On-Site with Tracie Russell: Annual Meetings Return to Co-Op Communities
This past August and October, I was finally able to return to one of my favorite parts of serving the cooperative industry, attending Annual Meetings! Though briefly sidelined by the pandemic, these yearly gatherings are finally back in full force. They’re always a ton of fun and a great way to catch up with an entire co-op and community. As a former cooperative employee for 34 years to now being a Relationship Manager for the Meridian Cooperative, I have firsthand experience in how cooperative culture is both familiar and distinct wherever you go, and nothing reminds me of that like attending the Annual Meetings.
No two co-ops run the same way and that’s especially true for these public meetups, where status updates on the business side are great, but the chili cookoffs and conversations are better. Annual Meetings can range styles from colorful business retreat to block party, community outreach event, something like a class reunion, and everything in between.
Between August 11th and October 1st, I attended meetings for Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative, Forked Deer Electric Cooperative, and Fort Loudoun Electric Cooperative, all located in different parts of Tennessee. Sequachee Valley EC’s 83rd Annual Meeting was a big shot of local flavor and pride, something you don’t want to miss in our line of work. Held at local South Pittsburg High School, this was their first meeting back since the pandemic shut down most gatherings, so I was looking forward to catching up and checking out what all that bottled up energy would lead to.
It was a stormy day in South Pittsburg Tennessee, but you’d never guess that from the turn out and all the smiling faces. They kicked things off with a rousing rendition of the National Anthem, followed by a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance led by local Boy Scout Troop 3212. Prizes and gifts flowed freely to attendees looking for a little competition (with some coming from their helpful friends at Meridian) while a new electric Ford F-150 on display provided the perfect backdrop for showing what cooperatives can do in their communities.
Forked Deer EC’s Annual Meeting was of the block party variety, with food trucks, balloon art, and a live band. Since the meeting started at 9am, they served breakfast and treated everyone to ice cream and a lunch of their choice at the food trucks. Lineworkers drove golf carts from the parking area to the venue with their members in tow, setting the tone of the day early on. There was dancing, swag bags, and several door prizes like a washer, dryer, refrigerator, and many $100 electric bill credits. Forked Deer actually used Meridian’s Annual Meeting functionality within UPN to register their attendees, which I’m told was a big hit among the staff.
Fort Loudoun EC’s meeting was a drive-thru scheduled for 7am that day, but so many people had arrived and were in line early that they started a little after 6:30am. A total of 724 members attended the meeting, and each of them received a $20 bill credit, a huge Fort Loudoun swag bag, and a breakfast voucher for some local businesses. Fort Loudoun EC also used Meridian’s Annual Meeting App to set up this meeting, and their CEO Jarrod Brackett was very complimentary, mentioning that their meeting wouldn’t have been as big of a success without us.
Little flourishes like cute, branded swag and inventive games are some of my favorite things about the individual meetings and these three had flourishes for days! I was thankful for the opportunity to attend and am so grateful to be able to meet face to face with our members again. I could never fit every hug and conversation into this short blog, but that’s not for lack of trying. Thank you to the entire Tennessee co-op community for these great times. I’m so happy to be back in the saddle, traveling and connecting with my favorite people, co-op people!