Jack Wolfe, who led Mid-Carolina Electric Cooperative for 38 years, served as NRECA president and achieved the industry's highest award, died Dec. 13—a day before his 79th birthday—in his native South Carolina.
Wolfe, described by friends as a big bear of a man who enjoyed a joke and gave a hearty handshake, was a legend in the world of electric cooperatives.
“He had a broad understanding of the entire utility industry," said Bob Paulling, who succeeded Wolfe when he retired from the Lexington, South Carolina-based co-op in 2013. “He was so knowledgeable about every aspect of our industry from accounting to operations to government relations."
Born in Chesnee on Dec. 14, 1943, Wolfe attended Clemson University before beginning his electric co-op career. In addition to his nearly four decades at the helm of Mid-Carolina EC, Wolfe served on the boards of The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina, Central Electric Power Cooperative and the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corp.
Wolfe was an NRECA director from 1999 to 2009 and president of the national association in 2007-2008. In 2013, he received the highest honor from NRECA, the Clyde T. Ellis Award, for his service and contributions that promoted the principles and progress of rural electrification and the development and use of natural resources.
“Jack was the consummate electric cooperative leader," said NRECA CEO Jim Matheson. “He had high regard for and modeled the cooperative principles, and he was committed to finding common ground in developing solutions for his members at Mid-Carolina, for his statewide and as president of the NRECA board of directors. In that role, he supported the development of a strong grassroots voice for electric co-ops in the development of national energy policy."
During his retirement, he served as a board member of Santee Cooper, South Carolina's largest power provider.
Paulling said he knew Wolfe first as a friend when he joined Mid-Carolina in engineering and operations in 1993 and later as a mentor when he became CEO of Tri-County Electric, based in St. Matthews.
“I leaned a lot on Mr. Wolfe for advice before I took the CEO job at Tri-County and on my CEO journey," said Paulling. “A key piece of advice he ingrained in me was how very important it is to stay grounded in that co-op, to personally be a part of the community and make sure we run our organization as an integral part of the community."
Mike Couick, president and CEO of the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina, headquartered in Cayce, underscored how Wolfe “made sure the voices of co-op members were heard in the halls of power."
At Mid-Carolina's 2011 annual meeting, Wolfe got U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., to pledge before nearly 2,000 members “to protect the cooperative's mission," Couick wrote in a South Carolina Living column about Wolfe's retirement.
“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," Couick wrote.
When he was tapped to succeed Wolfe, Paulling said it was “daunting to step into the shoes of a legend, [but] in many ways I was well prepared. Jack made sure I was engaged in everything he was doing before he went out the door, just as it should be."
Wolfe also had a sense of humor that showed in his many years of public speaking. “He told the same jokes over and over," said Paulling. “We told him all he needed to do is hold up the number one or two or three, and we'd start laughing."