Russell’s Ramblings

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

“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!

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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

For the love of the game

Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity

When I joined Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity at Winthrop University in Rock Hill (SC), the requirements were to maintain at least a 2.0 grade point ratio, to be able to “shag” dance to Beach Music, and to play a respectable game of golf.  While far from making the Dean’s list, I did manage to maintain the grades and become a better than average dancer.  However, my golf game has always been sorely lacking.  I’m not sure I could have imagined when I was in college how much the game of golf would impact my life.

While I do not play much myself, many of my friends and business associates do. As a matter of fact, all of the civic groups I have ever been a member of are reliant on golf tournaments as a source of revenue. Whether it’s the Police DARE tournament, Chamber of Commerce Captain’s Choice event in October, or a Rotary outing, our charities and service organizations depend on golf as an annual event to raise funds for their organization.

Recreational sports are extremely important not only to the fabric of a community but to business itself.  When our Economic Development Corporation is meeting with site planners for new corporations or larger businesses, our sports market and recreational resources are prominent in their decision making. NC DOC Secretary Crisco recently pointed out to our Lake Norman business leaders how important recreation is to our economic development and local commerce.

Visit Lake Norman, the travel and tourism development authority for our North Mecklenburg communities generated a net profit of $48.3 million dollars in direct tourism spending between July 2009 and June 2010 and recruited $11.9 in visitor’s spending. For every $1 invested in Visit Lake Norman, $24.26 went into the local economy.  It’s called putting heads in beds and perhaps few organizations do it better.

This past week, PGA America announced that the Quail Hollow Club of Charlotte will serve as the host of the 99th PGA Championship in August 2017.  The finest golfers in the world will participate at an international event held in our backyard – Charlotte.  To put this in some perspective, 50,000 visitors will attend for a week at a sports event seen in living rooms throughout 200 different countries. While they are here, these guests will likely travel to other statewide attractions such as the Outer Banks, Asheville, Charleston as well as visiting within our communities right here at the lake.  We are so fortunate to live in a region of the country with its proximity to the mountains and coasts.  Nestled on the banks of Lake Norman, we have the finest parks and recreational amenities in either of the Carolinas.

The PGA, in making Charlotte the destination for its Championship, comes on the heels of the opening of the NASCAR Hall of Fame in May.  Indeed, we are an area of the country that is passionate about sports! We love our football, take pride in our basketball, and are crazy about our NASCAR drivers.  We are both spectators and players.  We are a region that simply loves the thrill of competition.  Ours is a community that stretches from the Knights Stadium in Fort Mill to the banks of Lake Norman. A community that is bound together for the love of the game.

The PGA Championship will be played here in 2017.  But in a real sense, that Champion has been determined. It’s everyone that’s ever called the Charlotte region home and on an international stage Charlotte will wear her crown.

 

W.E. “Bill” Russell, CCE IOM Bill Russell is the president and chief executive officer of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce with approximately 1,100 business members in the Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville, and greater Lake Norman region.

September 16, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Congress – Our American Lost Cause?

U.S. Rep Tom Gettys in 1967 with Bill and Sarah Russell and Bill Jr.

One of my favorite movies is Mr. Smith goes to Washington. In this 1939 film, Jimmy Stewart, the head of the Boy Rangers, is appointed by the Governor to replace the unexpired term of a deceased Senator. Ironically the film which is now a classic was attacked by the Washington press and then elected officials as Anti-American and Pro-Communist for its portrayal of the corruption in the American Government.

This month, a delegation of business leaders from the Lake Norman Chamber will visit Washington as we meet with our federal delegation on issues ranging from highway improvements to health care and labor. It is an annual trip we make to advocate on behalf of our local businesses and the communities in which we live and work.

My first trip to Washington, D.C. was when I was nine years old. My mom and dad were attending a Jaycees Convention in nearby Baltimore and upon its completion, Congressman Tom Gettys invited us to the capital. Rep. Gettys was not unlike the fictional Jefferson Smith. A Navy veteran, Gettys was a school teacher and then Postmaster for the City of Rock Hill. He was elected in a special election to fill a resignation of our Congressman and then was reelected to four succeeding terms.

Granddaddy (Elie) Russell displaying the South Carolina Flag.

Rep. Gettys taught my Granddaddy Russell civics at Rock Hill High School and for many years after that, he and Rep. Gettys both fondly remembered the occasion. It was the first class he taught as a high school teacher. Tom self taught his way in law and passed the bar exam without ever attending law school. Perhaps unheard of today. He was also a Jaycee who mentored many of the business and civic leaders who later led Rock Hill, my father among them. My grandfather recalled what Congressman Gettys instilled in all the young people he taught – “Create a genuine interest in seeing those around you succeed. Help them achieve it, and in turn, you will be successful as well.”

It is a lesson we could all heed in both business and politics. How many of us have attended a recent networking event and spent the better part of our time listening to someone talking about themselves and their product or service with the hopes of selling more? I doubt it left you with the strong impression you wanted to be that next customer.

Instead, commit yourself to finding out more about the people you meet. How can you make them more successful? Can you help them get in front of that potential customer or client? In essence, help them reach their potential.

While we understand well how important that principle is when it comes to networking and building solid a relationship, it seems few in Washington put the interest of others before themselves. Perhaps it’s a lost cause hoping that Congress will once again put the American people before the interest of their party.

Stewart's Sen. Jefferson Smith during his filibuster

But lost causes were precisely what Sen. Jefferson Smith in the movie relished. “All you people don’t know about lost causes,” he says 23 hours and 16 minutes into his filibuster. Directing his remarks to his chief adversary, Sen. Joseph Paine, he continues, “Mr. Paine does. He said once they were the only causes worth fighting for.”

Congressman Gettys overcame long odds. He understood the lesson of putting others and service before self. It was a lesson he taught in his high school civics class. One that my grandfather later taught my dad and one that he later taught me.

Some might think that’s a lost cause – but many of us believe it’s one worth fighting for!

September 8, 2010 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Congress Strikes Out

As news that home sales fell 27 percent in July, the steepest one-month drop since figures were first compiled in 1968, and Americans grow even more concerned with the cost of the healthcare plans which are forcing companies and small businesses alike to delay any hiring of new employees, our U.S. Congress is taking decisive action in Washington, D.C.  They are holding hearings on steroids in baseball.   That’s right, while the American public stares at staggering unemployment numbers, our country annually spends roughly $1.3 trillion more than it takes in, and the economy still appears to be anemic but not altogether dead, our Congressional leaders are taking aim at the greatest nemesis of our time – Roger Clemens.

Rocket during his days with the NY Yankees

William Roger Clemens, nicknamed “Rocket” is a former Major League Baseball Player who won seven Cy Young Awards, more than any other player.  He played for 13 consecutive seasons for the Boston Red Sox before a stint with the N.Y. Yankess where he had his first World Series success.   The Rocket is accused of using Performance Enhancing Drugs and lying about it to Congress.  While I do not condone using steroids, nor do I know if there is definitive proof that the Rocket used them, the fact he is being accused of lying to a group of people, who habitually lie to the American public, is on the face of things – laughable.

The bigger issue is when our national leaders should be huddled in a room trying to solve the budget crisis, sorting out how to put Americans back to work, and reaching consensus on a fiscally responsible approach to taxes and regulations, they are focused on holding a retired baseball player accountable for telling them lies when it comes to using steroids which were not even banned by baseball at the time.

Gaining a competitive edge by the use of injections is nothing new in baseball.  The book The Baseball Hall of Shame’s Warped Record Book, written by Bruce Nash, Bob Smith, and Allan Zullo, includes an account of Babe Ruth administering himself with an injection of an extract from sheep testicles.  It didn’t improve his game, however, and it is recorded that he pulled himself out of the game with a “bellyache.”

I’m not sure I ever took anything that could be considered a performance enhancing drug but I do admit that I was allowed to go outside and participate in a neighborhood pick up game of football only after I lied to my mother.  I think the statute of limitations has long expired on what I now admit was nothing but a complete falsehood – an out and out deceitful act on my part.

Glazed Rutabagas

Mama was cooking those infamous rutabagas, which if you have never experienced their unique aroma, is both quite distinctive and breathtaking.  In a word – “revolting”.  Dad was attending a meeting of the Rock Hill Jaycees  and informed mom he would be missing our dinner.  Mom took that as an opportunity to prepare her cornbread, rutabagas, turnip greens and ham.  While the aforementioned meal was most delicious and I long for the days of her cooking, I could do without those copper colored rutabagas.

Anxious to rejoin my buddies waiting out in the yard for my return, while mom wasn’t looking, I scraped my helping of rutabagas on my brother’s plate.  Todd, who was likely five or six at the time was left defenseless as mom now required him to clean his plate before he could leave the table.

I, on the other hand, dashed madly outside to rejoin the football game still in progress and my rightful place as a legend in my own mind when it came to athletic prowess on my backyard gridiron.

My Brother Todd - His angelic quality perhaps came from the rutabagas - who knows

I now humbly and with deep humility apologize to my brother Todd for what I did.  And I ask my mother’s forgiveness for not only not eating the copper colored yucky square things but for telling a fib about the whole affair.

Now, with that off my chest, perhaps I will not be called up to Capital Hill for my chicanery and they can get to the business of solving the real issues facing our country.

Actually, there’s a better chance I’ll eat a plate of rutabagas for breakfast!

September 1, 2010 Posted by | Personal | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The many labels we choose to wear

Mama and me showing off our swimwear in 1967 - I'm the one with the slight attitude

Labels – we wear them with pride, use them to identify who we are, and sometimes hide behind them when times get tough.  But do they really tell the story about who we are or do they separate us from one another?  When I was a child my mother went grocery shopping and came home with a surprise she said I would love.  I was a third grader at Finley Road Elementary in Rock Hill.  Mom had purchased me a new notebook with a Minnesota Vikings Football helmet on the cover.  The only problem I was a die hard Green Bay Packers fan and Minnesota was and still is their biggest rival.  Distraught was not the word for it as I tried to convey how I couldn’t possibly carry that to class.

Not long after that, the big rage in school was black high top Converse tennis shoes.  I begged and begged for a pair and one afternoon mom came home with a present.  It was a pair of tennis shoes she had purchased from Family Dollar.  They were black…and they were high tops and that’s about the end of the similarity.  They had tread like a tire, a cloth emblem on the ankle where the Converse logo would appear, and the kids on the bus referred to them as my “moon boots.”  I was crushed.

Years later, in Junior High School, all the kids at Rawlinson Road were wearing blue jean jackets.  My mother went shopping and she came home with a present – a red blue jean jacket.  I think I was the only kid in school with a denim jacket that was red.  She said that made me “special.”  Now, more than thirty years later, she was right.  Actually it was mom herself who was really special!

Bill Russell & Sarah (MOM) last fall

Looking back, I know my mama loved me (still does!) with all her heart and back in those days it was all she could do to take care of us kids on the salary that dad brought home.  Dad was never one to spend money he didn’t have and so mom never charged anything.  She bought what we could afford.  One thing was for certain – we weren’t going to buy anything just because of the label.    The package wasn’t important, it was the present inside and the thought that counted.

But labels don’t just stop with products that we buy.  We label ourselves.  I’m a Republican.  Not just a Republican but a Conservative Republican.  Heck, I’m a Reagan Republican.  I am proud to admit to being a Christian, a protestant at that – Presbyterian.  Is that Presbyterian Church of America or USA ?  Mine is USA.

Perhaps the labels I struggle with the most are church labels.  I have a really difficult time believing  if we all make it to Heaven, St. Peter is going to form a line for Baptist, one for Methodist, and another for Catholics.  I cannot imagine Peter’s going to say, “Hey you Catholics, park it here, Associate Reformed Presbyterians, I’m not real sure what we’re going to do with you, and Latter Days Saints, you guys wait outside.  Oh, and is there an Ernest Angley here?  Gabriel down the hall is looking for you buddy!”

I love watching reruns of Billy Graham’s Crusades and went to one myself when he was here in Charlotte.  I can still remember Billy talking about how you can enter the gates of Heaven through Christ.  But does that mean someone who lives a wonderful life, who gives of themselves to those less fortunate, and who believes in a creator who makes all things possible – but does not subscribe to a Christian faith or in the God we all consider as our Holy Father – is their soul doomed?

As a Christian I believe in the Holy Catholic Church.  But I wonder if we took all the wealth of the church – all the paintings, statues, trappings, and acted on the words of Jesus himself when he said, “to give up our worldly belongings and follow me.”  If the Catholic Church sold all of that and still placed it in public hands so all the world could still enjoy its beauty and took that money and spent it on the poor and downtrodden, those who suffer from disease or malnourishment, would that not be a better use of those resources?

Bethesda Presbyterian Church - McConnells, SC

Sometimes I think the Good Lord is looking down wondering how we could take something so simple and make it so difficult.  I suppose I’m the very last person who has an answer when it comes to theology.  But after half a century on this earth I figure at the end of the day we’re going to be judged on whether we lived a good life, left this old world better than we found it, and believed in a force greater than ourselves.  I believe that force to be God, who sent his son to die for my sins.

And that’s a label I’m proud to wear.

August 7, 2010 Posted by | Bethesda Presbyterian Church History | , , , , , | 1 Comment

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”.

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

Together, we do great things!

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

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

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

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

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

Mother Teresa

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

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

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

June 11, 2010 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , | Leave a comment