Consolidated Electric delivers more than electricity
Missouri’s electric cooperatives are intertwined with the communities they serve. From the early days of banding members together to form a co-op and turning the lights on for the first time to sending the best and brightest youth to Washington D.C. today, cooperative leaders and employees knew their organization was about more than just electricity.
That’s certainly the case at Mexico-based Consolidated Electric Cooperative where the co-op’s board and employees have a rich history of giving back to their eight-county service territory through donations of their time, talent and treasure.
“We all live within the communities our co-op serves,” says Melanie Oetting, manager of administrative services. “Whether it’s through our job, our children’s activities, our churches and other organizations, we know it’s important for us to be a constant and visible part of the community.”
That support comes in all shapes and sizes. However one annual tradition might be the most visible. It had become a tradition in Mexico for there to be a 50-foot pole placed outside the A.P. Green Firebrick complex and strung with lights during the holiday season. When the facility shuttered, some were worried that this yearly ritual would end as well.
Highlighting the cooperative principle Cooperation Among Cooperatives, Consolidated responded when United Credit Union asked to help carry on the tradition. Crews from Consolidated and its transmission co-op, Jefferson City-based Central Power, were able to use their equipment to remove the pole and move it to the credit union.
“Every year, our guys will take equipment over and spend a morning helping string the lights for the community to enjoy,” Melanie says. “They go back in early January to take it down.”
The cooperative’s volunteer work doesn’t end when the holidays are over. They’ve donated materials to install lights at ballfields in Mexico, Farber, Laddonia and Middletown. Lineworkers often gather on their days off to set poles and the lights. “A lot of small towns or organizations struggle,” says Lynn Thompson, general manager of Consolidated Electric. “This is an easy way for us to help defray some of those costs for them.”
Other projects along those lines include employees replacing holiday lights and hanging flags in downtown Mexico prior to community festivals or events.
Consolidated has a long history of helping nonprofits with financial donations. They were able to increase and formalize those donations with the recent addition of Consolidated Cares Trust. When Lynn joined the co-op three years ago, he came with previous experience with a cooperative-backed trust. “We were looking at ways we could increase both our involvement in the community and how much we could donate,” he says.
The trust is funded by Consolidated with additional matching funds made possible from the Sharing Success charitable giving program through CoBank, a Denver-based cooperative bank serving rural industries across the country. A board of trustees reviews applications and distributes funds to organizations such as veteran’s organizations, 4-H foundations and various community and school-related events. This year, Consolidated Cares awarded its first round of $1,000 scholarships to eight local graduating seniors. In early 2020, they helped a Paris nursing home upgrade their televisions with new, larger screens to accommodate the residents’ needs as the COVID-19 pandemic started to take hold.
With events returning, Consolidated employees will continue their history of participating in local festivals and parades. They’ll have a new showpiece as well. Following the passing of former General Manager Nelson Willingham, his family donated money for the cooperative to start a project in his name. The money was used to restore a 1937 Chevy pickup to the condition it would have been when the co-op was formed. The truck was finished just as events started to be cancelled this past year, so it will be a new attraction to show off.
Education, Training and Information is another cooperative principle Consolidated uses to invest in the community. With the help of Central Power, they give presentations to students in the area about electrical safety, energy efficiency, power supply and more. “Schools often ask us for help with safety and energy efficiency programs. Our employees enjoy taking a bucket truck and equipment for the kids to see as they talk to them about how to stay safe around electricity,” says Melanie.
Consolidated’s initiatives all combine to ensure they’re a vibrant part of the area in which they serve, providing much more than just wires and poles to their 8,100 meters.
“Providing electricity is a basic need, but serving members in other ways is so important to us,” says Lynn. “Part of that is getting out in the community and providing services that might not be readily available or come at great expense. It’s something we can directly do to benefit our communities. We’re proud of that.”
For more information on Consolidated Cares Trust and their other programs, visit www.consolidatedelectric.com.