Two former NRECA board presidents and two Ohio co-ops that sent more than 500 military veterans on Honor Flights were among those honored on the final day of the 2018 NRECA Annual Meeting.

Mel Coleman, CEO of North Arkansas Electric Cooperative, and Mike Guidry, former CEO of South Louisiana Electric Cooperative Association, received the association's highest honor, the Clyde T. Ellis Award, on Feb. 28.

Coleman served as NRECA president from 2015 to 2016, and Guidry served in that position from 2011 to 2012.

"I hope that none of us in this cooperative movement ever see the end product," Guidry told the third general session. "We have to continually reinvent ourselves, find new ways to serve our membership and find new ways to serve our community. It's not just about lights anymore. We can't ever forget that, but it's not just that. "

The National Cooperative Purpose Award went to two Ohio electric co-ops for support of "honor trips" for local veterans. The award honors meaningful contribution to the community that exemplifies the purpose of co-ops.

Holmes-Wayne Electric Cooperative in Millersburg raised more than $67,000 through employee payroll deductions and other workplace activities to send 48 veterans and their guardians to Washington, D.C. Paulding-Putnam Electric Cooperative in Paulding raised more than $170,000 through electric bill contributions, raffles and other events. Those funds allowed 475 vets to make the trip.

At Holmes-Wayne Electric Co-op, the trips "created a culture of service" among its 38 employees, the co-op's Robin Tate said in her acceptance remarks.

"The trips brought healing to many veterans carrying decades of deep emotional wounds… and were a fresh reminder that as a cooperative we provide more than electricity," said Tate. "We have the privilege, the honor, and, I feel, the obligation to make a difference to reaching out and caring for individuals in our community."

Other awards presented on the final day of the annual meeting at the Music City Center included:

  • The 2018 NRECA's President's Award to Robert Occhi, former CEO and president of Coast Electric Power Association in Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi. Occhi's accomplishments include leading the full recovery of the co-op five years after Hurricane Katrina destroyed it in 2005.

  • The William F. Matson Democracy Award to Ohio's 24 electric distribution cooperatives for strong participation in the Action Committee for Rural Electrification (ACRE®), the political arm of co-ops. Each year, the co-ops have raised $256,000 or more-about 13 percent of the national ACRE budget-to support state and federal elected officials.

Earlier in the week, NRECA awarded other honors:

  • The 2018 International Award to Myk Manon, former NRECA International country director, and Steve Rhodes, CEO of Choctawhatchee Electric Cooperative in DeFuniak Springs, Florida. Before retiring in 2016, Manon spent more than 40 years bringing electricity to thousands of people around the world. Rhodes and his family climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in 2016 to raise money for NRECA International. He continues to raise money and awareness about the millions in Africa living without power.

  • The 2017 George W. Haggard Memorial Journalism Award to Oklahoma Living, the first back-to-back winner in more than 25 years.