Fair Minded


Steve Freese, President and CEO

It is hard to believe it’s almost time for the kids to go back to school. If summer is your favorite season, it never lasts quite long enough. It seems like only yesterday I was attending my son’s graduation from the University of Wisconsin‑Whitewater back in late May.

As my mom always says, time marches on. That prompts me to reflect on what is happening with many of the young people who reside on electric cooperative lines throughout Wisconsin and the opportunities made available to them.

Many of us might not realize how active electric cooperatives are in creating opportunities for the young people they serve. We’ve talked here before about the annual Youth Leadership Congress and the Youth Tour to Washington, D.C. More broadly, kids from all across the state are preparing their projects for 4-H clubs and FFA chapters that will be exhibited at the county fair. In my youth, I was doing the same things with my 4-H project, raising a Hereford steer. My dad and I would work all day in the fields baling hay and putting it up in the barn, followed by chores, and then it was time to work with my steer for the Grant County Fair. It all had to be done in the barn or barnyard with electric lights showing the way late into the evening.

A young Freese, with his mother and sister, prepare his Hereford steer for the county fair.

Meanwhile, my sister would be preparing her projects sitting behind an electric Singer sewing machine. I suspect many kids who live in our communities served by an electric cooperative are doing the same today. I would sell my steer at the county fair livestock auction to help pay for my college tuition.

Today high school seniors living in rural Wisconsin have another opportunity to help fund their college tuition through their electric cooperative. All 24 Wisconsin electric distribution cooperatives offer scholarship opportunities. For 2018 these 24 co-ops awarded a combined $437,000 in scholarships to graduating seniors who start college just a few weeks from now. None of the funding for these scholarships comes from the rates you pay on your electric bill; all of the money awarded comes from unclaimed capital credits which, by law, can be used either for charitable purposes or paid into the state treasury. If you have a student starting his or her senior year of high school, be sure to look into the opportunities for electric cooperate scholarships and help your child prepare the application in a timely manner so he or she can compete.

All this is part of your electric cooperative following the Seventh Cooperative Principle, Concern for Community. While focused on member needs, cooperatives work for the sustainable development of the broader community through policies approved by their members. There’s no better way to develop your hometown than by helping educate our youth and giving them an opportunity to return and contribute to the growth of their hometown just as I was able to do. So as we prepare for the coming of fall, be sure to visit your county fair and support local kids and their projects, and help those who are starting their senior year to compete for a scholarship from their electric cooperative.