Russell’s Ramblings

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

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.

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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

Scott Hinkle’s Place Called Hope

Scott Hinkle

In November of 1995, I was interviewed for the position of Executive Vice President of the North Mecklenburg Chamber. I was at the time the Executive Director of a small low country South Carolina Chamber.  After interviewing with the search committee comprised of Chamber leaders, I was offered a position effective January 2, 1996.  While I was not to begin my employment until January, I was asked to attend and participate in the Chamber’s in-town planning retreat, my other Chamber permitting.

It was there I met a young man who would have a profound impact on my personal and professional development, as well as forge a bond that would help change the face of our community and region.  We were divided into small groups and there I met the editor and publisher of The Lake Norman Times – Scott Hinkle.     Scott was a “Tarheel” and I was a “Gamecock” and each would debate the coveted moniker of which school could legitimately call themselves “Carolina.”      I was also a right wing conservative republican and Hinkle was a left wing liberal democrat.  However, our mutual love of history and politics would seal our friendship.  We were both passionate about issues and we found we both agreed that the spirit of capitalism, entrepreneurship, and free enterprise should always trump the role the public sector plays in our local economy.
I will always recall sitting down with Scott and sharing with him an idea for a Chamber publication that could tell the story of our organization.  He then expounded on the premise with excitement and eagerness and the Lake Norman Chamber Quarterly was born.     As a York County, South Carolina native, I had a difficult time getting my hand around the significance of the term “North Mecklenburg” and felt we were losing marketing potential by not utilizing the greatest resource available – Lake Norman.  Why not change the name of the Chamber to reflect that strength?

While it seems so insignificant today – changing the name of the Chamber was a huge step for the Chamber.  It took real political courage to carry that message and convince the old guard to adapt to a new branding for our association.  I’ll never forget when I asked what he would do if the older, more established Chamber and community leaders balked at this new initiative.  Scott reflected for a moment, and then replied, “Quite frankly, I’ll say it’s the lake stupid!” he said with his sly grin.     The announcement of our name change was one of many small but yet significant challenges Scott dared tackle.  He reveled in being the watchdog for the interests of citizens and businesses through his editorials and while I would never say “he kept an elected official honest” he served notice that he would call their hand on anything he felt was not in the best interest of our community.

Scott Hinkle adored Bill Clinton and felt while President Clinton had his faults, he had led us through an era of economic prosperity.  Scott would often tickle me by giving his best Bill Clinton impression.  Scott would poke out his lower lip and bite on it just a little. Then with a deep sullen look, point out his fist, clenched tightly with his thumb sticking out, and in a southern, croaky, Bill Clintonesque voice say, “I still believe in a place called hope.”

This past month, we lost a dynamic community leader to a massive stroke.  While there are no subdivisions bearing his name; no bridges or roads named in his honor; and likely no schools named in his memory, Scott Hinkle perhaps did more to give us a sense of community than anyone else that has ever lived and worked at Lake Norman.    He was my chairman, he was a mentor, and he was a very dear friend.  I’m fortunate to work at a Chamber he helped build at a lake he so loved.  We are a much better community because of Scott. We work, we live, and we visit in a place called hope and for those who don’t get it… “It’s the lake stupid.”

December 23, 2009 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , , | 2 Comments