From the start, safety has been at the heart of Wisconsin’s electric cooperatives. So much so that each year, Wisconsin’s electric cooperatives recognize the safety leaders among our ranks with the Herman C. Potthast Award. The award’s namesake started Wisconsin’s rural electric job training and safety programs in 1943 and continued his mission for nearly three decades, exemplifying outstanding service, dedication, leadership, and cooperation.
I’m proud to say that the Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association (WECA) continues Potthast’s mission of safety through not only a continued focus on safety programming but also through the quality of our staff. Each year, the Potthast Award is selected by an outside committee of co-op employees. Twice in recent years, our member co-ops have recognized the exceptional leadership within our small but mighty staff ranks (of nine full-time employees).
In 2020, WECA Vice President of Operations Tim Clay was recognized. An excerpt from his nomination describes his service to Wisconsin’s electric cooperatives: “Tim Clay is the epitome of what this award looks to acknowledge, and I believe his contributions frequently go unrecognized and can at times be under-appreciated—as he has set a standard of exceptional customer service, dedication, professionalism, and technical understanding within and outside the scope of his job and responsibilities. To say he goes above and beyond to serve Wisconsin’s electric cooperatives would be a tremendous understatement. There simply is not a better candidate which exemplifies the characteristics of Herman C. Potthast than Tim Clay.”
Herman C. Potthast (left) was known to let the sparks fly during his safety training sessions. Fassbind and Clay often collaborate on their work. Here the two work through the logistics of sending volunteer Wisconsin line crews to Florida to restore power after Hurricane Irma in 2017.
In his acceptance speech, Clay referenced Potthast’s ingenuity.
“Mr. Potthast was not ahead of his time, he defined it. He created the first co-op Job Training and Safety program here, in Wisconsin, and afterward went on to make safety his passion and priority nationally. For me, Mr. Potthast’s legacy isn’t about those achievements. It’s about the culture he created here, and it remains strong today,” said Clay. “Men and women in this state who were influenced by Mr. Potthast’s legacy became my mentors and hands-on educators.”
Again, the Potthast winner has been pulled from among our ranks. This year, the committee selected Wendy Fassbind, our director of education and events. Here is what the nomination said about Wendy: “Wendy has worked for WECA for 22 years. Her hard work, dedication, care, and compassion for her co-op family are second to none. We are all beneficial benefactors of the work she does on our professional development that ultimately enhances our co-op safety and mutual aid programs, as it is often said you need a solid foundation for a strong safety program. Too often, we limit our focus on individuals who are directly responsible for implementing safety programs. Rarely do we give full attention to people like Wendy who are equally committed and contribute as much or more to fostering a strong safety culture among Wisconsin’s electric cooperatives.”
It’s also worth noting that Tim and Wendy often work as a team on many of their projects. They work well together and play off each other’s strengths, all for the ultimate benefit of our cooperative members.
While the award recognizes individuals who work for our state’s electric cooperatives, neither I nor any of my staff had a role in selecting either Tim or Wendy. It was done by their peers who work in the Job Training and Safety Program. I couldn’t be prouder of their role and the dedication to safety that they exemplify. I wanted to acknowledge Tim and Wendy’s service and recognize them for this well-deserved award.