Three-time Ironman triathlete and NRECA Oregon Director J. Ingrid Kessler didn’t need running shoes, a bike or swim goggles for her latest race: the election for NRECA secretary-treasurer and the chance to make history as the first female officer in the association’s 82-year history.

Racing “taught me to enjoy challenges and to take those opportunities even when they feel a little intimidating and the outcome is uncertain,” Kessler said. “If you don’t finish, you don’t finish. You wake up the next morning, and it’s fine.”

That philosophy and her unflagging support for rural America compelled Kessler to throw her hat in the ring for NRECA secretary-treasurer, a position held previously by NRECA Colorado Director Joe Martin, who stepped down for health reasons. She won the election after running against two “amazing”“opponents during the March 3 contest, held during the business meeting at NRECA PowerXchange in San Antonio, Texas.

“I tell people that March 3 was my race day,” Kessler said. “You just put yourself on the starting line and do what you can to prepare. I didn’t make history—we all did. There are 48 of us on the board. We are all deeply engaged in the election process. It was an honor to run—and an incredible honor to have been selected.”

The achievement is also notable because Kessler is now in line to become NRECA’s first female president in 2027, just six years after the term of Curtis Wynn, the board’s first Black president.

“By fate, chance or destiny, I find myself a grateful link” between both leaders, said NRECA President Tony Anderson. “Just as I was with Curtis, I am again filled with a sincere sense of responsibility, loyalty and friendship to ensure that Ingrid is successful. I am humbled and honored to have this small role for two giants of the cooperative family.”

A practicing vet from 1994 to 2019, Kessler learned about co-ops when she became co-owner of the Emergency Veterinary Hospital in Eugene, Oregon, in 1996. She represented the hospital as a member of the Eugene Chamber of Commerce and the local government affairs council, where she met members of Lane EC’s board and staff.

“One of the benefits of having your own business is it can reflect your values and your personality,” Kessler said. “And we were very, very community oriented. After we bought the hospital, we took it 24/7/365 so that the animals in our community could always be served, regardless of the time of day. Our doors were open to everybody.

“It sounded a lot like an electric co-op—but I didn’t know it at the time,” Kessler continued. “Sure enough, through high school graduations, business events and community ribbon-cuttings, I kept running into staff from this electric co-op of which I’m a member. And we found out we had an awful lot in common.”

In the mid-2000s, Lane EC recruited Kessler to join its scholarship committee. Shortly after that, she ran for a seat on the board and won in a tiebreaker decided by a coin toss.

Since then, she’s soaked up as much industry and co-op knowledge as possible, earning several board credentials, including NRECA’s Director Gold, and joining the board of the Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association. In 2019, Kessler was elected to the NRECA Board of Directors, where her assignments have included a 20-person task force that examined co-op governance and ethics.

While serving on the three boards, Kessler and her colleagues have lobbied federal and state officials on a range of issues, including aid to rebuild wildfire-ravaged areas of Oregon and co-op eligibility for Paycheck Protection Program loans during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our service to our community is at the heart of who I am,” Kessler said. “It’s our shared experience enriching each other’s lives that is meaningful to me.”

Kessler is originally from New York City, but her sensibilities lie in rural Oregon, her home since 2003.

“I am all about prosperity, health and quality of life in rural America. It’s both where my head and my heart reside. It’s home.”