During his more than three decades at Sam Houston Electric Cooperative, Keith Stapleton's skill as a communicator has served the co-op well through four major hurricanes, two ice storms, a crippling drought, an outage-inducing caterpillar invasion, three rate restructures, two building programs, five major software conversions, and a media attack when winter bills were higher than normal.

And that's not including legislative and regulatory challenges in the Texas general assembly and energy market.

Throughout it all, Stapleton, the chief communications officer at the Livingston, Texas, co-op, found time to mentor communicators across the network—while dividing his between the member services and communications departments.

For his efforts, Stapleton received the inaugural 2019 LaBerge Award for Excellence in Strategic Communications on May 7 at CONNECT '19 in Houston.

Stapleton "encapsulates all of the qualities of a leader who demonstrates personal excellence, influence and impact, both as a practitioner and contributor across the cooperative network," said NRECA's Scott Peterson, senior vice president of communications.

In nominating Stapleton, Sam Houston EC's Rachel Frey said it was difficult to single out any one achievement and contribution. She praised his natural talent as a communicator and credited him for "making communication and member services a priority within the co-op and in the industry."

The LaBerge award was established in memory of Justin Erick LaBerge, who was NRECA's senior leadership communications manager. It recognizes a co-op communicator with demonstrated excellence, influence and impact on co-op communications, both as a practitioner and contributor.

"My encouragement to you is this: Let's make the most of every challenge and every opportunity," Stapleton told CONNECT attendees. "Let's be a team of hundreds of co-op communicators who work together to be just like Justin LaBerge."

"You are, in our industry, the bridge between the lines, the poles and transformers, to the people we serve and that's an incredibly important role."

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