WHEN I CAME TO WORK FOR THE ELECTRIC COOPERATIVES of South Carolina (ECSC) in 2005, one of my first meetings was with Jack Wolfe, CEO of Mid-Carolina Electric Cooperative.
Jack had been serving the members of his co-op since the early 1970s, and during his tenure, Mid-Carolina quadrupled the number of homes and businesses served within its territory. I also knew that Jack served on the board of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), so it was no surprise when he challenged me to study and take to heart the seven Cooperative Principles—voluntary and open membership, democratic member control, economic participation of members, autonomy and independence, a commitment to education and training, cooperation among cooperatives and concern for community.
He took a business-card version of the principles out of his wallet and gave it to me. I could see that it was well-worn. We talked about those principles at length on that September 2005 day, and we returned to them regularly whenever we discussed issues or met for lunch.
Jack recently retired after 38 years as CEO of Mid- Carolina, but his legacy of leadership and grassroots advocacy on behalf of co-op members is still felt across the nation. In February, I was thrilled to see him called to the stage at the NRECA annual meeting in New Orleans to receive the Clyde T. Ellis Service Award. The award is conferred by the NRECA Board of Directors to honor leaders who go above and beyond the call of duty in order to further the principles of electric cooperatives.
I have had the extraordinary opportunity to watch Jack work for the cooperative cause at various levels. His ability to search for common ground was a hallmark of his leadership style, and in 2006—after a chicken dinner cooked and served by a local men’s Bible fellowship— he demonstrated that fact when he engaged a member advisory committee in a vibrant two-way discussion about issues facing Mid-Carolina. At his 2011 annual meeting in the Lexington High School auditorium, he had both Congressman Joe Wilson and Senator Lindsey Graham pledge to about 2,000 cooperative members to protect the cooperative’s mission.
On the state level, Jack was a respected leader in the boardrooms of Central Electric Cooperative, the wholesale power supplier to South Carolina’s distribution co-ops, and ECSC, the statewide association of cooperatives. He also earned the respect of state legislators, regulators and other utility leaders.
My most interesting observations of Jack have been at the national level. From 2007 to 2008, he served as president of the NRECA Board of Directors, where he made sure the voices of co-op members were heard in the halls of power. Under his leadership, NRECA developed the highly successful “Our Energy, Our Future” grassroots advocacy campaign, which brought cooperatives across the nation together in a common lobbying campaign for sound energy policies.
His work on the board also provided the NRECA government relations department the clout they needed to make sure the co-op point of view was incorporated in a comprehensive energy bill. His support for the NRECA Cooperative Research Network (CRN), a co-op–sponsored “think tank” that is exploring new energy technologies, has also paid dividends. Thanks to the work of CRN’s experts, federal regulators and lawmakers now recognize cooperatives as innovators with sound ideas for keeping electricity affordable, reliable and environmentally responsible.
Of course, if you ask Jack about all this, he’ll probably decline to take any credit, but his actions speak for themselves. Thank you, Jack, and congratulations on an honor that is well-deserved.