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Chamber honors Erk Russell

Late legend named Business Leader of the Century

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            The late Erk Russell was named “Businessman of the Century” by the Statesboro-Bulloch County Chamber of Commerce Thursday night at their annual meeting.

            “Many names come to mind when we think of the many people who have played a major leadership role in our economic success in this community, but one name always rises to the top of that list – Erk Russell,” said Bruce Yawn as he made the announcement.

            Russell, who died last year, served as Georgia Southern’s football coach from 1981 to 1989 where he restarted the program and led them to three national championships before retiring. The success of the football program brought national attention and notoriety to Statesboro.

            Jay Russell, speaking on behalf of the family, accepted the award on his father’s behalf.

            “I don’t think there’s an individual in this room tonight that doesn’t wish that Erk Russell was standing up here receiving this award in person,” Jay Russell said. “But on the other hand, I don’t think there’s an individual in this room who doesn’t feel his spirit and his presence.”

            “He lives on forever, especially in the hearts of this community, and for that, we thank you,” Russell said.

            Erk Russell’s wife, Jean, said she was honored by the award.

            “I just wish he was here,” she said. “It’s wonderful to know that he’s been remembered for all his hard work.”

            Peggy Chapman, president of the chamber, said Russell was an obvious choice for the honor.

“We said, ‘who from 1906 to 2006 had the greatest impact on this community economically and business-wise’ and it all kept coming back to Erk,” Chapman said. “Everything we talked about was because of his era and bringing us to national attention through football.”

            Chapman said Georgia Southern, Statesboro and Bulloch County all experienced tremendous amounts of growth during and after Erk Russell’s tenure as the coach of the Eagles.

            Among the growth Chapman referred to was a college that expanded from 7,000 students to nearly 17,000, Bulloch County nearly doubling in population and businesses and industries locating in the area.

            “Erk Russell was the best sales person the Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of commerce had,” Yawn said.

            The decision to name a businessman of the century came about as a way to recognize the centennial celebration of Georgia Southern University, said Chapman.

            Luke Martin can be reached at (912) 489-9454.

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