial Award for my service to the South Carolina Junior Chamber of Commerce.  I still remember the tears which streamed down my cheeks accepting the award. For all the reasons many in the crowd may have thought I was shedding a tear, I could not help think how fortunate I was, not for what I was receiving but for something I had … and never lost.

The Jaycee organization taught me to do what you love, love what you do, and deliver more than you promise.  I have tried to live out that philosophy in my role with that organization, the chambers of commerce I have served, and the many organizations I have chaired and been a part of as a Board or involved member.

Outgoing Junior Chamber President presenting dad the highest award from the U.S. Jaycees

I’ve come to realize three things as I approach each day. Having lost two close friends of mine recently, Scott Hinkle and Mike Shipley, both young men with their lives in front of them, I can’t help but think how precious and short life really is.  There is no promissory note.  No guarantees of what we have to look forward to in this life.  Simply, we have today and that is God’s gift to us. What we make of it is our gift back to God.

The second thing is God must really have a sense of humor. That’s why he made me a Gamecock fan. I’m convinced God made me a Gamecock to keep my humble as I go through this journey of life.

And the last thing. Well, it’s the thing that keeps the smile on my face. Knowing all the northerners will be shocked when they get to Heaven and God says, “Ya’ll come on in.” She’s got a southern accent you know.

Happy Father’s Day Dad!

June 20, 2010 Posted by | Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) | , , , , , | Leave a comment