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Many of us remember the adrenaline rush you would feel the night before the first day of school— the buildup of intense anticipation, excitement and eagerness because you were finally going to see your favorite school buddies again after a monthslong summer break. A similar energy coursed through Fayette Electric Cooperative’s annual meeting July 19.

It had been three years since FEC hosted an in-person meeting due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but this year marked its well-awaited return. “I was expecting a big crowd because they are ready to get out, mingle and always enjoy our annual meetings,” said Diane Krenek, FEC employee. And that’s exactly what she got.

At 5:30 p.m. sharp, FEC members filled the KC Community Center in La Grange and while some were determined to “putt for prizes”—like 4-month-old Danni Mae—who made a striking winning shot (with her mom’s help, of course), “test their lineman skills” or try for a prize at Plinko, others enjoyed the refreshments served by the Fayette County 4-H club. Another highlight of the night was the debut of the co-op’s guest mascot, LED Lucy.

Just an hour and a half later, it was time to start conducting important business. As members of Fayette EC, the meeting gives members the chance to exercise the cooperative principle of Democratic Member Control by hearing reports given by the board of directors and voting in the election of directors.

Co-op Attorney Karen Mahoney Woods thanked members for participating in cooperative business at their district meetings. “It really is an important piece of who and what we are,” she said. “And that is an organization that is based on democratic principles, so we really appreciate your participation in keeping us strong.”

Two incumbent directors—Bill Briscoe, District 6, and David A. Stancik, District 7—ran unopposed and were reelected by acclamation to serve additional three-year terms. During his remarks, Briscoe recognized FEC employees for their hard work and commitment to serving the community. “Thank you to the people that work at the co-op,” said Briscoe, after the 369 members presented and conducted the voice vote. “Our linemen only get compliments when the lights are out, when the storms are going and the ice storms are going, but they work all the time.” 

Stancik expanded on Briscoe’s gratitude for FEC staff saying that the linemen are more important than the board of directors because “that’s the people that you see.” He also expressed his love and gratitude for all FEC members. “I enjoy the grassroots people of the world, the co-op people.”

Gary Don Nietsche, Fayette EC general manager, prioritized FEC’s service to the members in his board and management report, which was presented in a video. “Looking back on the past year and our accomplishments, two things always remain top of mind: keeping the lights on and doing what’s right for our members,” Nietsche said. In the video, Nietsche provided a review of the co-op’s business over the past year, including FEC’s financials, the growth of its system, system improvements, an explanation of the rate increase and updates on the co-op’s new headquarters building.

To round out his report, Nietsche recognized three employees who reached milestones in their careers: Doyle “Tiger” Hall for 15 years of service; Leo C. Henke, 20 years; and Brandon Pieper; 25 years. He concluded with a nod to the dedication that all FEC employees display.

“Your board, management and employees work very hard to carry out the primary objective of the cooperative, which is to provide a reliable and safe source of energy at the lowest possible cost to our members,” Nietsche said. “Our employees are the heart of the cooperative and their dedication shows in everything they do, from answering your questions about a service or bill, to restoring a power outage in the middle of the night. We want you to know you can count on us.”

In the spirit of Concern for Community, another cooperative principle, Fayette EC does much to improve the quality of life in the communities it serves. Since 1999, the cooperative has awarded scholarships to high school graduates in hopes of reaching students at critical points in their education as they are making decisions about college, a field of study and a career.

Recipients of this year’s winners of the Fayette Electric Rural Scholarship who were recognized at the annual meeting were Kannyn Goehring, Kylee Kelley, Tamara Otto and Campbell Youens. In addition, the co-op recognized Tadan Alvarado and Jacob Polasek, recipients of the trade and technical school scholarships the co-op awards for high school seniors who will attend an accredited trade or technical institution or certification program or pursue an associate in an applied science program at a college or university.

The co-op also awarded grants to three local nonprofits. The Fayette Community Foundation and the Turtle Wing Foundation each received $7,500 and Navidad Valley Community Connections received $5,000, all made possible through CoBank’s Sharing Success charitable contribution program.

FEC also supports young people in its service area by sponsoring delegates each year on the Government-in-Action Youth Tour, an all-expenses-paid trip to Austin and Washington, D.C. The trip, coordinated by Texas Electric Cooperatives and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, invites Texas participants to join more than 150 other teens representing electric cooperatives from across the state to learn about the cooperative business model, visit monuments and memorials, and meet their elected officials.

Delaney Turlington, who represented FEC on Youth Tour this year, spoke about her experience on the June trip and likely inspired other local youths to apply to attend. “This trip was the best trip I had ever been on,” she said. “I recommend to other students that when you’re presented with an opportunity, you seize the moment. You never know what is in store for you unless you go and find out.”

In true FEC annual meeting tradition, co-op members were shown deep appreciation by being awarded more than 60 door prizes, including energy bill credits, cash and gift cards, a children’s prize drawing for the children in attendance, smart TVs, and a special travel rocking chair.

Once board President Lehmann adjourned the meeting and the last prize winner was announced, members were transported to their cars on utility vehicles, sponsored by Ewald Kubota of La Grange and Kleiber Tractor and Equipment, to head home after a night of fun and fellowship. The lucky prizewinners and their fellow members can look forward to their chances of winning at the next annual meeting–which will proudly be held in-person again in 2024.