Counting your blessings

I consider myself very blessed to have been born and raised on a family farm in south-central Illinois. My parents made sure my upbringing emphasized hard work, the value of a dollar, community involvement and faith in God. In all honesty, there were many times as a boy and young man when I wished for an “easier” upbringing, but looking back on it, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Cooperatives were an integral part of my early life. It’s amazing to note the essential roles that cooperatives filled for us. The list was long. We sold milk to a dairy cooperative, secured our herd genetics through a cooperative, purchased the vast majority of our farming inputs from a cooperative, received our telephone service through a cooperative and depended on a cooperative for our electric power. No doubt about it, my family’s life would have been much poorer without cooperatives.

In the early 1980’s a new relationship with cooperatives unfolded for me. After college and returning to the farm, I was recruited to fill a vacancy on the Washington County Farm Bureau board. Little did I know that this simple entry into a director’s role would begin one of the great experiences of my life. The Farm Bureau experience led to 13 years of service on the Washington County Farm Service (FS) board, which led to a 22-year (and counting) experience on the Egyptian Telephone Cooperative board, which led to being asked to run for a position on the Tri-County Electric Cooperative board in 1998.

The Tri-County Electric board position has opened multiple opportunities for further service. I was selected to represent Tri-County Electric on our generation and transmission cooperative’s board as well as the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives (AIEC) statewide board. Both of these have been rewarding experiences. In 2006, I was elected to be Illinois’ representative on the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) board and, this past February, I was elected an officer of that board. In all honesty, the doors that have opened for me and the opportunities I’ve been given to serve are breath-taking. This farm boy from south-central Illinois has truly been granted a unique experience.

What do I appreciate most about cooperatives? First, I appreciate the not-for-profit business model utilized by cooperatives that puts members and their needs first and margins (profits) second. It is a model with a dramatically different approach and emphasis than the one utilized in the for-profit sector of our economy. I believe the cooperative model has served rural America well in the past, and I believe it is still the best model as we look to the future.

Secondly, I also appreciate the talents of the managers and CEOs with whom I’ve worked in the cooperative world; men like Tim Reeves, President of Southern Illinois Power our G&T; Kevin Jacobsen, CEO of Egyptian Telephone; and Duane Noland, CEO of the AIEC; and women like Marcia Scott, General Manager of Tri-County Electric, and Jo Ann Emerson, CEO of the NRECA. These are examples of people I deeply respect for their knowledge of the industry they serve, their ability to provide leadership in challenging times and their integrity.

Finally, I appreciate the skilled and diverse group of directors with whom I’ve worked over the years. These are men and women who’ve been successful in their own businesses, jobs and lives, and who’ve come together in a boardroom to chart a course forward on behalf of their fellow member-owners. I’ve noted that the best directors are not experts on all things co-op, but instead are people filled with common sense. I’ve also found that the best directors have the ability to identify and stand for core principles, but can also find common ground with others. Common ground is the place from which the board and the entire cooperative can begin to fashion a common vision and a way forward for the days ahead.

Yes, I consider myself blessed to live in rural America, to be served by cooperatives, and to have the opportunity to serve others through those cooperatives.