By: Jen Wheeler, CCC, Sr. Graphic Designer, NRECA, Arlington, Va.

2019 NRECA CONNECT Conference. First General Session. Keith Stapleton (c) is the winner of the first LaBerge Award for Strategic Communications. Picture with NRECA President Curtis Wynn (l) and CEO Jim Matheson (r).

For those of us who knew Justin LaBerge, seeing an award presented in his memory at the CONNECT Conference this past May was a special moment. Justin had never-ending enthusiasm for all things cooperative and an unparalleled dedication to making a difference for all NRECA member co-ops. The recipient of an award in his honor must also be someone as dedicated and passionate about communicating the cooperative difference. This year’s recipient of The LaBerge Award for Excellence in Strategic Communication, Keith Stapleton, certainly demonstrates those qualities.

As the chief communications officer for Sam Houston Electric Cooperative in Livingston, Texas, Keith has dedicated his career to building a stellar communications program for his co-op, and building up the careers of all the communicators on his team.

“I’ve always believed that my job is to make others successful. When my efforts help our cooperative, and my co-workers are successful, I will succeed as well,” Stapleton said.

“The CCC program has had a significant impact on my 36-year career. Each Sam Houston EC communicator has become a CCC. The knowledge and experience they’ve gained, as well as the network they are part of, have had a tremendous positive impact on Sam Houston Electric Cooperative.”

During his acceptance speech, 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."