Russell’s Ramblings

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

My Wish This Holiday Season

billThe holiday season is upon us and with it comes the sights and sounds of Christmas. Regardless of your faith, December is often a special month of reflection, generosity, and family.  Listening to my favorite carols and songs brings back long cherished memories of family and friends. For many, it’s a spiritual season with thoughts of life’s purpose. But others face much darker days with the struggle of addiction. Providing them and their families, relief from the pain would be the greatest gift of all.

Last week, I attended my weekly Rotary Club meeting and listened as a young lady shared her story of addiction to opioids. The daughter of a Rotarian, she fought through tears as she shared her innermost struggle with substance abuse. She was an honor student, gifted athlete, and popular classmate. Yet, she still felt a lack of esteem and confidence, which led to handfuls of pills that wrecked her life, leaving a wide wake of personal destruction with family and close friends.

I squirmed in my seat as I listened to her recount how her parents tried desperately to reach out with counseling and assistance. But in the end, they were forced to lock her out of their house. It was a story I was all too familiar with as my stepbrother faced the same insidious demons.

The opioid epidemic is now considered the worst drug crisis in our nation’s history. These drugs kill more Americans than automobile accidents and opioids now claim more than 27,000 lives each year. Addiction knows no discrimination as every demographic segment has seen a dramatic rise in deaths from overdoses of prescription opioids and heroin.

In 2014, friends from my High School lost their son to his struggle with substance abuse. Their family was close and Hendon was a popular and gifted young man and a talented athlete. Their son was one of the most likeable young men you would ever meet.  But again, addiction does not discriminate – and another life ended entirely too soon – and another family faced unimaginable heartache.

Earlier this year, I attended the funeral of a very successful young chamber member. She was the mother of two little girls. Bethany lost a battle that far too many wage. Her family and her faith simply could not compete with the pull of addiction – the momentary high that robs from the future.opioid

The young lady at Rotary ended by telling us how each day is a struggle, but she is winning that battle one day at a time. It takes courage, time and tons of support. Ultimately, the answer must begin with an acknowledgement that there is a problem and there must be resolve to overcome it.

If I could have one gift this Christmas, it would be for our nation to put aside all the petty political bickering and focus on the real threats which face our great country, robbing each of us of our greatest living treasure – the sons and daughters of America.

Country Singer Vince Gill sings a song called, “Go Rest High on that Mountain.” In the song, Gill sings, “…only you could know the pain. You weren’t afraid to face the devil, you were no stranger to the rain.”

Let us hope as we face this year ahead, we do so resolved to ending the addiction crisis threatening our young people. United in a common cause to bring awareness to the issue and compassion to the cause. While we may not win every battle, no one should ever have to face the devil alone.

Happy Holidays and God Bless!

Bill Russell

 

The above column first appeared in the last issue of The Lake Norman Citizen Newspaper – Final Thoughts – November 29, 2017.

Advertisements

December 5, 2017 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Personal, Politics, Social Causes, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Well Done John Kurti, Well Done

kurti-and-bill

Bill Russell and John Kurti at a Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce AfterHours Event

Once in a lifetime, if you’re lucky, the Lord will place someone in your life who makes a lasting impression. Someone who quietly goes about their life’s work with little fanfare, yet leaves you in awe of the impact he or she makes on the lives in a community. John Kurti was such a man.

I met John in the late 1990’s when he owned a Mail Box, Etc store here at the lake. Somewhat like Sam in the old TV series “Cheers”,  John would greet his customers with a smile. He wasn’t a man who simply mailed parcels – he knew you by name and you left assured your special package was in good hands.

John opened and sold several of the franchise stores and in doing so garnered a keen insight of how to market and manage a small business. Later, he served as a SCORE Counselor, the Small Business Group, who gives critical advice to both startup and existing small businesses. John often met his clients at the Lake Norman Chamber where I had the opportunity to watch him in action. He didn’t just impart lessons in entrepreneurship. He left his clients with the assurance that someone was in their corner. John cared and it showed.

John Kurti served three terms on the Lake Norman Chamber Board; longer than any other person in our 30 year history. He was also a founding board member of Visit Lake Norman and served that organization for 16 years before health issues plagued his final months.

John was not just a mentor, board member, and friend. He was often my roommate on chamber trips to Raleigh for Governor’s conferences and to Washington for legislative briefings. John was also one of three other chamber business leaders who accompanied me to Washington DC on a day none of us will ever forget –  September 11, 2001.  We heard news from then Senator Lieberman that a plane had struck the World Trade Center.  Moments later, while exiting one of the Capital buildings, we watched in disbelief and confusion as black smoke billowed from the Pentagon and the nation’s capital was filled with panic and fear.

The four of us drove the ten long hours back home in silence, wondering how life in America had changed. John, himself a past Israeli Air Force officer, was no stranger to the face of terror. He reassured each one of us that life would go on, and our country would emerge stronger – and it did.

kurti1

2002 Chamber  Board Chair Chris Angelino and Karen, 1999 Board Chair Scott Hinkle and Business Growth Chair John Kurti

John had dealt with health issues for many months prior to the day he made his triumphant return to the weekly North Meck Rotary Club meeting. As his presence was recognized, members applauded. His face filled with pride as he waved an arm high in the air signaling his deep appreciation and his return to our club. There were hugs, laughter, and love as the Rotary friends he cherished all shared how much he had been missed. John had previously served as our club president, and his passion for truth, fairness, and service above self, knew no bounds.

Perhaps that was God’s gift to both John and his friends that day.  One last chance to say how much we loved each other. One more hug before we said goodbye. Later, John passed peacefully away – just moments after our Rotary Club meeting ended. Just after the last toast and the last rap of the gavel. Now we all know, it signaled not only an end to the meeting, but a close to a chapter.

All of us would like to think our lives matter.  That we changed hearts, righted wrongs, brought peace to those who struggle, and strength to those who fear. That we used the talents God gave us to make this community and our world just a little bit better. John Kurti did that and more.

I know one thing for certain. He left this world knowing how much he meant to all of us at Rotary. I also have little doubt that he was greeted by his father in heaven, who took John by the hand, with the words we should all long to hear…..”Well done my faithful servant… well done!”

Bill Russell

January 26, 2017 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Personal, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Service Above Self – I’m Accepting the ZERO K Challenge

Zero_K_Flyer_finalOn September 7th, I’ll be 57! To celebrate this milestone in my life, I have accepted the North Mecklenburg Rotary Club’s ZERO K Challenge. I know many of you are asking why undertake such an arduous challenge so late in life.  Sure – it’s going to take some extra training to get into shape, to get my mind prepared, and not just compete – but actually take the Gold in the ZERO K.

That said, I am reminded of the Rotary Credo – Service Above Self. Sure, I could stay at home, preparing if not already getting started for the Carolina – Miss State Tailgating the following Day – September 10th.  But you simply have to put community service first.

In a way, I have been preparing for this event most of my adult life.  When some of my friends were running 3K, 5K, 10K… and yes, some competing in the Iron Man Marathon – I decided long ago I didn’t desire to be an Iron Man – I wanted to be a Sixty Minute Man.

While my buddies were out pounding the pavement in their sneakers, I was sitting back with a cold Brew listening to the Tams, the Catalinas, the Embers… and yes, the General himself and Chairman of the Board. Rather than sweaty socks and running shoes – I much preferred the sand under my feet, shagging to the tunes of my favorite beach music with a Carolina Girl.

I don’t take the Zero K Challenge lightly.  I have already begun the difficult training required for the event which takes place September 9th 5:30-9 pm at the Oak Street Mill in Cornelius.

It begins which proper nourishment – a fried Bologna sandwich (three slices – extra thick)005 with Duke’s Mayonnaise piled high. It’s necessary to properly coat both sides of your bread with at least 4 to 5 teaspoons of the Pride of the South! I top it off with fresh jalapeno peppers and tomatoes from my garden and two slices of Vidalia onion.  The onions and peppers should also be fried up in virgin olive oil.  I use my Gandmother Feemster’s cast iron skillet to give it just that special flavor. Texas Pete also gives it a robust kick.  Several splashes are recommended.

A good fried up bologna sandwich should be chased by a smooth brown liquor drink.  For my northern friends who are unfamiliar with the term brown liquor – I mean a great bourbon.  In this case, I’m training with Russell’s Reserve.  No – its not my special bourbon but one that I really like – a single barrel bourbon from the fine folks at Wild Turkey. Some may ask would Jack Daniels work just as well?

Perhaps, but for training purposes I think bourbon over whiskey to get the mind right. Other preferred bourbons: Jefferson Small Batch, Woodford Reserve or Knob Creek to get the blood flowing.

Not everyone can expect to reach their maximum endurance in their first ZERO K and I don’t take it lightly. My experience in Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity at Winthrop and the United States Jaycees have helped prepare me for this moment – and yes, I feel up to the task.  Many are called – but few are chosen.

So yes, I am competing – and I will take home the Gold in the first annual North Meck Rotary Club ZERO K Fundraiser to help raise awareness for the 9/11 Monument.

John Kepner, the president of our Rotary Club wholeheartedly supports my rigorous training and diet for the event.  John might I add is also the owner of one of two Huntersville Funeral Homes and Crematoriums and he along with Sam James deeply appreciates the business.

So – are you up to the challenge?  If so, Join us – you can register for the ZERO K here.

August 31, 2016 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Fraternity, Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycee) Speeches, Uncategorized | , , , , | 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