Russell’s Ramblings

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

The Business of Education

The uncharacteristically warm days these past few weeks had me climbing into the attic to retrieve my summer clothes in anticipation of the spring and summer days ahead. Grabbing what I thought to be a box of summer shirts, turned out instead to be old scrapbooks and albums.

First G

Mrs Hope – First Grade Class Finley Road Elementary, Rock Hill, SC  1966

Feeling nostalgic, I found myself perusing through a worn binder filled with grade school pictures and most of my early report cards. I laughed when I read the comments from my first and second grade teachers who cited “Billy is much too talkative” and “Billy is a really busy boy,” which was polite southern speak for “Billy simply cannot stay in his seat!”

The truth is I was a very bad student in elementary school and there is a real place in heaven for those teachers whose patience was extremely taxed teaching such an immature and talkative kid. It was not until high school that I hit my stride and found a love of history, political science, and writing. I have to admit, there are times I wish I could go back and thank those women who persevered with me. I wish I could express my gratitude to Mrs. Hope and Sellers whose names I still fondly recall fifty years later.

Education is the foundation of our economic and business development at the lake.  Perhaps no single issue impacts commerce more than our workforce development. The strength of our American economy hinges on our public and private school systems as well as post-secondary education and vocational training.

Recently in a Chamber meeting of Corporate CEO’s and entrepreneurs, they pointed to a lack of a skilled workforce as a challenge to their success. They stressed it is critical that we develop our talent and prepare our young people who will soon enter the workforce.

This Thursday, March 16th, the Lake Norman Chamber will have an opportunity to hear from both our current and incoming Charlotte Mecklenburg School Superintendents when we host our Education PowerLuncehon at NorthStone Country Club.  It will be an opportunity to thank Dr. Ann Clark for her service as well as welcome new School Board leader Dr. Clayton Wilcox.

The following day, Friday, March 17th, the Chamber will host a Focus Friday with our area Charter and Private Schools at the Chamber. Both events are a chance to hear how our educational leaders are developing our future employees.

This past week we have held School Career Fairs at both Pine Lake Prep (3/7) and Hough High School (3/8). It was a chance for area businesses to meet with students and help them prepare for their vocational future.

027

Future Business Leaders of America – Hough High School

Joseph Addison once said, “I consider the human soul without education like marble in a quarry, which shows none of its inherent beauties until the skill of the polisher fetches out the colors and makes the surface shine.”

Looking at those handwritten notes from my teachers brought a bright smile to my face and a little tug on my conscience.  We can all mentor a student, provide a business internship, participate in a career fair, and donate to a school fundraiser. That is the responsibility we have to the future and the obligation we all have to the past.

Bill Russell

The above column appeared in The Lake Norman Citizen (March 1, 2017 page 39) as Take Time to Mentor a Mind of the Young.

March 10, 2017 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Personal, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The sale starts with you!

Russell thoughts 1Recently I had the privilege of speaking to students at a local Career Day at Bradley Middle School in Huntersville. One of the questions asked was, “Outside of your family, who had the most impact on you for the career you have today?”

While attending college, I worked at an office furniture and supply store delivering case goods and supplies in Rock Hill, SC. The store, Harper Brothers Office Supplies & Furniture, was managed at the time by one of my father’s closest friends – John Teague. John later went on to be one of the company’s vice presidents. After graduation, I went to work for Harper Brothers as a marketing representative.

I could cite dozens of people who have had a profound impact on my life. That said, perhaps no one person shaped who I became as a sales person more than a working mother of two with a limited resume but a ton of confidence.

She walked into the store one day and admitted, “I don’t have any previous experience. I’ve never sold the first thing but I’ve raised two kids, and a husband.” Then she added, “Give me a chance and watch what I can do.”

Shirley Lineberger is not a name you’ll find in any business books.  I doubt she’s taught the first seminar or written a column.  Yet, when I think of successful sales people – I think of Shirley.

As an office supply company, some of the industry representatives would place incentives or “spiffs” on selling products.  Sell a dozen rolls of tape, you earn an extra silver dollar. At the end of the day, those dollars really added up. I will never forget the afternoon Shirley walked back in the delivery room and split her dollars with the delivery crew. She thanked each of us for the jobs we did, taking care of her customers.

A coffee cup and candy jar  we gave customers of Harper Brothers - circa 1985
A coffee cup and candy jar we gave customers of Harper Brothers – circa 1985

A few years later, when I had moved from delivery to sales, Shirley took me under her wing and we made calls together.  One particular day we planned several calls showing various lines of furniture to prospective customers.  The first three of the morning were spent with little results.

I remember feeling a little dejected with no orders in hand.  Shirley observed my rejected look and then reminded me, “Cheer up! I normally get one great sale in every five tries.  Now that we’ve got those out of the way, we’re gonna’ sell something after lunch,” … and sell we did!

Shirley loved her customers. Filled with confidence and optimism, she taught a young kid to begin each day believing great things were going to happen – and they would.

Love your job, take care of your people, and remember every rejection is just another step closer for you to reach your goal. Treat it as an opportunity, not a setback. It’s a lesson I learned along the way from a mother of two who understood the most important part of the sale starts with you.

Bill Russell

June 24, 2015 Posted by | Leadership Lessons | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Life’s Great Lesson’s – #2 Small acts of kindness are the greatest rewards

Grandmamma Feemster - Mother's Day 2009

Grandmamma Feemster – Mother’s Day 2009

The hustle and bustle of this holiday shopping season reminded me when I was a little boy my Grandmother Feemster used to take me shopping with her. She lived about 15 miles outside of Rock Hill (SC) in what we called “the country.” On Saturday mornings, she would wake me to a bowl of Frosted Flakes cereal and then it was “off to town.” Grandmother enticed me on the excursion with the promise I could pick out a toy, typically a model, I could put together later that day if I joined her.

It seemed I spent five minutes picking out my model and five hours waiting on Grandmother as she went from store to store looking at all the latest women’s fashions. After many hours of looking at garment after garment, Grandmother would take my hand and walk me into the Shoney’s where I always purchased a “Big Boy” hamburger and Grandmother had a salad with French dressing.

We still had two stops left. I was once again treated for my patience with a Vanilla milk shake at the Crown Creamery and Grandmother purchased a Black Cherry ice cream, usually one scoop in a cup. The last stop was at the fabric store just before we left town.

There she would buy patterns, fabrics, zippers, and thread for all the pretty garments she had seen earlier in the day. Granddaddy Feemster was typically off fishing with his buddies on those weekends. So, Grandmamma would serve me up a Turkey TV Dinner for supper which was always my favorite as I watched Mannix on TV.

She in turn would hover over her Singer sewing machine and began re-creating the pretty dresses she had seen earlier in the day. Some she would sell for spending money. Others she made for her daughters – my mother Sarah and Aunt Betty. But rarely, perhaps never, was one of those pretty dresses for herself.

A few night ago, someone asked what was the most memorable Christmas I had as a child? It didn’t take me long to think. When I was 7 or 8, Grandmamma went to town and bought all the grandchildren Christmas Gifts. I don’t recall now what she purchased my cousins Jim or Kim, but when I opened up my box, in it I found a stuffed monkey.

I still remember crying that I wanted what Jim had received. Not some old stuffed monkey! My mama explained that the gift I received was actually more expensive than both of their gifts put together. But she couldn’t stop my tears. Who wanted a dumb stuffed monkey?

Well, my Grandaddy Feemster didn’t tolerate such behavior and he promptly took the monkey, opened up the front door, and tossed it out in the front yard in the dark abyss beyond my sight. I can still remember my shock as I thought about my poor old monkey laying out there in the cold.

I ran outside and rescued him and from that day forward I slept with him until we put aside little boy ways. I still have my old monkey. He’s tattern and torn. One felt hand is missing and an ear’s about chewed off. He’s been ripped and sewed up more times than I can count. He and I have both been through a lot but we’re both still here and my monkey is the only toy I have from my childhood.Billy's Monkey

Granddaddy Feemster passed away in December of 1988 and we lost Grandmamma in February of 2011. My grandparents were never wealthy people and what little granddaddy had he spent on fishing and drinking – his favorite past times. It was largely grandmamma who worked from the time she rose until the time her head hit her pillow. Her nickname was Miss Tillie from Tillie the Toiler and toil she did.

As I listened to the folks share their Christmas memories the other night, I thought of Grandmamma – Miss Tillie. Everyone in her life came first. What I wouldn’t give to turn back the clock and spend one more afternoon with her. I’d love to be able to buy her one of those pretty dresses or treat her to a Back Cherry Ice Cream – just one scoop.

But I know she’s in heaven with all her brothers and sisters and the man she loved so much – my granddaddy. She’s Walking in the Garden, a song she hummed so often while she sewed, and she’s wearing a pretty dress all her own. A dress woven of love and stitched by the hand of God himself.

January 1, 2015 Posted by | Personal | , , , | Leave a comment

A Father’s Gift

Dad, his long time friend Harold Ramsey, and myself at a Carolina Baseball game.  Baseball is one of dad's passions!

Dad, his long time friend Harold Ramsey, and myself at a Carolina Baseball game. Baseball is one of dad’s passions!

Pope John XXII once said, “It is easier for a father to have children than for children to have a real father.” A few weeks ago I was invited to speak at the induction of the National Honor Society at Lake Norman Charter School.  I spoke to many of the parents there, who beamed at the success of their sons and daughters.  Having parents that are involved with their children, serving as mentors, and showering them with love are the greatest gifts you can give a child.

My brother, sister and I had parents who did just that.  Father’s Day is a chance to say thank you – thank you for picking me up when I was down.   That no matter what crushing blow I felt, I would always get past it.

A dad shakes his head at your mistakes, hoping you learn, as he takes your hand, and pulls you up.  He’s there to teach you life’s lessons…and in my case, sometimes over and over again.

Billy on board dynamite - 1965

Billy on board dynamite – 1965

I was born and raised in Rock Hill (SC) and my father’s family owned a farm where he still lives.  When I was five, my parents purchased me a black and white pony that I appropriately named – “Dynamite.”  That little fellow lived up to his billing as he seemed to take great delight in throwing me time and time again.  Dad, simply picked me up and put me back on the horse, sternly counseling me, “You have to show him you’re not afraid.  You have to show him who’s the real boss.”

Between sniffles I pointed out I was afraid and there was no doubt…he was the real boss.  But dad simply sat me back up in the saddle, put the reigns tightly in my little hands and off we went. In truth, just about anywhere that pony really wanted to go which was usually to the barn!   Many including mom and Grandmamma Russell were not real happy with dad’s insistence.

Looking back though, I’m not sure who suffered more – my backside or dad’s ears.  Mama really took dad to task and to this day, none of us have forgotten those Sunday afternoons with “Billy breaking Dynamite.”   “But at the end of the day, it was an important lesson.  Life will throw you time and time again, but you have to get back up in the saddle, hold on tight, and ride the  rough out of it.  It’s okay to be a little afraid but never, ever give up.

Dad was there when I lost my first election running for president of my college fraternity.  He shared the first time he too had lost an election, but the next time out, he won his race.  He pointed out that in retrospect, he was perhaps a better leader learning from the earlier setback.  And once again, he was right.

Dad was there to help with my homework. He tried so hard to help me master the ground ball.  He tied my first tie and walked down the aisle with me the first time I said “I do.”  Mom and dad both were there to hold me when my world seemed dark and stood on stage years later when the world was so right.

Former North Carolina State Coach Jim Valvano, a life lesson himself, said of his dad, “My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me.”

And perhaps the greatest gift a child can give to his or her parents is simply to say, “l love you both!  Happy Father’s Day, Dad.”  And while I’m at it – I love you too mom, both of you!!!

Bill Jr.

June 7, 2013 Posted by | Leadership Lessons, Personal | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Lake Norman Business Expo – Our Version of Show and Tell!

Mrs Hope's First Grade Class - Bill Russell, Finley Rd Elementary School

Mrs Hope’s First Grade Class – Bill Russell, Finley Rd Elementary School

Nearly everyone has experienced “Show and Tell” whether it was when you were a student or perhaps assisting your child or relative with their homework.  When I was a student at Finley Road Elementary School in Rock Hill (SC), I was asked to bring something or someone to school that week of significance to me to share with the rest of the class.  I have never been accused of being overly humble, even as a child, and I decided the best person to bring to show off – was me!

As the first-born child, my mother Sarah took great pains to detail every significant event of my childhood.  My baby book was filled with photos, captions detailing the event, locks of hair, and special cards and mementos   I can still recall taking the baby book down from the shelf and stripping many of the photos from the album and creating my own “Show and Tell” project.

That week I shared with my classmates the most significant moments of my life displaying the photos my mother worked so hard to compile.  Not satisfied with mom’s captions, I created new explanations for each photo, with my own creative and adventurous story.

Much to my mother’s chagrin, those photos never made their way back to where they belonged, perhaps strewn across the playground some 46 years ago.  Needless to say, she wasn’t at all happy with me about that.

On Friday, March the 7th, more than 170 of our Chamber members have thePic 1 opportunity to “Show and Tell” at the largest business trade show in the Charlotte market.  Our Lake Norman Business Expo is designed for businesses to tell their unique stories and showcase their business.  If you are an exhibitor, no other venue can give you greater exposure and opportunity than the Expo.  If you are not an exhibitor, please come out and see Business at its Best and support the lake’s retail and service businesses.

By the way, my mother has always had the last word on the “Show and Tell” incident.  At significant family gatherings, mom has reminded my brother and sister why their baby book was not as detailed as theirs.  “It is because how bad your older brother was as a child.  You have Billy to blame,” mom constantly reminds them on this and many other countless examples.

I always respond that I was just breaking her in good for my future siblings.  While my exercise was not what my teacher had in mind, the Lake Norman Business Expo is our business communities’ moment to shine.  I encourage everyone to participate – sharing the event through your social media and word of mouth and I’ll see you at the Expo!

For more information Visit the Lake Norman Chamber website or call the Chamber of Commerce at 704-892-1922.

The Lake Norman Chamber Business Expo will take place at the Davidson College Belk Arena 200 Baker Drive in Davidson, NC 28036 on Friday, March 7th 11 am until 5 pm.  There is no admission charge and the public is invited.

March 5, 2013 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Greatest Gifts of All

This afternoon, I went to BirkdaleVillage in Huntersville and stopped by a few stores including Kilwin’s for some fudge and assorted candies for the holiday. Then it was off to Cornelius to Honey Baked Ham Company for our Christmas Eve dinner before a last stop at NorthLake Mall.  Look around the lake towns and you’ll find our stores have geared up for the busiest days of the year.  Retailers sell more in the fourth quarter than they do all year and our merchants are hoping for a much better 2011 than the last few years!

The sights and sounds of Christmas fill the air as the Salvation Army rings their bells at the malls and area grocery stores bringing holiday cheer as you approach.  Radio stations are slipping in our favorite holiday classics between today’s modern hits.

I cannot help thinking of Christmas without getting a little nostalgic about how we all went to both sets of grandparents for Christmas.  It started with dinner at Grandmamma Feemster’s and ended with the Russell’s later in the evening.  For many years I was the first grandchild on the Russell side and my cousin’s father was in the military and they were often stationed around the country leaving me with most of the presents.  I was spoiled rotten!

I always believed the best gifts came in the biggest boxes and always delighted when someone put a large box under the tree with my name on it.  When I was just a little tike, and on one of the few Christmas Eve’s when my cousin Jim and Kim Lever were home, I was taken back when my cousins received new toys from my grandparents and I had a stuffed monkey in my box.

I’ve heard the story recounted many times how I cried getting the monkey.  Try as they might, no one could stifle my tears or convince me I had the most marvelous gift.  Mom confided to me years later that Grandmamma picked out the toy herself and actually spent more on it than the other gifts put together.  All four grandparents worked at the mill, but the Feemster’s just scraped by.  But to this day, I’m convinced that both felt they had all the riches of the world.

Granddaddy loved the outdoors and fishing and Grandmother loved her daughters and her family.  The Lord blessed them both and they had all they needed.

After a while, Granddaddy Feemster grew tired of my crying and proceeded to snatch up the stuffed animal and tossed it out into the front yard.  “There, there’s nothing more to cry about.  He’s gone,” Granddaddy proclaimed. 

My tears dried up immediately and with a flash I jumped up and ran out the door to fetch my beloved friend.  I seldom slept without that stuffed animal for many years and ironically it is the only toy left from my youth.  My G.I. Joes, matchbox cars, baseball cards, and comic books have all been lost.  But Grandmamma put away the monkey and re-presented it to me one Christmas Eve in my teens.

Today, it sits on a shelf in my den, not far from a chair with a hand crocheted afghan blanket that my Grandmother Russell made for me.  I suppose some time ago, I realized it’s not the gifts you receive but the love in the gifts you give that matter most. 

Kim, Bill Jr., and Jim Jr.

Over the next couple of days that are left for your Christmas shopping – when you hear that bell from the Salvation Army, drop a little more in for that family that needs it.  Put in a little extra at Church this Sunday or at Christmas Mass.  Bottom line – open your wallets and your heart this Christmas.

My Grandparents are all gone now. I lost Grandmamma Feemster last February.  But nearly every winter I wrap up in the afghan Grandmamma Russell made me and on more than a few occasions I take the monkey off the shelf and hold him.  The cotton has thinned in places and the stuffing pokes out. But almost fifty years later, it’s still filled with a Grandmother’s love.  They both knew, it’s not the biggest gift that counts but the one that comes from the heart that matters most.

December 22, 2011 Posted by | Personal | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Lessons I have learned along the way #6 – Knowing when to stop!

The following is the sixth a ten part series of “Lessons I’ve Learned Along the Way…”

Knowing when to stop 

While I lead a non-profit Chamber of Commerce today, my first occupation after graduating from Winthrop University was serving as a marketing representative for Harper Brothers, an office furniture and supply company in Rock Hill (SC).  Sales isn’t really a subject you can learn from a text-book.  It really derives from natural and learned abilities, experience, knowledge of your product, customer needs and expectations and competitor information as well as good advice or coaching from a mentor or professional coach.

One of the first golden rules I learned from sales was that most people have a tendency to try to pack too much information into their delivery.  We tell them how to build a watch instead of just what time it is.  Sometimes the best sales approach are the simplest ones.    Public speaking is another area where people get caught up in their message and say way too much when they already have their point made.  When I was a teenager, I was terrified of getting up in class and giving reports at Northwestern High.  Eventually though, I overcame that fear through practice and experience.  In 1992, I addressed a convention with a 35 minute speech to 3,500 delegates.  That would not have been possible without practice and preparation.

Charlie Madsen and I meet before my final speech to the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce.

I learned to craft talks on a subject and rehearse it over and over until I had the delivery just right.  Then one day, one of my mentors from the Junior Chamber (Jaycees), Charlie Madsen, gave me some simple advice.  “Bill, when you give one of your motivational talks, look around the room.  If you see them eating out of your hand, you know you got them hooked, finish it.  Don’t go into another story or make another point no matter how good you think it is.”

Charlie reminded me of the young politician on his first campaign speech.  He booked a big auditorium hoping for a great crowd, but he found only one man sitting alone  in a chair.  He waited and waited but no one else showed up.  Finally he looked at the lone guy and he said,  “Hey, you think I should get started?”  The man looked at the politician and said, “Sir, I’m just a farmer and all I know are cows.  But if I take a load of hay out and only one cow shows up, I’m still gonna’ feed it.”

So the politician reared back and gave him his best.  He talked on and on for an hour, then two as the farmer shifted back and forth in his seat.  Finally when the politician  wrapped up with his big delivery, he asked the old farmer just how he did.

Once again, the farmer pondered and then said, “Sir, I’m just an old farmer.  All I know are cows.  Of course, I do know that if I took my whole load of hay down to the pasture and only one cow showed up, I wouldn’t dump the whole load on him.”

Charlie winked at me as he made his point.  Your talks, speeches, and sales presentations are defined as much by your audience as your product.  I learned to tailor talks to groups using the people in the room.  Reading expressions to see whether my points had been made or needed to be expanded upon.

The bottom line know your product, know your competitor, most importantly know your audience, and finally know when to stop.

August 10, 2011 Posted by | Leadership Lessons | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Love What You Do!” – Lessons I have learned along the way #4

The following is the fourth in a ten part series of  “Lessons I’ve Learned Along the Way…  Love what you do…”

Gene Martin and Bill Russell, Past S.C. Jaycee State Presidents

I have written many times before of a mentor of mine from my Jaycee days, Gene Martin, who long ago encouraged me to “Love what you do, do what you love, and deliver more than your promise.”  It’s more than just a saying for me – it’s been my guiding principle for more than thirty years.

This past weekend I was attending the North Carolina Brewer’s and Music Festival at Rural Hill when one of the Chamber’s newer members, Kelly Franklin from Rely Local, asked how I decided I wanted to work at a chamber of commerce. I shared my early civic involvement and how after college, I started my career in sales at Harper Brothers in Rock Hill (SC), an office furniture and supply company headquartered in Greenville. However, my real passion seemed to be community service.  Simply put, making my community a better place to live and work.  That commitment to community was passed on to me by my parents who participated in a number of civic organizations themselves.

Bill Russell Jr. and Sr. spending quality time together

Long ago I asked dad why he worked so hard in the community and he quickly pointed to a verse from Matthew 5:16 which states, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”     Kelly listened intently and then began speaking about how welcomed he felt when he first met our staff as a prospective member.  The warm smile and open ear from members of our staff.  How he felt that first day and succeeding visits to Chamber programs and events, not just by our staff, but Ambassadors representing our organization.  I cannot convey how proud I was as he spoke about the important role we play in helping that business succeed.  It’s a statement I hear often, but one in which I never grow tired of hearing again.

Minutes later I was off to a ribbon cutting for a new veterinarian business in Huntersville. Speaking to the crowd at the Open House for Carolinas Veterinary Care Clinic, I welcomed Alisha and Alycen to our growing “Chamber family.”  As I was packing up the ceremonial scissors at my car, a young Huntersville couple commented on the remarks I made and agreed that much of what I said about our quality of life was why they chose to relocate to Huntersville and the Lake Norman region.

As we parted, the man looked back over his shoulder, and said, “Great remarks by the way – you looked like you were having fun!”  A quick smile and he was on his way.  Minutes later I was off to one last stop, “Brian’s Dog House Grill” and the grand opening of yet another new business – a family restaurant at Rosedale.

Grand Opening of Brian’s Dog House Grill

Walking up I was greeted by Brian, the owner, and Elizabeth Morgan, one of our Chamber Ambassadors who presented me with a check and application for Chamber membership she had picked up from another business… and all this on a Saturday!

That night, it occurred to me much of what had transpired that day – the community event, a ribbon cutting, and a grand opening all occurred on my day off – the weekend!  But I’m not sure I could have spent it any better.  Not every day is filled with fun and fellowship.  There are days when our task is much more serious and intent.  Our job is to grow business at the lake.  Jack, Janet, and myself – we’re in the people business.  We love what we do, do what we love, and we strive to deliver more than we promise.  And if we look life we’re having fun…  well, we are!

June 6, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

We Were!

Withrop Univeristy, Rock Hill, SC

I cannot think about the holidays without reminiscing of the Christmas Eve’s spent at my grandparents.  The bountiful meals my grandmothers prepared, the Church pageants, and yes…the multitude of gifts under the trees.  And while I will cherish those times, I often think back to an event which touched my heart and perhaps set in motion actions which led to my career with the Chamber today.

It was the Christmas of 1984 and I was Chairman of the Rock Hill Jaycees Christmas Charities project.  We were given a list of 30 or so families a little down on their luck that needed a helping hand.  This wasn’t your Bing Crosby White Christmas.  Rather it was a cold, rainy southern winter evening where you’d much rather be indoors watching television rather than delivering food and toys in the rain.  The family that I was given was several miles out of town.  A fellow Rock Hill Jaycee named Joe Stinson volunteered to team up with me and we drove for what seemed forever in rural Rock Hill. We traveled down muddy slick roads until at last we ventured on an old house sitting alone in the dark dreary night.

Stepping up on the creaking porch, I pulled back the screen door and knocked on the window pane of the door as Joe began unloading the groceries and toys.  A woman came to the door appearing a little puzzled as to her late night visitors.  I explained we were from the Jaycees and were there to help.  Tears slid down her cheek as she explained she was sure no one was coming and she had told the kids there wasn’t going to be a Christmas this year.  The lady said her husband had deserted them and it was just her and the children now.

She wiped back the tears as she talked proudly of her little boys as they could be heard in the background tearing through the house.  Eventually, one of the little tikes ran up and threw his arms tightly around his mother’s waist.  “Mama, mama, who is that?” he asked looking up at Joe and I.  “That’s Santa Clause,” she replied with a bright smile as she rubbed her hand across his head.  The lady thanked and hugged us as we made our way to the door. “God bless you both and Merry Christmas,” she said as she closed it gently behind us.

Joe and I drove back to Rock Hill.  I turned the radio off and we listened to the sounds of the wipers as they scraped along the windshield.  As we neared the city, Joe turned to me and said, “Little brother, we really were…”  Joe’s voice choked off as he looked the other way staring back out the passenger window.  Joe didn’t need to finish his sentence.  We were, that night – we really were.

Rock Hill Jaycees at an early 1990's Christmas Charities project

I will always remember the family gatherings, the wide eyed wonder when I surveyed our den after Santa arrived, and for the reason we all celebrate this most holy time in the first place.  And I will also remember the night we brought an evening of happiness to a mother and her children.  A mother who thought no one remembered – no one cared.  A night when tears were wiped away, hope and promise filled the air, and for a moment in time, we really were.

Merry Christmas and God Bless

December 24, 2010 Posted by | Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) | , , , , | 1 Comment

A Christmas to Remember

My brother Todd & I at Grandmamma Feemster's

The Christmas Eves of my youth growing up in Rock Hill (SC) seem so long ago.  Every year my parents would load my brother, sister, and myself into the car and take off to our grandparent’s house.  Our first stop was the Russell’s where grandmamma would be playing Bing Crosby or Jim Neighbors on her stereo with the sweet smell of fresh baked cookies, pies, and cakes in the air.

We would have a large supper with all the other relatives including my Aunt Terry and her family.  There was turkey and dressing with vegetables grown from the garden and my grandmother’s specialty – Quail Pie.  My favorite was her little biscuits.  My cousin Kim had nicknamed Grandmother Russell “Bumba” and I affectionately referred to her delicacy as “Bumba’s Biscuits” and there was simply nothing on earth quite as delicious.

The Russell's 1964 Christmas - Guess who's hiding their eyes!

We all had to save room because round two was with my Grandmother Feemster who worked just as hard in the kitchen with her turkey, macaroni pie (Mac and cheese to my Yankee friends), cornbread dressing in little cakes, and a fresh pound cake.

Sadly, the Grandparents are all but gone with Grandmother Feemster in the twilight of her life.  The onset of dementia has robbed her of most of her memories though mine still fondly recall our family Christmas gatherings.

This past week, our Lake Norman Kiwanis Club sponsored a holiday social for our Kiwanis Aktion Club.  The Aktion Club is a group of young adults 18 years of age or older who deal with some type of physical or mental disability.

Growing up, I never thought about the families who face Christmas Season with a loved one who deals with an impairment.  There are 35 million Americans who deal with a severe disability but roughly 46% of those are still employed.  In totality, there are more than 54 million Americans that deal with some type of disability, or one in five.

Last Friday night, we all enjoyed a wonderful dinner and gave awards out to our hard working Aktion Clubbers.  The joy in their face spoke volumes as they stood front and center clutching their awards tightly in their hands.  We then installed our new officers for the year.

One young lady, Chris Hunter, walked up front with the aid of her crutches and “signed” to me with her hands how she would be a good treasurer and promised not to spend all of our money.  She then hugged me as tears of joy ran down her face.

Her mom Tracy explained how proud she was as we both stood there and embraced, her arms wrapped securely around my waist.  I felt her warm tears on my arms as we pulled apart, but not before I saw her face beaming with joy.

One of our Kiwanians had brought an IPAD and they had programmed streaming Christmas Carols.  Our crowd had all but drowned out the music which had been playing softly in the background, but as Chris and I parted, I heard Crosby’s version of, “Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas…” playing in the background.

Chris Hunter, Aktion Club Member

If your family is healthy, thank God and pray for those who deal with their challenges each day.  Spend extra time this coming year volunteering to help someone who needs that helping hand.  Give a little more to the organization of your choice that is trying to find a cure or at least making life better for us all.

The Christmas Eve’s of my past are filled with warm and special memories of those I love and miss very much.   My Christmas Eve’s of the future are filled with hope that we will make strides toward defeating those disabilities.   That would truly be a Christmas to remember!

December 21, 2010 Posted by | Personal | , , , , , , | Leave a comment