Electric cooperatives are born of the community they serve - Carolina Country

We’re All Family Here

Families planted electric co-ops in the communities they serve today

By Scott Gates

Scott Gates

Scott Gates

Family is arguably one of the most important things in life. This time of year we’re often reuniting and spending time with family for holiday celebrations, which has me reflecting on another family we’re all a part of: The Co-op Family.

Electric cooperatives are unique in that they’re born of the communities they serve. Most electric co-ops here in North Carolina have roots dating back to the early days of rural electrification in the 1930s and ’40s. During that era, the federal government set out to tackle a lack of electric service in rural areas — only 11% of U.S. farms had power in 1935 — by making low-cost funding available through the Rural Electrification Administration (REA).

REA funds did the trick, and co-ops began to spring up around the country and in North Carolina. But if it weren’t for family, rural electrification likely would have taken a lot longer. Many farmers were skeptical of the concept in general, as well as using government funds to access an unknown resource. Many wondered if electricity was worth the expense. It took farmers’ wives to convince them that yes, it absolutely was. Family matriarchs understood the full range of benefits of electricity. Household chores, like cooking and wash day, would be vastly more efficient. Children would benefit from lights for after-dinner studies. And refrigeration would change the game for meal planning and food safety.

In many ways, it was family that firmly planted electric cooperatives in the communities they serve today.

So in many ways, it was family that firmly planted electric cooperatives in the communities they serve today. That legacy continues, and many who work at electric co-ops have deep local roots, or are the second- or third-generation to be employed by the co-op.

I’m a second-generation co-op employee, as it happens. My father, Darryl Gates, was the editor of Alabama Living magazine for decades — the counterpart to Carolina Country serving electric co-op members in Alabama, where I grew up. My first memory of a family road trip was a haul from Montgomery to South Dakota (a brave choice for my parents), where we saw wonders such as Badlands National Park and the Corn Palace. But our true destination, as I later learned, was a national co-op meeting.

That certainly wasn’t the last co-op meeting I’d attend, and as I grew up and came to know my father’s peers as my own, I realized how truly like a family electric co-ops operate. They all share a very real dedication to their members, coming to know them on a personal basis through annual meetings or other community events. Their employees support each other and value personal connections.

I’ve brought my own children along to their share of co-op meetings, and we’ve created some great family memories on road trips to such events (though I dare not drive as far as South Dakota). Who knows — maybe someday one of them will be recounting tales of those road trips to their own co-op peers and members.

This holiday season, I hope you’ll all find comfort in the company of family and loved ones. You can also take comfort in knowing you’re a part of a much bigger family — the co-op family — built on a legacy of service and support.

About the Author

Scott Gates is the senior editor of Carolina Country.

Comments (1)

  • That's is awesome this year will be my first holiday without my family

    Lucy Nash |
    October 27, 2023 |

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