The year was 1941, and the world was going through massive changes. The second World War was on the horizon, M&Ms made their delicious debut, the first Curious George book was published, and Gulf Coast Electric Cooperative was officially incorporated. Over the coming decades, GCEC remained a constant in a world of uncertainty, reliably providing electricity for its members. As GCEC approached its 80th year, employees knew they wanted to do something special to mark the occasion.
The answer: a cookbook, powered by community submissions. With the help of a company that specializes in cookbooks, GCEC brought their idea to life.
“We started putting the word out on our social media and in our magazine for our members to start submitting their favorite recipes to us,” Kristin Douglas, Vice President of Marketing and Communications at GCEC said. “We received a ton of recipes. I think some members sent in their entire recipe box! We had members who would write a little story along with their submission, and we also had some members who submitted a recipe in memory of someone else.”
As members continued to submit their recipes, a new idea began to form. Why not tell the history of their cooperative in the book as an accompaniment to community recipes? Staff pulled the board minute books and got to work. GCEC staff started keeping minutes in the 30s, even before the co-op was officially incorporated.
“We read every bit of board meeting minutes from then until now,” Douglas said. “We pulled out things that we thought were of interest. Once we had the history written, we began to go through all the pictures we had.”
Hundreds of historical photos were stored in photo albums and in boxes in a vault. As the photos were painstakingly matched with the recorded minutes, the history of the co-op began to emerge.
“Some photos didn’t make sense to us until we dug deeper into the board minutes,” Douglas said. “We had a whole stack of pictures that looked like they were from a beauty pageant. Come to find out, we learned in the minutes that we used to hold a beauty pageant at our annual meeting. We had a Miss Gulf Coast Electric Cooperative!”
GCEC’s cookbook was a labor of love. As they continued to deal with the enormous undertaking of matching decades’ worth of pictures to board minutes, co-op life continued on. GCEC dealt with devastating storms, and there were times when the cookbook had to be put on hold when all hands were needed on deck. In addition, COVID made some materials harder to get.
Despite these hurdles, GCEC was finally able to distribute the books at its 2022 annual meeting.
“Members were able to see the recipes that they submitted, and they got to see pictures of people they know,” Douglas said. “All of us who work here live right here. There’s not some big parent company off somewhere else. The co-op is local. The cookbook has been very well-received.”
The cookbook is a way for members to reminisce on their personal histories, as well as their ties to their co-op.
“When members read the book, we want it to be a reminder that at one time, no one else would serve electricity to this area because it wasn’t profitable,” Douglas said. “The people took it upon themselves to come together and form the co-op. It was expensive and difficult for them, but the people came together and made it happen.”