From decking out bucket trucks in festive lights to sponsoring food and toy drives for those in need, electric cooperatives are ringing in the holiday season with traditions old and new.
These traditions help form some of the fondest holiday memories for co-op employees, and this season you shared your stories with us.
Some of your favorite co-op memories come from childhood. “It was an annual tradition for my dad to help judge the Christmas lighting contest for what was then Cedar Valley Rural Electric Cooperative, the co-op [in St. Ansgar, Iowa] where he worked,” said Mona Neeley, director of communications at the Colorado Rural Electric Association in Denver.
“The whole family would bundle into the car and head out across the county where co-op members had strung lights, placed manger scenes in their yards and mounted Santa on their roofs. I think what made the Christmas lights so special was the darkness of those Iowa nights. We were far from any city, and there was no glow in the sky.
“And then, off in the distance, there would be a pinprick of light and the excitement would take hold. What kind of decorations would there be? Would there be a Santa? Would all of the buildings have lights edging the roof?
“I remember each of those farmsteads as a beautiful oasis of light in the night.”
The cooperative spirit was also instilled at an early age for Annie McGinnis, director of communications at Tri-County Electric Cooperative in Aledo, Texas: “My hometown co-op is Grayson Collin EC in Van Alstyne, Texas. Every Christmas, my brother and I would each pick out a toy to put under the tree in the co-op lobby, which was a drop-off location for Toys for Tots,” she said.
Priscilla Knight, senior communications specialist at Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative, shared a story from when she was a young adult and first started working at the Manassas-based co-op in 2006.
“I helped with our Thanksgiving food drive, hung tags with gift requests from disadvantaged children on office Christmas trees and collected gifts for Adopt a Family. My next assignment was organizing carol singing at a nursing home. Our co-op singers, pianist and ‘Santa Vince Cullen,’ a jolly NOVEC employee, went to the home—kept extra warm for the residents.
“We sang and sang, but Vince didn’t show. I scooted from the room to find him. I heard him exclaim, ‘Hurry up and give me the cue to come in. I’m burning up in this Santa suit!’ No one mentioned a cue. ‘What is it?’ I asked. In exasperation, Vince said, ‘Here Comes Santa Claus!’
“I ran back into the room, interrupted ‘Jingle Bells’ and belted out ‘Here Comes Santa Claus.’ Vince appeared and everyone cheered. He passed out gifts and left before he passed out.
“Spreading holiday spirit is the co-op way. I’ve been glad to be a part of it. But by the end of that first December, I was happy to sing, ‘There Goes Santa Claus!’”
Lighting Up Co-op Communities
Christmas parades are a highlight in many co-op communities, and festive bucket trucks decorated and driven by lineworkers make ideal floats—and fond memories, especially when families are involved.
“My kids loved being on the festive float with fellow employees and their families,” said Brian Barger, director of communications at Mid-Ohio Energy Cooperative in Kenton.
At Empower Broadband, a subsidiary owned by Craighead Electric Cooperative in Jonesboro, Arkansas, this year’s first-place finish in the town’s Christmas parade will resonate for years to come. “Our working claw machine was a hit and worth the hard work,” said Vanna Headley, community outreach coordinator.
In South Dakota, Dakota Energy Cooperative also took home the “Best Lighted” award for a float it called “Reindeer Playground.”
“We’ve participated in Huron’s Parade of Lights for many years,” said Jodene Decker, manager of human resources and communications. “The employees volunteer their time to work on the float and drive or walk in the parade. We also participated in several small towns’ parade of lights.”
At Missoula Electric Cooperative in Montana, 2018 went down in co-op history when a special bucket truck decorated as Rudolph led the city’s holiday parade, helping light the way, said Kelsey Lodge, manager of communications and public relations.
In Kearney, Missouri, Platte-Clay Electric Cooperative sponsored the parade portion of Kearney’s Magical Night. “We had three linemen participate and bring their young kids along for the ride,” said Jennifer Grossl, the co-op’s manager of communications and marketing.
Co-ops can play a big role in decking out their communities because they have the equipment and manpower to light up public spaces. “Small communities we serve may not have the equipment to put up holiday decorations,” said Nikki White, communications manager at Cuming County Public Power District in West Point, Nebraska. “We help them with what they need. So many people are so thankful!”
As the holidays approached in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic last December, Fleming-Mason Energy Cooperative decorated the headquarters building in Flemingsburg, Kentucky, to spread cheer during those gloomy days. “It was heartwarming to see families gather together to watch,” said Lori Ulrich, marketing and public relations manager.
For many years, Western Fuels “has decorated and donated Christmas trees for the Festival of Trees that benefits the Northeast Wyoming Community Health Foundation,” in Gillette, said Kelly Peterson, human resources manager at Western Fuels Association.
In Hampton, Iowa, 2021 is the year that Franklin REC brought Christmas lights back to the area. “It had been many years since there was a lighted parade or an event of this sort in the community,” said Christy Mason, an office assistant. “We sponsored a lighted parade and a Light the Night event in the downtown park for all to enjoy.”
And in Big Glen Lake, Michigan, the holidays aren’t complete without Frank Siepker’s floating Christmas tree. Siepker, the engineering and operations manager at Grawn-based Cherryland Electric Cooperative, anchors a huge Frasier fir strung with thousands of LED lights to a fishing boat in the sprawling lake. It’s visible for miles.
“Seven years later, we are still just as excited to carry on the iconic tradition, sharing our holiday spirit with all of those in our community,” said Siepker.
Concern for Community
For many co-ops, the seventh cooperative principle of concern for community takes center stage during the holidays.
“I love how the holidays bring out the giving spirit in our employees,” said Kellee McAnally, contact center manager at the Cooperative Response Center in Dunlap, Tennessee.
“Since 2013, we have worked together to provide gifts, clothing, food and more to local families in need. CRC’s Adopt-A-Family program has helped hundreds of local children in need throughout the years. Thanks to all the employees’ hard work, including employees at CRC’s other locations, and the generous givers in the community, the program continues to grow,” McAnally said.
“Last year when the COVID pandemic hit, we feared that the program would take a hit as well. I love how everyone rallied together. The way we fundraised changed, and the program took on an entirely different look, but the outcome was still successful by helping 47 families in the area.”
Homeless veterans and high schoolers were the focus of this year’s holiday giving at Trico Electric Cooperative. The Marana, Arizona-based co-op donated $1,000 to the Casas Adobes American Legion Auxiliary Unit #73 to help homeless veterans and collected nearly 470 pairs of socks to be distributed by Youth on Their Own, an agency that supports homeless teenagers with services to ensure graduation from high school.
This holiday season, co-ops are helping families deal with economic hardships brought on by the pandemic.
“What an eye-opening, feel-good experience this was to give back to our local communities,” said Amanda McQuerrey, marketing and community relations coordinator at Platte-Clay Electric Cooperative, which awarded Giving Hunger Relief Grants to 13 local food pantries. “To add a little fun to the season, we did a canned food drive at our offices, as well, and were able to donate an additional 1,300 pounds of food.”
Sam Houston Electric Cooperative in Livingston, Texas, adopts an anonymous family every Christmas. “This year, employees donated over $2,000 to buy gifts, food and gift cards for a family of eight,” said Chad Simon, a communications specialist at the Livingston, Texas, co-op.
In Kansas, nearly 50 Wheatland Electric Cooperative employees filled wish lists for about 100 children in need in its service territory—on top of a $1,000 Sharing Success grant to Saint Francis Ministries, said Shajia Donecker, a social media specialist at the Scott City-based co-op.
Thanks to all of the co-ops who shared their holiday traditions. Have a safe and happy holiday season!