Bill Teichmiller and Delbert D. Mundt chat at the EJ Water Cooperative Annual Meeting. Mundt's service to the board was celebrated that night.
Building rural infrastructure takes two kinds of ‘capital’
EJ Water Cooperative, Inc. held its 22nd annual meeting in March. During the past 22 years we’ve experienced phenomenal growth and the system has grown into an eight-county regionalized system. We now serve potable water to 6,400 members and wholesale to eight communities/villages with another 3,055 meters. We also provide “cooperative” contractual services to several small systems.
As interesting as all of these growth figures may be to a manager like me, the real story behind this is the people and the intellectual capital of the cooperative. Without the dedication and passion of our board of directors, staff, and these key professionals (engineering, legal, legislative, and supply partners), the EJ Water Cooperative would not be able to meet the increasing challenges we face.
In addition to our human capital, the co-op would not have served one drop of water to anyone without funding. To date the USDA – Rural Development has provided the co-op with more than $50 million in grant and loan funding coupled with significant grant dollars from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s Community Development Assistance Program (CDAP). Make no mistake – this funding is the lifeline and fuel that has brought this dream into a reality.
This past year has marked two significant milestones in the history of our young co-op. First we completed our second water plant and dedicated it as the Delbert D. Mundt Water Treatment Plant on Delbert’s 80th birthday in 2009. The new plant can treat 3.0 million gallons per day. The project was completed on time and more importantly on budget. This boosts our daily capacity to 4.45 million gallons per day, which is more than double our present peak demands during the summer months. In other words, we’ll have plenty of reasonably priced water for many years to come for our members.
The second milestone, which is much more important than a treatment facility, is our patriarch, Delbert D. Mundt, who founded EJ Water has retired from our board of directors this month. Delbert learned the cooperative ways while serving as President of Norris Electric Cooperative, in Newton, Ill. for many years. He also learned the bigger state picture as he served as President of the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives, which represents electric and telephone cooperatives in our state and publishes this magazine.
As Paul Harvey is famous for saying, “now for the rest of the story.” Delbert worked (volunteered) nearly full time for many of our co-op’s early years. The true reason for our success was this contribution established the very footing and foundation the co-op was built upon.
Even with all this help, the co-op had enormous growing pains in our early years. These kinds of lessons learned will either make or break people and organizations. It is only through faith in God, tenacity and determination that one can push through to the other side. Delbert championed our pathway and provided steady wisdom and a solid footing to take our steps forward.
EJ Water Cooperative is now on its way toward what Delbert likes to call “maturity.” We live in some truly strange and economically challenging times right now. Our culture fools us into thinking a quick fix or short cuts will work. Nothing will replace a steady and methodical course to a goal worth achieving. As men like Delbert retire all around us, it’s now our time to step up and take the baton to the finish line for the next generation.
Bill Teichmiller is the CEO of EJ Water Cooperative, Inc. Established in 1989, the co-op and serves members in Effingham, Jasper, Clay, Crawford, Cumberland, Shelby, Richland and Fayette counties. 217-925-5566.