Barry Electric employees help ensure better quality of life in southwest Missouri
It’s no secret where the staff of Barry Electric Cooperative will be on the final Saturday of October. About 20 employees congregate around an open fire cooking a massive 5-gallon pot of chili — a recipe that has brought home first-place trophies and been perfected over two decades — at the Cassville Chamber of Commerce Chili Cook-Off. Barry Electric’s Laura Holycross says the community-oriented event brings in more than 500 locals with nearly 400 of them buying chili tickets to support the area.
That camaraderie and community involvement is just the tip of the iceberg for the Cassville-based electric cooperative that has strong roots within their one-county portion of the Ozarks. Through the co-op and its subsidiary, goBEC Fiber Network, they’ve lifted up their five-town service area by donating time and equipment to help local municipalities, installed new technology at nearby Roaring River State Park, made internet service more affordable to those in need and much more.
“It’s great for us to be out in the community and just having a good time with our friends and neighbors,” says Laura, Barry Electric’s member services coordinator. “It makes the relationship much more personable and not just about bills or late notices. They see us in the community.”
BEC donates use of some of its most front-facing pieces of equipment to help around Cassville: bucket trucks. Each year, Barry employees and their trucks can be found downtown hanging the outdoor lighting and affixing large snowflakes to light poles around the holidays. They also change out the downtown flags seasonally.
“By offering this service, we save the city from having to purchase expensive bucket trucks,” Laura says. “We help out local organizations when we can on jobs that require a lift. All a part of giving back and setting an example.”
That willingness to help out doesn’t stop once the co-op employees are off the clock. Former BEC lineworker-turned-CEO Bill Shively started a tradition of changing burned out Christmas lights in downtown Cassville in his spare time.
Since his retirement, current lineworker Tim Thompson has picked up the slack replacing the lights.
Barry Electric has invested more than just electric infrastructure to the area with the inclusion of goBEC Fiber Network. The fiber-to-the-home project brings high-speed internet to remote, rural places of Missouri that would not otherwise have it. One of those newer spots is a welcome sight for anglers and outdoor enthusiasts.
“We were contacted by the folks at nearby Roaring River State Park and they said they’ve had a lot of people who would love to be able to see a livestream of Roaring River,” Laura says. “That way they could know what the weather is doing or if the river is up or down.”
It was a group effort. Barry Electric and goBEC provided and installed new poles, raised the electric lines and ran the fiber cables across the river to the pair of cameras, which were provided by Missouri Parks, Inc. The cameras wouldn’t be possible without the service from goBEC and help the area by luring in those looking to catch that perfect trout or just take a tranquil hike. The livestream can be viewed at youtu.be/zBacEG_cTVw.
Another goBEC endeavor was developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We live in an impoverished area where a lot of people might not have Wi-Fi or internet service at home,” Laura says. “So we got with some schools last spring and asked how we could help.”
They installed Wi-Fi hotspots in the parking lots of a trio of schools giving students a safe place to come and download files or do their online schoolwork. They also paired with Ozarks Area Community Action Corp. during the pandemic to help expand internet access to those in need.
“We were able to develop a rate that is lower than our standard rate,” Laura says. “Recipients have to go through a qualification process with OACAC so we could make sure those who needed it most could get it.”
Another COVID-19 program sent $1,000 each to four different schools that were having trouble adjusting to the pandemic. The money was used to purchase sanitizing equipment and supplies to use before students returned. The funds were made possible from the Sharing Success charitable giving program offered through CoBank, a Denver-based cooperative bank serving rural industries across the country. CoBank matched the $500 Barry Electric contributed to the schools.
Barry Electric had just put the finishing touches on a new live line trailer they will take to area schools when the pandemic hit. The trailer isn’t high-voltage, but “gets the point across” in teaching how electricity works and the importance of treating electricity with respect and being safe. They have been able to show off the trailer to emergency first responders, but hope to show it to local students as soon as it’s safely possible.
Laura says their focus on the cooperative principle Concern for Community is about them doing what they can — both big and small — to keep their communities a tightknit group.
“Most of our employees are members and live here,” she says. “When people that we know see us lending a hand and trying to help where we can, they kind of feed off that and say, ‘If Barry Electric can do that, then maybe our business can step up too.’ We pride ourselves on giving that small-town quality customer service and want to keep our community great.”