It might not be Hollywood High School, the alma mater of dozens of famous entertainers, but the electric cooperative community has its own launching pad: a small rural high school in South Dakota.

Timber Lake High School has graduated at least nine co-op leaders, including NRECA President Tony Anderson. At least three are current general managers of South Dakota co-ops, and six have retired in recent years, including Anderson from Cherryland Electric Cooperative in Grawn, Michigan. And that’s not including countless others who graduated from the school and went on to work at co-ops.

The connection, said Anderson, a 1980 graduate, speaks to co-ops’ strong presence in the small communities they serve.

“The best two jobs in this small town were the co-op and the school,” said Anderson, who recalled in a 2015 newspaper story going to a meeting in Washington, D.C., and seeing six other Timber Lake graduates who led co-ops.

“I think it was the quality of the people working at the co-op and the size of the town—everybody knew everybody. If you didn’t want to leave rural South Dakota and wanted a great job, you went to the electric co-op.”

And in a town of about 500 residents, co-op bucket and service trucks are easy to spot, whether they’re on their rounds or giving children rides.

Vehicles from Timber Lake-based Moreau-Grand Electric Cooperative “were a common face as they would usually go by at some point,” said Wally Grage, a 1996 graduate who went on to become general manager of Cam Wal Electric Cooperative in Selby. “Growing up, I knew a lot of Moreau Grand’s employees; my classmate’s dad was the line foreman.”

Jeff Birkeland, a 1988 graduate who’s now general manager of Murdo-based West Central Electric Cooperative, has fond co-op memories. During blizzards, someone from Moreau-Grand EC would come by the house in a Bombardier snow machine to pick up his dad, Bart, its general manager.

“Someone would come by to take him to work because you couldn’t get into town. And I would watch him hop into the Bombardier. I thought it was the coolest thing—until you get older and then you realize it’s a bad situation!”

When asked why Timber Lake High School, where average enrollment has ranged from 92 to 108 since the 1980s, is such a fruitful source of co-op leadership, these general managers cited the school’s reputation, rural work ethic, family connections and co-op camaraderie.

Charlene Hager, general manager of Bath-based Northern Electric Cooperative, is a classmate of Anderson’s; her older brother, Steve Reed, a 1976 graduate, is the former manager of West Central EC. Their father, Ken Reed, was the general manager at Moreau-Grand EC from 1965 to 1986, and she remembers answering after-hours calls in their house.

“We learned at a young age from our father about putting the member first and respecting the member at the end of the line,” Hager said.