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NDAREC launches 75th anniversary celebration

From staff reports

Since their inception, electric cooperatives have conducted annual meetings of co-op member-owners, including this annual meeting, early in the history (circa 1950) of Mountrail-Williams Electric Cooperative, Williston
Since their inception, electric cooperatives have conducted annual meetings of co-op member-owners, including this annual meeting, early in the history (circa 1950) of Mountrail-Williams Electric Cooperative, Williston

Seventy-five years ago, this month, seeds of hopeful cooperation were planted, along with high hopes for a growing – and bright! – future for electric cooperatives across North Dakota.

Now, 75 years from this humble, hopeful start, the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives (NDAREC), and its cooperative family are planting anew to celebrate the anniversary milestone.

NDAREC, in Mandan, and its member cooperatives from around the state, are purchasing and planting trees on their properties as a symbol of cooperative commitment and accomplishment. The plantings coincide with the theme chosen for this 75th anniversary observance: “Grounded Through the Roots of Cooperation.”

“The 75th anniversary of NDAREC is a powerful reminder our electric cooperative roots and commitments are strong and enduring,” says Robert Grant, president of the NDAREC board of directors. “The anniversary is an opportunity to re-dedicate ourselves to even stronger and more prosperous roots in our communities in the coming years. That is why we’ve chosen tree plantings as a symbol for the 75th anniversary of NDAREC.” (For information on tree plantings, see sidebar, p. 10).

NDAREC, based in Mandan, serves 16 local distribution cooperatives, and five generation and transmission cooperatives. NDAREC services include: legislative advocacy; safety training and apprenticeship; rural development; employee, director and youth education; benefits trust service; and electronic media and North Dakota Living magazine.

1940s-1950s highlights

1.	At an early 1970s United States Congressional hearing, NDAREC General Manager Leland “Chub” Ulmer, right, confers with N.D. Congressman Mark Andrews, left, and NDAREC Board President Clarence Welander, Fullerton, middle.
At an early 1970s United States Congressional hearing, NDAREC General Manager LelandChubUlmer, right, confers with N.D. Congressman Mark Andrews, left, and NDAREC Board President Clarence Welander, Fullerton, middle.

• By 1940, five electric cooperatives had formed in North Dakota: Baker Electric Cooperative, Cando; Tri-County Electric Cooperative, Carrington; Verendrye Electric Cooperative, Velva; Nodak Electric Cooperative, Grand Forks; and Cass County Electric Cooperative, Kindred. (Note: These early years, and for many to follow, “REA cooperative” was the identifier for the new cooperatives; this is a recognition that the federal Rural Electrification Administration began in 1935 to finance and assist in cooperative development.)

• July 1942, in Carrington, managers and members of the co-op boards from these five original electric cooperatives met, taking up formation of a state association of REA cooperatives. Meeting records reflect this formal action was taken, based on cooperatives’ collective desire to “have unified action and to exert greater force in demanding expansion of REA cooperatives following the war.”

• After World War II, work to build electric cooperatives resumed. Since reliable trained labor was hard to come by, the NDAREC board worked with the State School of Science in Wahpeton, the Veterans Administration, the Extension Service and employment offices to provide training to produce electric system employees to carry out electrification plans.

• By 1949, 21 electric cooperatives were operating in North Dakota.

• In the early 1950s, NDAREC board and REA officials began focusing on power supply development, as power usage among cooperatives surged. NDAREC named R.G. Harens as its first general manager.

• In 1954, addressing a need to inform and educate growing electric cooperative memberships across the state, NDAREC launched publication of the North Dakota Rural Electric Magazine, which was published by Conrad Publishing, Mandan.

• In 1958, responding to growth in NDAREC services and personnel, the NDAREC board legally incorporated the organization, followed by steps to secure an office, which occurs in 1960, in Bismarck.

1960s-1970s highlights

• Early 1960s: NDAREC board president, Helge Nygren, leads advocacy of regional approach to lignite-based cooperative power supply, and cooperatives’ newly formed Basin Electric Power Cooperative, Bismarck, secures REA financing to construct Leland Olds Power Station, Stanton. Other North Dakota-based power supply projects undertaken during these years included: Minnkota Power Cooperative development of Milton R. Young Station, near Center; and United Power Association Development of Coal Creek Station, near Underwood. 

• By 1965, NDAREC cooperatives, along with telephone cooperatives, began operation of the independent Electronic Data Processing division, devoted to processing invoices for consumer-members from local cooperatives. In 1968, EDP becomes North Central Data Cooperative.

• In 1967, NDAREC board names Leland “Chub” Ulmer, a Mandan attorney, as new general manager; also constructs and begins operating from new NDAREC headquarters offices, north Mandan.

• Through 1960s, up to 1967, NDAREC sustains collaboration with electric industry trade groups, establishes apprenticeship program for electric lineworkers, culminating in creation, by 1967, of a governed, staffed Apprenticeship, Training & Safety services center for cooperative lineworkers.

1970s-1980s highlights

• During the first half of the 1970s, NDAREC works with state Legislature and Gov. Art Link on an acceptable regulatory framework addressing reclamation of land mined for lignite coal.

• In the mid-1970s, oil embargoes cause gasoline, petroleum costs to skyrocket, creating new national emphasis on energy conservation, with NDAREC member cooperatives shifting member education messaging to wise and efficient use of electricity.

• In the early 1980s, NDAREC places new emphasis on educating young adults/families by working with member cooperatives on a “Young Couples Tour,” involving local cooperative sponsorship of younger member visits to REC facilities.

• In 1987, the NDAREC board of directors names Dennis Hill (editor, North Dakota REC/RTC Magazine) as third NDAREC general manager.

• In the late 1980s, responding to severe economic downturn in rural and agricultural economy, NDAREC aligns with Gov. George Sinner for governor’s “Grow North Dakota” initiative; NDAREC opens a rural economic development center.

1990s to present:

1.	Over his tenure as NDAREC general manager, Dennis Hill, second from right, served with NDAREC board presidents Bob Grant, far left, Berthold, and Adolph Feyereisen, far right, Braddock, and worked closely with North Dakota’s U.S. Senator Kent Conrad, second from left.
Over his tenure as NDAREC general manager, Dennis Hill, second from right, served with NDAREC board presidents Bob Grant, far left, Berthold, and Adolph Feyereisen, far right, Braddock, and worked closely with North Dakota’s U.S. Senator Kent Conrad, second from left.

• Early 1990s – NDAREC is fully operational in providing educational menu for co-op employees and directors; informing employees statewide regularly through “Cooperative Communicator” magazine.

• 1997 – spring blizzards, massive snowmelt bring widespread outages to RECs across the state, devastating flooding to Grand Forks area.

• 1998 – A national brand, Touchstone Energy® Cooperatives, is established for the electric cooperatives nationwide.

• 2001 – New identity – North Dakota Living – established for statewide REC magazine.

• 2004 – NDAREC makes commitment to cooperative youth, as member cooperatives begin annual selection of high school students to send on educational touring of Washington, D.C., coordinated by NDAREC.

• 2000-2009: State legislative advocacy by RECs produced landmark territorial integrity dispute resolution law (2005), and milestone property tax reform (2009), establishing new, fair tax formulas for RECs, producing initial annual tax relief of $1 million.

• Spring 2010, 2011 – blizzarding, flooding wreak havoc – 2010: April blizzard, combined with damage from January blizzard, causes Mor-Gran-Sou (MGS) Electric Cooperative to erect 12,000 replacement power poles; in April storm, Western Area Power Administration loses 60 transmission towers in MGS service territory; 2011 – snowmelt, rain creates Mouse River flooding in Minot area, Missouri River flooding in Bismarck-Mandan area, disrupting lives of thousands of electric cooperative members.

 • 2015 – NDREC Benefit Trust formed by NDAREC and the state’s network of cooperatives to provide quality and affordable health care to cooperative employees.

• 2016 – Assets of Rural Development Finance Corporation, operated by NDAREC, with electric and telecommunications cooperatives, grow to $4.3 million; NDAREC safety services colleagues conduct 222 safety meetings for cooperative and utility operations personnel; NDAREC board of directors names Josh Kramer, Bismarck, as fourth NDAREC general manager.

NDAREC 75th anniversary activities:

• Spring 2017 – Tree plantings at NDAREC member cooperatives; NDAREC tree planting on Mandan campus June 12

•  July – Major public announcement, North Dakota Living cover story, on 75th anniversary of NDAREC

• August, September/November, December – Follow NDAREC/North Dakota Living social media (Facebook, websites) for brief capsules from NDAREC history

• October – Cooperative Month celebration, where NDAREC and cooperative friends mark 75th anniversary 

• Jan. 15-17, 2018 – Culmination of NDAREC 75th anniversary observance, during NDAREC annual meeting, Bismarck