When I think of the words, “better together,” I think of the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives’ (AIEC’s) mission statement, “To provide support, expertise and unity of purpose for our member cooperatives.” That third point, “unity,” allows the first two to happen. We need unity to be able to provide support. We need unity to be able to provide expertise. I see us “better together” in three ways — in the past, the present and the future.

Remembering the past

We were all better together back when rural electric cooperatives were formed. My family shares that history. It was 1939 on a farm in Mendota, Ill. My grandfather, Clifford Sondgeroth, was 7 years old and was one of eight children. My grandfather used to tell me they didn’t have much. They didn’t have shoes, they didn’t have enough chairs to eat at the table at the same time, and they didn’t have electricity.

My grandfather used to tell me how they used a kerosene lamp in the main room with a mirror behind it to spread the light. But, that farm family in 1939 scraped together $5 to join the electric cooperative because it would change their lives. Years later, one of those Sondgeroth boys would end up serving on the board of the electric cooperative.

That farm is still in the Sondgeroth family and is still on cooperative lines today. My grandfather would be proud to think that 84 years ago when our family scraped that $5 together to join an electric cooperative, that I would be here today as the fifth CEO of the AIEC.

United in the present

Today, we are certainly better together. All 25 of Illinois’ distribution cooperatives are members of the AIEC. It has been great having Southwestern Electric Cooperative, which rejoined the AIEC last year, as a member again. That allows all of Illinois’ electric cooperatives to speak and advocate as one voice.

Looking toward the future

As far as the future is concerned, I don’t have a crystal ball, and I don’t know exactly what challenges we will face. However, I know that we share a noble purpose in providing electricity to rural parts of the state, where no one else would serve, and we do it on a not-for­-profit basis.

I do know that we have an excellent staff at AIEC and will do everything we can to advocate for electric cooperatives and achieve good results. I do know that if we stay focused on providing safe, affordable and reliable power, our message will succeed with legislators and regulators.

Vince Lombardi aptly said, “The secret is to work less as an individual and more as a team.” The AIEC will continue to provide support, expertise and unity of purpose to our member cooperatives. But we need to focus on staying unified because, after all, we are all better together.

This is an excerpt of Craig Sondgeroth’s CEO report presented during the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives’ annual meeting on Aug. 3, 2023.