Viewing life through a different lens


Chris Hailey, 2016 Lake Norman Chamber Diversity Chair and Chamber President Bill Russell

Anyone who knows me well, knows that I am an avid football fan. On any given Saturday or Sunday, I’m usually sitting back watching games when I see a real bone-headed play that leaves me thinking, “What was that all about?”

Granted the play has been stopped, we know the result and, in many instances, we watch replays over and over from every angle. Knowing the outcome, many of us become sports geniuses — hence the term “armchair quarterbacks.”

Several years ago, I had the opportunity, through our Leadership Lake Norman program, to tour the Criminal Justice Center at the Central Piedmont Community College Merancas Campus in Huntersville. There I was allowed to participate in a firearms simulation on which our law enforcement officers are required to train. Participants are provided a firearm equipped with a laser that registers actual hits and misses in a simulated environment.

In some situations, subjects in the video are innocent bystanders. In others, in the blink of an eye, the bystander became an armed assailant. The actual time you as a law enforcement officer have to ascertain the threat and act are mere seconds. My simulation involved terrorists who had taken hostages on a passenger jet in flight. I laughed it off and went home after I hit an assailant, a bystander and the fuselage of the plane perhaps dooming all of the passengers. For me, in that room with that make-believe gun in a simulated environment, it was little more than a video game.

Out on the streets, it’s anything but.

The last few days in Charlotte, and last few months nationwide, have seen tensions between law enforcement and the public reach a precipice. As I personally struggle to understand why we have reached this point, my good friend and the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce Diversity Chairman Chris Hailey asked me to “step back away from my ‘whiteness’ and see the world through a different lens — that of an African-American man.”

What some of us may see as a single incident is for many a tipping point of years of frustration, anxiety and fear. While there can be no excuse for looting, violence and lawlessness, there must be a way to confront the feelings many minorities are experiencing.

On Wednesday, Oct. 5, the Lake Norman Chamber Diversity Council will host a Lunch & Learn session at the CPCC Merancas Campus with Brandi Riggins from Charter Communications. She will discuss race relations and how we can continue to come together as a community. The Diversity Council will also host another community forum later in the month.

In the meantime, the Lake Norman Chamber will salute our public safety officers who put their lives on the line for us each and every day — our police, fire and EMS officers along with the Crime Stopper of the Year. That event takes place Thursday, Oct. 20, at NorthStone Country Club.

Unlike football, our police officers have no instant replay and no way to truly know what’s in the mind of the person they stop or try to apprehend. They have no ability to look back on what they could or should have done. They have only the moment. It’s real time.

One thing I do know for certain: none of our officers are out there looking for confrontation. They simply want to serve and go home safe at the end of the day to their families.

My friend Chris asked me to see life though a different lens. The reality is I’m not sure I ever really can. But I do know, I need to try. I pray to God that we all try.


Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce President’s Message

Lake Norman Chamber Members and Stakeholders:                                                    

CMS BondsChamber Backs Bonds
The Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors has voted to endorse several bond packages before North Mecklenburg voters on November 5th.  The Chamber is encouraging its members to
VOTE YES for the Charlotte Mecklenburg School Bonds and the Central Piedmont Community College Bonds before Mecklenburg County voters in the upcoming referendum.  Chamber members who are registered voters in the Town of Cornelius are also encouraged to vote for the three municipal bonds on the ballot.  These bonds will be the topic of the next Focus Friday on October 18th at the Chamber.  Current CMS school board representative Rhonda Lennon (District #1) and Carrie Kester, Chair at Community of Huntersville Education Collaborative will provide more information regarding the bonds.   Read more about the Bonds and the Chamber’s position here. 

Forums held in Davidson and Huntersville give voters a chance to meet the candidates
The Chamber will host a candidate forum in Davidson and Huntersville next week.  A forum was held in Cornelius October 1st.  The two-hour forum will be held at the respective town halls. The forum for Davidson is Tuesday, October 15th and Huntersville, Thursday Oct 17th. All forums are 7:00 – 9:00 pm. The events are moderated by Jerry Hancock, General Partner of Alexander Hancock Associates. Hancock is well known in Charlotte as a guest commentator on “All Things Considered,” National Public Radio, and the publishing of numerous journal articles. For over 25 years he hosted programs on public television including FINAL EDITION on Channel 42, a weekly roundtable discussion of current news topics with local reporters.

The forum in Davidson is co-sponsored by and the Huntersville Forum is co-sponsored by the Lake Norman Political Association.  For more information, read about it here.

Public Safety Luncheon Salutes our First Responders
The Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce will host the eighth annual salute to North Mecklenburg Public Safety officers and volunteers at a special luncheon Thursday, October 17th at noon at the Peninsula Club (19101 Peninsula Club Drive) in Cornelius. The event, Presented by Wells Fargo Bank, is sponsored by Central Piedmont Community College – Merancas Campus and The Herald Newspaper. An officer from the Cornelius, Davidson, and the Huntersville Police Departments will be honored as well as members of the North Meck Rescue, and the local fire departments.

In addition to honoring the officers, the Guest Speaker will be Tamara Williams, the new Dean of Central Piedmont Community College – Merancas Campus. Dean Williams will touch on the role CPCC plays in training public safety officers and first responders.
Join us as we salute our first responders!  RSVP by calling the Chamber at 704-892-1922 or online.  The cost is $16 for Chamber members. 
Read more about this event here.

Final Thoughts
While the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce is a non-partisan organization and we do not endorse candidates for elected office, we do believe in the principles of good government.  We strongly encourage our members to actively engage themselves in the political debate in their local community, state, and nation.  It is a shame that typically, only 13% of the electorate turn out to select elected leaders which will govern our communities and schools.

The Lake Norman Chamber encourages you to get to know the candidates running for office at all levels and vote for those who best represent your values and that of your business.  We would also ask that if you are a Mecklenburg County voter, you Vote FOR the CMS and CPCC Bonds.  If a Cornelius resident, Vote to SUPPORT all three Cornelius Town Bonds.  These important bonds will provide the financial resources for our roads, school, and quality of life and will be critical components for our economic development efforts and the business growth of our region.

Perhaps Abraham Lincoln put it best when he said, “Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”

Let’s all hope looking back from the days ahead, we don’t regret the community and region we could have been simply because we didn’t take time to be informed and take advantage of our right to vote on election day.


W.E. “Bill” Russell, CCE, IOM
President & CEO
Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce
704-892-1922 (o)

Lake Norman Chamber’s “Torcher Chamber” Wins Heats at Asian Dragon Boat Races

Pictured Left to right. 1st Row: Sabrena Fernandez, Julia Holyfield,  Susan Gresham, Ann Garrity;  2nd Row: Tom Hansen,  Natalie Reid, Sunny Yates, Gail Scurry, Jennifer Spence, Melissa Polce,: 3rd Row: Frank Joseph, Alex Crenshaw, Kent Lowe, Al Posadas, Andrew Carlsen, Gabe Libutti

Pictured Left to right. 1st Row: Sabrena Fernandez, Julia Holyfield, Susan Gresham, Ann Garrity; 2nd Row: Tom Hansen, Natalie Reid, Sunny Yates, Gail Scurry, Jennifer Spence, Melissa Polce,: 3rd Row: Frank Joseph, Alex Crenshaw, Kent Lowe, Al Posadas, Andrew Carlsen, Gabe Libutti

For the last two years, the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce’s Diversity Council has gathered various members of the community to participate on a Dragon Boat Race team as part of the annual Asian Festival held at Ramsey Creek Park.  Although the team dynamics and weather conditions varied, what remained constant was the “fun” that was had by all.

Team members practiced together at Morningstar Marina up to two times to prepare for “Race Day”.  It’s always amazing to see how the team bonds together as the competitive juices start flowing.  In fact, the Lake Norman Chamber team which has been named “Torcher Chamber” won their first two heats, and while they did not clinch their division title, they were within several seconds from the medal winners in the final Championship race.  This is pretty impressive given there were only 16 crew in the boat (a full boat has 20).

A big thanks goes to the team captain, Susan Gresham for coordinating this effort and to the team’s steerer, Brian Tarle who has invited everyone to Saturday practices in preparation for next year’s race.  As we continue each year to gain experienced dragon boat participants around our community, we look forward to the Diversity Council’s continued support of this event!

National economist to speak at Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce luncheon

Thursday, April 18 noon at Northstone Country Club in Huntersville

Mark Vitner, Managing Director and Senior Economist at Wells Fargo

Mark Vitner, Managing Director and Senior Economist at Wells Fargo

Mark Vitner, managing director and senior economist at Wells Fargo, will provide an in-depth analysis of the United States economy in terms of  the current regional market and national economy when he presents: “Finally, We Have a Real Recovery.”  Vitner will discuss recent economic developments including sequestration, the budget, as well as fiscal and monetary policy. Mark will also share his insights into the current and future economic condition of North Carolina and the greater Charlotte region.

The luncheon will be held at Northstone Country Club, 15801 Northstone Drive in Huntersville Thursday, April 18th at noon.  The cost is $16 for Chamber members and $20 for non-members.  RSVP to the Lake Norman Chamber at 704-892-1922.  Chamber members can also register online.  The luncheon is sponsored by Hyde Park Storage Suites, Bauerle Financial, Inc, and Business Today.

Mark Vitner is responsible for tracking U.S. and regional economic trends for Wells Fargo. Based in Charlotte, he also writes for the company’s Monthly Economic Outlook report, the Weekly Economic & Financial Commentary, and provides regular updates on the housing markets, commercial real estate, regional economies, and inflation..

Mark joined Wachovia (then First Union) in 1993.  Before that, he spent nine years as an economist for Barnett Banks in Jacksonville, Fla.

Originally from Atlanta, Mark earned his B.B.A. in economics from the University of Georgia, an M.B.A. from the University of North Florida, and has completed further graduate work in economics at the University of Florida. He also completed the National Association of Business Economics (NABE) Advanced Training in Economics program at Carnegie Mellon University.

For more information contact the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce at 704-892-1922 or visit

Bob McIntosh and Bill Ellison, partners with the McIntosh Law Firm receive the Duke Energy Citizenship and Service Award from 2012 Chamber Chairman Jack Salzman and Tim Gause, Region Director, Government and Community Relations for Duke Energy.  Pictured left to right: Bob McIntosh, Jack Salzman, Bill Ellison, and Tim Gause.

Bob McIntosh and Bill Ellison, partners with the McIntosh Law Firm receive the Duke Energy Citizenship and Service Award from 2012 Chamber Chairman Jack Salzman and Tim Gause, Region Director, Government and Community Relations for Duke Energy. Pictured left to right: Bob McIntosh, Jack Salzman, Bill Ellison, and Tim Gause.

The McIntosh Law Firm, located in the Historic Davidson Cotton Mill, was selected by the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce as the 2012 Duke Energy Citizenship and Service Award at the Chamber’s Annual Meeting.  Representing the firm were Firm Partners Bob McIntosh and Bill Ellison along with several other firms attorneys.

The award was presented by Tim Gause, Region Director, Government and Community Relations for Duke Energy and 2012 Chamber Chairman of the Board Jack Salzman.  Gause pointed out that by definition, the award is a tribute to those who make a difference in their communities or places of work by using their time, talents and philanthropy to positively impact the lives of others.

Gause told a sold out crowd of business leaders, “The McIntosh Law Firm is in itself the definition of this award.  The principles of the Firm, Bob McIntosh and Bill Ellison, set the tone in their office.  The Firm writes the checks but the people behind that piece of paper make the difference.  All members of The McIntosh Law Firm are encouraged to find some way to give back to their community.  Many of the attorneys sit on non-profit or town government boards and a good number of the remaining staff volunteer their time to various other organizations.”

Gause added, “It is not uncommon to see any one of The McIntosh Law Firm employees flipping pancakes for Civitan, grilling hot dogs at Big Day at the Lake, handing out popcorn at Christmas in Davidson, shooting hoops at a Davidson College basketball game or playing golf alongside Special Olympians at a golf tournament.  It would be difficult to attend any local school event in North Mecklenburg County without seeing a sign or banner displayed with the Firm’s logo in support of scholastic sports and education in general.”

Founded in November, 1997, The McIntosh Law Firm has been dedicated to fostering an environment in which families, businesses, and the community at large can prosper. The Firm strives to support local artistic, athletic, charitable, cultural and educational institutions. By working to further these cultural and academic interests, the Firm hopes the community from which it draws its clients and employees will become enriched for many generations to come.

For more information on the Lake Norman Chamber visit

Abigail Jennings Recognized by Lake Norman Chamber as Business Person of the Year

Abigail Jennings, President of Lake Norman Realty Inc receives the coveted Lake Norman Chamber Cashion Business person of the Year.  From left to right:  Shantae Brown, Debbie Monroe, Randolph Lewis, Abigail Jennings, Jane Getsinger, Celeste Colcord, and Denise Richards. Photo by Deborah Young Portrait Studio

Abigail Jennings, President of Lake Norman Realty Inc receives the coveted Lake Norman Chamber Cashion Business person of the Year. From left to right: Shantae Brown, Debbie Monroe, Randolph Lewis, Abigail Jennings, Jane Getsinger, Celeste Colcord, and Denise Richards. Photo by Deborah Young Portrait Studio

In a sign that the Lake Norman real estate market is making a recovery from a lingering slow down and national recession, a local realtor has been selected as the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce’s Business Person of the Year.  Abigail Jennings, president of Lake Norman Realty, Inc received the prestigious Robert T. Cashion Award at the Chamber’s Annual Awards Banquet Thursday, January 24th.

Lake Norman Realty is the oldest Lake Norman real estate firm, with offices located Cornelius, Davidson, Denver, Mooresville and Statesville.  The agency is currently celebrating their 35th anniversary.  John Bradford, a Cornelius Town Commissioner and recipient of the 2011 Cashion Business Person of the Year presented the award along with Lake Norman Chamber Chairman Jack Salzman.  Bradford cited that in 2012 the agency was recognized as one of the Charlotte region’s largest real estate companies and the largest female owned real estate companies according to The Charlotte Business Journal.  Lake Norman Realty, Inc. was also ranked 4th overall in Charlotte as a Best Place to Work and a top finalist for the 6th year in a row.

Lake Norman Realty, Inc.’s Luxury home division made regional real estate history with two record-breaking sales at $4.4 million and $7.5 million. Their Commercial Division increased 29% in sales volume, property management a 9% increase, and overall sales volume 60% over 2011.  Most importantly their customer satisfaction rate was 99.5% from surveyed seller and buyer clients.

In addition, Jennings is the co-founder and financial director for the Pioneer Springs Community School which opened this past August; Vice President of the South Iredell Community Development Corporation; Board member for blueharbor bank; and President of the Lucky Cat Program for stray or abandoned cats as well as many more local community projects and programs.

In accepting the award, Jennings said, “I am honored and grateful for this award.  Without the support of my husband, Randolph Lewis, my Mom, Jane Getsinger, and Lake Norman Realty’s stellar team of associates, I would not be here today.  I’d like to also thank my Dad and mentor, James Jennings, who laid the foundation of Lake Norman Realty in 1978.  Adaptation and perseverance are how we’ve made it through our recent market downturn, making this award  especially meaningful as we enter our 35th year serving Lake Norman.  Thank you also to the Chamber for the wonderful work you have done over the past quarter century.  We are proud to have been a charter member and believe in the power and synergy the Chamber brings to this community.”

November President’s Message: Our American Right

Estonia Ambassador Marina Kaljurand and Ralph Daetwyler

One our chamber members and local business leaders has recently taken another step into the international business arena. Ralph Daetwyler, President of Max Daetwyler Corporation in Huntersville, was recently honored when he was named the Honorary Consul to Estonia for North Carolina. In this distinguished role, Ralph will assist Estonians in North Carolina as well as abroad in business and investment related recommendations and general informative work on topics such as society, education and culture in Estonia.

I had the honor of attending Ralph’s appointment for this role at an event at his home in Cornelius along with govt officials from Estonia, Switzerland and Huntersville. Ralph proudly told us all, “It is my privilege to be named honorary consul to Estonia. Daetwyler USA provides manufacturing expertise on various projects to our Estonian subsidiary, and this working relationship has given us a very good understanding of their culture. This insight will enable us to effectively assist any Estonian company that is exploring North Carolina as a potential base for their U.S. operations.”

While there I had the opportunity to chat with Marina Kaljurand, Ambassador of Estonia, Sten Schwede, consul general of Estonia and Heinz Roth, honorary consul of Switzerland, as well as Huntersville Mayor Jill Swain and board members Sarah McAulay and Melinda Bales. That evening reminded me about an experience I had in 1991 with the Estonia Junior Chamber that I shared with the Ambassador.

That year, I served as National Vice President of the US Junior Chamber and attended the Junior Chamber International (JCI) World Congress in Helsinki, Finland.  At that event, Junior Chamber Estonia was recognized as a fully affiliated national organization in JCI.  I will never forget watching Erlend Tammenurm from Rapla, Estonia as he took his place on stage in front of more than 4,000 International delegates waving his country’s flag with tears in his eyes.  At first I was taken back that this professional and reserved man would openly show such emotion on the occasion. 

Then I was reminded it had only been a few years since Estonia was a country of the Soviet Union and public assemblies and the right to freely associate would have not just been discouraged – many would have been imprisoned.

As President of the United States Junior Chamber (Jaycees) and later as an International officer, I had the chance to visit with delegations from throughout the world.  However, the single most powerful occasion was seeing the impact that moment had on Erlend.

This month, on November 6th, Americans will have the chance to exercise a right we often take for granted – the right to vote for our elected leadership.  As Americans, we have the freedom to choose who will represent us in Washington, Raleigh, and right here at home in Mecklenburg County. We should not forget that throughout this world many people do not have that right – their voice cannot be heard and the will of the majority does not prevail. 

Estonia Ambassador Kaljurand with Lake Norman Chamber President Bill Russell

Each of us has that right because generations of Americans have paid dearly though their sacrifice – young men and women who stand watch and in some cases pay with their lives, so that we may vote on Election Day.

It was a privilege meeting the Ambassador of Estonia and honoring Ralph in his new role. I regret though that one detail, small as it may have been, was omitted when I shared with Ambassador Kaljurand my story.  I neglected to tell her as I watched Erlend Tammenurm wave his country’s flag – his smile as big as the stage he was on – with the tears which streamed down his cheeks …  maybe it was the moment,  I’ll never know… but I cried too.