By July 5, 2011 Read More →

Back In The Saddle – Cecil Russell


Cecil Russell

by Chris Murphy

Back in the Saddle

During the late 1990s, the Modesto Chamber of Commerce was on a roll.  Energetic, engaged, lively and driving a program that was unabashedly pro-Modesto called Modesto Means Business. (You might remember the song?)  After wandering through the dessert of uncertainty for the last decade, the Chairmen of the Board are back in the groove and there is a new CEO in town.  Cecil Russell, long time Save Mart VP and former Chamber President is at the helm, driving, and very eager to show that Modesto, USA is indeed a Classic American City and the Modesto Chamber of Commerce can do great things, for business, for civic pride and our future.

Cecil was raised in Manteca and while attending MJC, went to work for Payless Drug Stores, became a Store Manager working in Stockton, Concord, Oakland, Cerritos, and Alameda, then to Corporate in Oakland in 1974.  In 1987 he joined Save Mart Supermarkets here in Modesto as Vice President of Merchandising and Marketing, retiring in Sept 2010. Cecil served on many local Boards, including Sylvan Schools Educational Foundation, SPIE Board, United Way Board and a dozen years on the Chamber Board and served as Vice Chairman of Economic Development and Chairman of the Board.

Cecil has been married to Nancy for 38 years with 3 daughters, 2 sons and 3 grandchildren. Let’s see where he is now and learn more about Cecil.

MV: After your retirement, why did you jump head-first into the Modesto Chamber?
CR: After about four months of retirement, I was asked to rejoin the Chamber Board as the Vice Chairman of External Operations. Then a few months later the board decided to make a change in the CEO position. I was asked if I would fill that role and I accepted stating that I would need the help of all members of the board. I believe it is a duty to give back to the business world and our community in general.

MV: How would you describe the current business environment in Modesto?
CR: It is soft as the economy in general is soft. However, I believe we can help ourselves by committing to our Modesto Means Business Shop Local Campaign. There are new businesses continuing to open in our community and we have grown our manufacturing jobs, contrary to other communities in our area. The latest move by the City to lower Capital Facilities Fees is a great step in helping attract more business in our community and for current business to expand.

MV: What is the most pressing thing that needs to be done or changed?
CR: We need to continue to remove obstacles to business growth and to encourage investments that will create jobs.

MV: Do you think that Modesto is the Classic American City?
CR: Yes, I do. It has been a great community for me to raise my children. I think Modesto is a great community of families. It has been a great community for giving back. The fund raising activity has always been generous, even in these tough economic times. We have great parks, and both public and private schools, many bicycle trails, Golf, both public and private, MoBand, the Symphony, The Gallo Center, the State Theatre and many other events that our citizens and visitors can enjoy. And of course we are the gateway to the Sierras and Yosemite National Park. We have earned the All American City designation many times.

MV: Do you think that our American Graffiti history celebration should be expanded and enhanced?
CR: Absolutely, we have a heritage that many cities would do anything to have. We need to have a more collective group to build on our past success and make this one of the largest festivals in the country.

MV: Why is a vibrant downtown Modesto so important?
CR: I believe that the downtown is the heartbeat of any great City. When many people visit a town, first they check out the downtown for City functions and because we are the County seat, they check out the services of both. How we are viewed by either tourists or business people that are considering to locate in our area; their first impression, sets the stage for potential economic growth.

MV: What should happen to the old Modesto Post Office?
CR: It should be preserved and should house sought out and often visited services that serve our community and visitors to our community. It could become a show place that accents our heritage.

MV: What advice would you give a new start up business in Modesto?
CR: First develop a good solid business plan. Use The Alliance and or S.C.O.R.E. {Located in the Chamber office] to review or assist with their plan. Find a good location that attracts their customer base and get involved in the community. Modesto likes business that give back to the community.

MV: What keeps you awake at night?
CR: The thought that we are not doing enough to attract and encourage  our future leaders of our community.

MV: Tell us about your favorite Modesto experience ever.
CR:  I had had so many here in Modesto with my family, if I had to choose it would be back when the Cruise was in full flower, getting to meet Wolfman Jack and being on stage as he presented some of the classic rock and rock performers.

MV: Did you used to cruise?
CR: Yes. I had a ’58 Ford that I thought was cool, however I had a Professor at MJC that threatened to flunk any of us if he ever caught us cruising. He was not “cool”.

MV: Describe your perfect ultimate Modesto evening…
CR: There are a few– Going to dinner downtown and then going to a show at the Gallo Center. Meeting friends for a picnic and listening to MoBand at Graceada Park, or just hanging out in our backyard with friends and neighbors enjoying an evening of bar-b-que and some nice wine.

MV: Beatles or Stones?
CR:  Beatles nothing better than Hey Jude or Imagine, I love their music.

MV: Anything else you want to add?
CR:I love Modesto, it has been a great place to raise my family and work, a great place to live.

Cecil Russell can be reached at




About the Author:

Chris Murphy is the President and CEO of Sierra Pacific Warehouse Group and Publisher and Founder of ModestoView Inc. Chris worked globally in the cycling industry returning to Modesto in 1996. He is also the founder of the Modesto Historic Graffiti Cruise Route, Legends of the Cruise Walk of Fame, Modesto Rockin’ Holiday, the Modesto Music History Organization and co-founder of the Modesto Area Music Association. Chris is married to his artist wife Rebecca since 1985 and has two daughters Madison and Abigail, both graduating from Modesto High and UC Berkeley. He is lead singer and guitarist for his band, Third Party that donates their performances to non-profits.