Earl Struck, the widely-respected Illinois cooperative leader and former President of the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives (AIEC), passed away on Aug. 7 at the age of 63. He is survived by his beloved wife, Sherry; three children; and five grandchildren.
October is Cooperative Month and there is no one that believed in the cooperative principles more than Earl Struck. He understood that cooperation was a powerful force for progress.
It is perhaps ironic that Struck passed away at a time when SB 1592 (the recently-passed electric deregulation-related rate relief legislation) was under consideration. Struck served as AIEC President/CEO when the initial Illinois electric utility deregulation law was passed and signed in 1997.
Struck was a master at building alliances and consensus. In the mid-1990s co-ops joined with the state's other group of not-for-profit, consumer-owned utilities, the municipal systems, to advocate a single co-op/municipal position on electric deregulation. The position was that all decisions related to entry into a deregulated marketplace be left to the governing bodies of each individual co-op and municipal system. For co-ops, that meant that future deregulation-related decisions would be made locally, by the member-elected and member-controlled co-op board of directors.
Struck was gratified that state legislators agreed with that approach and enacted it into law. As a result, consumer-owned co-ops and municipal systems were allowed to remain "consumer regulated," and their consumers were spared the rate shock of deregulation this past year.
Struck was a farm boy from Murphysboro and he never strayed far from his roots. His father, William Struck, had no tolerance for dishonesty or laziness. Neither did Earl.
After several years of working for the Illinois Farm Bureau, he started work at the AIEC in 1979 as Public Affairs Representative at the age of 35. In 1983 he became the Director of the Legal and Public Affairs Department. In 1994 he became the third Chief Executive Officer of the AIEC, replacing Thomas H. Moore, who retired after 32 years of service to the Illinois electric cooperatives.
Phil Carson, a member of the board of directors of the AIEC and Tri-County Electric Cooperative, and also the AIEC board's representative to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), admired Struck's political insight. "Earl had the ability to spot common ground and form coalitions that strengthened our cause."
Former State Senator Duane Noland, who stepped into Struck's shoes at the AIEC, said, "Earl was a true gentleman. At the capitol, your word is your bond and if Earl told you it was so, you could take it to the bank."
At Struck's funeral, former Illinois Governor Jim Edgar spoke of their friendship as neighbors. "I don't know anyone that did not like Earl. Thirty years ago when we were neighbors in the same subdivision, my wife, Brenda, and Earl's wife, Sherry, were such close friends. They were always like family, not just neighbors. Earl's word was always good, very good. He was incredibly ethical."
Don Wood, AIEC Vice President of Government Relations, said, "Earl was such a great person to work with, and for. He was an outstanding lobbyist and administrator, and was unfailingly honorable and gracious. As dedicated as Earl was to the co-ops, first and foremost he was a family man--he adored his wife Sherry, loved his kids and doted on his grandkids. Earl was truly 'one in a million' and he will be greatly missed."
Mick Cummins, former President/CEO of SouthEastern Illinois Electric Cooperative, said, "Earl always cared about people. He practiced the co-op motto of people helping people. Earl always respected others. He was always truthful, gave credit to others and accepted the blame if things went wrong."
John Lowrey, Editor of Illinois Country Living magazine and Manager of Information for the AIEC, said, "Earl lived by the Touchstone Energy® co-op values of integrity, accountability and commitment to community. Innovation, the other value, well, he had a little trouble with that. For example, he never quite got used to e-mail. But integrity - now that was Earl."
Struck loved rural people and he loved working for electric co-ops. You could say he lived his life by the cooperative philosophy. It fit his personality and his job. He truly believed that co-ops could continue to make a difference in the quality of life in rural Illinois.
During the AIEC's 64th annual meeting, Struck gave his final address to co-op managers and directors, saying, "This electric cooperative program is a unique and special thing that has done great things and can do so much more. Take good care of it."