Link Centre operations chief has history with building

By Sheena Barnett/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – At the Link Centre, Derek Russell has double vision.
Walking through the maze of rooms, he sees both the past and present versions of the building: his office, which used to be his mom’s office; the concert hall, which was the sanctuary; the reception hall, which was the fellowship hall.
Russell has a history with Link Centre that goes back well beyond his 26 years.
Formerly the Harrisburg Baptist Church, the building is where Russell’s grandparents and mother went to church, where his parents married, where he was baptized, where he went to day care, kindergarten and church – and, now, it’s where he works.
Russell is five months into his new job as the Link Centre’s director of operations, a job that, according to his boss, director Melanie Deas, suits him – and the building – perfectly.
“He has vision and a history, and that makes him a unique fit for the building,” Deas said. “He knows the history and how far it’s come.”
As he goes to work each day, Russell helps keep the 60-plus-year-old building running, and he can’t help but see the past – and potential for its future – all around.
“It’s very nostalgic,” Russell said. “I can’t turn a hallway without some memory of people or events popping up.”

Looking back
As director of operations, Russell oversees many aspects of the Link Centre, from dealing with tenants to booking events to helping publicize the space.
“If it needs to be done, I try to get it done,” he said. “I do whatever I can to make sure this place runs smoothly.”
The office he uses was a part of his mother’s office when she was a music secretary at Harrisburg. Even today, the space is equal parts past and present, as Russell’s “Ghostbusters” memorabilia and Superman collectibles sit near the sheet music-sized shelves.
Beyond his office, Russell knows every inch of the building’s twisting, turning 75,000 square feet.
“I went here from the time I was born until the time we locked the doors and moved to the other building,” he said. “I was one of the last people to walk through, and I had not stepped back one foot into it until I did to start work.”
Some of his earliest memories include walking to church with his granddad, Marvin Harwood, every Sunday.
“He knows the building better than anyone, and everything I know about the building I learned from him, growing up,” Russell said.
And Harwood should know it.
In the late 1950s, Harwood moved his wife and daughter – Russell’s mother, Marilyn – from Pontotoc to Tupelo, just near the Harrisburg Baptist Church. The family went to Harrisburg the same weekend they moved in.
“It was Aug. 15 – I’m not sure if that was the moving date or the first Sunday after we’d moved,” Harwood said.
In the family’s tenure at Harrisburg, Harwood and his family helped build additions and parts of the church – many of which are still in use, Russell said.
In fact, when Russell was recently going through the building’s circuit breakers, he found his granddad’s handwriting detailing what wires were which. The Link Centre still uses a set of risers Harwood built.
Harwood sees how the work he did decades ago parallels with what his grandson’s doing today.
“My work was mechanical, electric. The changes that have taken place, our roles are different. He’s got so much more technology,” Harwood said, pointing to Russell’s two computers and iPad.
What’s stayed the same is how the building, whether it was Harrisburg Baptist Church or is the Link Centre, continues to strengthen the community.
“Good things still come out of here,” he said.
Russell and Link Centre Director Melanie Deas speak the same Link Centre language, as they both grew up in the building.
Deas knew she’d found the right man for the job when Russell’s resume came across her desk.
“If you had pasted together six resumes you couldn’t come up with all the crazy things that go on here,” she said, but “here’s a guy with experience in food service and the arts and computers. He’s tailor-made for the job.”
Russell and Deas’ memories are helping shape the future.
“Those little kids we were can inspire different activities we have here,” she said.
Now a new father himself, Russell hopes his newborn daughter, Wesley, can grow up in the Link Centre just like he did.
“It is very endearing to think I was running the halls here,” he said, “and think she could be, as well.”

Contact Sheena Barnett at (662) 678-1580 or sheena.barnett@journalinc.com