The Breeze continues its ‘local history maker’ stories from last season as we celebrate 31 years serving the Hickory Nut Gorge community by highlighting those who continue to make a positive difference in this extraordinary Western North Carolina neighborhood we call ‘home’. Here is Russ Pitts’ story in his own words.
In 1996 my family and I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina; due to a recent promotion and executive relocation package my wife Lynn received from Nations Bank (now Bank of America). Upon arriving in North Carolina, I decided to take a solo weeklong camping “drive-about” to see what outdoor recreational opportunities existed in the middle and western portions of North Carolina. Lake Lure happened to be the last stop on this adventure. I had to drag Lynn to Lake Lure for our first visit. Once she saw it, she got it. Like most folks, we both fell completely in love with the Lake Lure area.
Traveling came naturally to me. I grew up in a military family with a father that fought multiple tours of duty flying combat missions in Vietnam for the USAF whose thirty year career culminated as vice-wing commander for the 7th bomb wing at Carswell AFB in Fort Worth, Texas. Growing up in the military provided myself along with my younger brother and older sister a great life of traveling all over the world, which included living over five years in Stuttgart, Germany. These world travels have helped me truly appreciate the uniqueness of the Hickory Nut Gorge and its very special Lake Lure.
While traveling back and forth from New York City for Oracle Corporation, I was continuously drawn back to Lake Lure, and finally in 1999 Lynn and I purchased a lakefront home as a vacation home with the idea of one day making it our permanent “retirement” home.
In 2000 our daughter graduated high school, and being empty nesters, Lynn and I looked to Lake Lure to experiment with a new life that involved living at the lake in our home based office and working the road-warrior consulting lifestyle. It must have worked, because 18 years later we are still here.
Living in Lake Lure was an eye-opening event for me personally, as I quickly realized that along with all the beauty around us there was also great disparity. This situation touched me personally when volunteering to repair the personal computers at the town’s youth center. During this work, I learned that the first real meal for some children in neighboring communities happened when they were dropped off at the Lake Lure Youth Center. Little did I know that that this short-lived experience would plant the seeds that eventually led to more volunteer work and through that, the glaring need for a school in our community.
I have often said that Bob Washburn and George Pressley really got me started in volunteer work at Lake Lure, and it started with a colorful bass boat. One day Lynn saw two men in a small, yellow bass boat doing strange things on the lake, which we later discovered was Bob and George taking depth soundings to keep track of the sedimentation levels. We had been worried about the ever-decreasing lake depth in front of our house. Having an engineering mind, and a love for the lake I could not resist supporting Bob’s lake advisory committee, which led to more volunteer work. Becoming aware of the complexity of the lake issues and other community needs led to running and getting elected to the Town Council in 2005.
There is an old saying that you only know what you know, and you don’t know what you don’t know. I came on Town Council thinking “How hard could this be?” given my experience managing large, complex multi-million dollar deals for many Fortune 500 companies. I quickly learned that being part of governmental leadership is a very different creature then corporate leadership. My tenure on town council was a very humbling but also educational experience that I truly value.
One item I noticed that always seemed to come up in my volunteer work was the challenge of attracting and keeping families in Lake Lure. The importance of this became even clearer after the development of the town’s comprehensive plan, which highlighted the benefits that come with families, such as better health care, grocery stores, and general economic stability. This public interest in creating a local school led me to an introduction to John Bryan with Challenge Foundation whose philanthropic firm was all about improving educational in rural America in the form of charter school based alternatives. This introduction grew into a very rich and long friendship with Challenge Foundation that resulted in the creation of a team of concerned local leaders that helped create and support Lake Lure Classical Academy (LLCA). That meeting more than ten years ago enabled me to experience one of the proudest accomplishments of my life. Building the school and making a real difference in my local community was much more rewarding than making money for a company or getting a large salary. This volunteer work has led me to other volunteer work, such as serving over seven years on PANGAEA’s board of directors. In addition, I’m now serving on Lake Lure Community Education Foundation to build the school’s new gym/auditorium, and recently joined the board of directors for GRO (Growing Rural Opportunities) to help local farms in our area.
All of this would not be possible without the support of my family; especially my wife, so nothing gives me more pleasure then creating opportunities for their happiness in my spare time. Our purchase and operation of Mystic Waters Farm has enabled me to provide many happy moments of watching both my wife and daughter “ski strong” on the tournament ski lake on the farm property.