University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives
Year in Cooperation: A Cooperative Development Magazine
Published by the Minnesota Association of Cooperatives
Spring 1996 -- Vol. 2 No. 2
Capturing the Spirit
by Mark Glaess, Manager, Minnesota Rural Electric Association
The General Assembly of the International Cooperative Alliance
adopted a new cooperative principle in 1995 that points to the heart and soul of the utility and
It calls on cooperatives and their members to keep the needs of their communities
It's not a new concept. Indeed, it was the driving force for starting many of our
cooperatives. It continues to be the driving force behind what we do. But the new ICA principle
will also help keep us focused as we go forward.
Now, as cooperative members and leaders throughout the world stand up and pledge to provide
service to their communities, it is appropriate to pause and ask ourselves how we are doing.
- Consider the letter sent to the Carlton County Cooperative Power Association.
A mother wrote to say the co-op changed her son's life.
- John had attended an energy camp sponsored by the Carlton co-op and it inspired him
a lineman. He was about to enter a lineworker training school, and the co-op gave him the desire
to pursue this career.
- At Wright-Hennepin Electric Cooperative, Manager Dave Larson was concerned about the
problems of battered women in his community and service territory. The co-op donated security
systems that were given to women at risk. Larson and his co-workers don't know the women they
have helped, but they have made their community a safer, better place to live.
- Consider the elderly woman trying to remain in her home in west-central Minnesota. She was
desperate. She called her co-op. Runestone Electric insulated her home and made repairs. "You
saved my life," she told the cooperative.
- Nearly 300,000 Minnesota homes do not have safe sewer systems. Cooperative Light and
of Lake County serves 4,329 members. It is now working to provide adequate sewer services to
The new cooperative principle is at work in northeast Minnesota, as it is in
Runestone territory, and as it is in the Wright-Hennepin territories of the Twin Cities metropolitan
Member economic participation is part of the community cooperative principle.
- Business was leaving Jackson, in southwestern Minnesota. Federated Rural Electric
leveraged $178,000 in an economic development loan to entice a life insurance company to locate
in the area. The insurance firm created 100 new jobs.
- And in southeast Minnesota, Tri-County Electric secured a $400,000 zero-interest loan for a
software company in Caledonia. This is creating 150 jobs for that community.
- Since 1986, Minnesota's electric
cooperatives have returned more than
$100 million in patronage payments to its members. This money rolls over and over. The payment
of capital credits created nearly one-half billion dollars in economic assistance and economic
activity within the respective communities, based on what economists call the multiplier affect of
This was the intention of the rural electric cooperatives from the very beginning.
President Franklin Roosevelt declared in 1935 that he wanted the Rural Electrification program to
be a social service agency. He liked the idea of electric cooperatives helping those most in need.
the co-ops have been a serious business throughout their history, they haven't lost sight of that
The REA is now called RUS, for
Rural Utilities Service. It continues to be a financing agency working with local co-ops.
And members continue to do their part. One important way of providing assistance within their
communities is through Operation Round Up. Members round up his or her electric bill to the
next dollar. At an average of six dollars a year, co-op members can generate hundreds of
thousands of dollars in assistance funds.
Red Lake Electric uses its Round Up dollars to assist community projects in the Red Lake Falls
area. Stearns Electric sent money to the Jacob Wetterling Foundation. Agralite Cooperative
helped purchase an ambulance to serve the Benson area. Wright-Hennepin donated money to
assist the burn center at St.Paul-Ramsey Hospital.
More than 20 Minnesota cooperatives provide hundreds of thousands of dollars to help these
members ad non-members alike. It recalls the biblical message, "As you have done to the least of
them...," and it supports the cooperative principle of helping building communities for all
As we pause to consider the new ICA principle, we note that 28 Minnesota cooperatives have
provided close to $10 million towards creating jobs. Another 20 co-ops help fund charitable
organizations. More than $100 million in capital credits have been returned to cooperative
We are also reminded of a fundamental difference that separates the electric cooperative from
other electric providers. We weren't formed strictly to make money for our investors by providing
a necessary service. We were formed as cooperative business units to improve our members'
quality of life... their quality of living.
We haven't lost sight of that purpose. The ICA principle will help keep that
principle fresh in the minds of future
generations of members.
Mark Glaess started his rural electric career
as a legislative representative with the Nebraska Rural Electric Association in 1979. In 1985, he
became the first full-time manager of the Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association.
In November 1991, Glaess was selected as the fourth manager in the 52-year history of the
Minnesota Rural Electric Association. MREA represents 47 member-owned electric co-ops,
serving 1.2 million consumers. MREA provides legislative representation, education courses,
youth programs and loss control services. In June 1993, Glaess was elected president of the Rural
Electric Stateside Manager's Association.
This material has been reproduced in electronic format with the permission of Year in