Inspired to lead Co-op Nation

By Jo Ann Emerson

Jo Ann EmersonOn March 2, Jo Ann Emerson became chief executive officer of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. The following is excerpted from her remarks to the NRECA annual meeting held in February in New Orleans.

I feel very privileged to join such a fabulous family, the Co-op Nation. There is no better.

I come from Cape Girardeau, Missouri, a town of about 35,000 people on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River. We have had our fair share of disasters. We have had floods, we have had tornadoes, we have had ice storms, and we even had a derecho. (I didn't know what that was until a couple of years ago.) But during the 16-plus years that I have been privileged to serve southern Missouri in Congress, I have seen up close and personal how electric cooperatives can be counted on in times of disaster. It has so inspired me.

We work together — and we work on the front lines — co-op leaders, members, the first ones to respond. Co-ops are there to make sure people have shelter if they have no homes to stay in. We have hot meals for all of the folks who need them. We have generators for people, clothing for people who lost everything. The co-ops always are there first. That makes me so proud. That is what makes co-ops different from everybody else.

During the ice storms particularly, our electric cooperative linemen were out there in the harshest of circumstances. It looked like a war had happened. Thousands of poles were lost, and they were out there in 2-degree weather to bring the lights back on.

It inspired me to learn more about what our Co-op Nation does to help people — even in the remotest parts of the world. When co-ops bring electricity to people, they bring the opportunity for people to realize their dreams. Electric co-ops make that happen.

I have been so inspired as well by meeting over the years the students who are part of our Rural Electric Youth Tour to Washington. They are today's leaders in their schools and in their communities, and they will be tomorrow's leaders helping us grow our Co-op Nation.

Emerson-with-YLC

Jo Ann Emerson works with the Youth Leadership Council’s Congressional Action Center at the NRECA annual meeting. (Photo by Michael Lynch.)

I have been inspired, too, by the co-op managers I have met, who often face very challenging circumstances. I have been inspired by co-op board members who give so much personal time to Co-op Nation. I know it is not easy for their families, but they make a difference in people's lives. Co-ops lift up their communities. That is very inspiring to me.

As electric co-ops, we do face challenges, including from forces that may have a different agenda from ours. We need to show them how we make lives better for people in our communities. We have a common purpose to face those challenges with creativity and ingenuity.

And guess what? If we stick together, if we work hard, if we remember that we are a family, we can accomplish what we need to do. If we have differences, we need to talk about them, air them out, and then work with each other just like people do in a family. If we are together as one, we can work successfully for that common purpose.

I feel very blessed, very privileged, to have been given the opportunity to lead such a respectable organization on the mission to serve our nation's families, businesses and communities. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

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