By Abbey Sprague, CCC, Midland Power Cooperative, Jefferson, Iowa

We’d like to offer a warm welcome to the following cooperative communicators. These dedicated professionals earned the CCC designation following the May exam, in Salt Lake City, Utah. 

Suzie Brown, CCC

Key Account Manager, Bailey County Electric Cooperative Association, Muleshoe, TX

Suzie has been the Consumer Accounts/Key Account Manager at Bailey County Electric Cooperative since Sept. 2015.  Prior to that, she was Manager of Marketing and Member Services at Lea County Electric Cooperative for 11 years.

“I love working with people and doing work that is really meaningful.  Building relationships and truly helping people is what I sincerely appreciate.  The part of my job that I like the best is the marketing and communications responsibilities,” said Suzie.

Away from work, she enjoys spending quality time with family and close friends, traveling and experiencing new places, cooking and baking and trying new recipes.  She also enjoys gardening and home improvement projects. 

Suzie has a Bachelor of Business Administration and Marketing.  Early in her career, she worked for Compaq Computers.  During that time, it grew from a start-up company to both Fortune 500 and Fortune 100 status.  She credits that experience as invaluable, as she uses everything that she learned there regularly.  “Since joining the co-op world, I have been able to bring the best from the corporate world and apply it to the cooperative business model.  I have had many mentors and teachers along the way to help me.  My goal is to ‘pay it forward’ and help others as they aspire to be the very best they can be, said Suzie.

Kathryn Claxton, CCC

Communications Specialist, Southern Rivers Energy, Barnesville, GA

Kathryn has been at Southern Rivers Energy for six year and moved into the role of Communications Specialist two years ago.

Her favorite part of the job is graphic design work. “I love to take information and make it usable and attractive for members and employees,” said Kathryn. “But, a close second (favorite) would definitely be the Washington Youth Tour.”

Kathryn credits NRECA’s New Co-op Communicators Orientation as one of the most influential programs to help her get established as a communicator. She often uses resources or connections from the program to help serve Southern Rivers better. Kathryn has a Bachelor of Science in Education from Gordon State College and will begin work on a graduate degree in Integrated Marketing Communications from West Virginia University in August. 

She really enjoys cooking, hiking and spending time with her dog.  Additionally, she is currently working on visiting all 50 states before she turns 35. 

Elecia Copenhaver, CCC

Marketing and Communications Coordinator, Benton Rural Electric Association, Prosser, WA

Elecia has been the Marketing and Communications Coordinator at Benton REA since October 2015. Prior to that, she worked at Jo-Carroll Energy in Illinois for more than four years.

“I enjoy planning the content for our three monthly print publications and online channels. Coordinating the communications for all our programs, services and messaging can be a challenge, but seeing the final product is very rewarding,” said Elecia. She also enjoys planning and reviewing results from member surveys, because it’s how she learns what Benton REA members want and need from their co-op.

Since moving to the Great Pacific Northwest, she and her husband have enjoyed hiking and traveling to the many beautiful parks and cities in the area. She also enjoys singing and volunteering at their church and playing board games with friends and family.

Elecia has a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, with a focus in Marketing and a minor in Art, from Grace College, Winona Lake, Ind.

“Moving away from my hometown became a lot easier knowing that I was going to work for another electric cooperative. I love that I can travel to almost every state and see signs and trucks displaying co-op logos. I’ve wanted to earn my CCC designation for many years, and I am very thankful to my cooperative for supporting me in achieving it. It is a great feeling joining a network of very talented, hard-working communicators across the nation,” stated Elecia.

Courtney Deinert, CCC

Manager of Communications, Central Electric Cooperative, Mitchell, SD

Courtney started at Central Electric Cooperative in May 2014 as Administrative/Communications Assistant and was hired as Manager of Communications in October 2016

“I most enjoy learning about all areas of the cooperative so that I can educate others. From taking pictures in an aerial bucket to community outreach in local schools, it’s always interesting,” said Courtney.

In her free time, she loves repurposing items into home décor or home improvement projects on a budget. She stated, “Hand me a cup of coffee and a paintbrush, and I’m happy!” She even repurposed a co-op cable spool into a clock that is on display is in her office. “I also love spending time with my family on my husband’s farming operation and letting my one year old play in the dirt.”

She has a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Master of Arts in Higher Education Administration from the University of South Dakota. “The education business model is very similar to the co-op business model, and educating and communicating go hand-in-hand,” said Courtney.

Courtney grew up on a farm served by a neighboring electric cooperative, and went on to say “Working for a co-op now gives me satisfaction that I’m giving back to the communities that shaped me.”

Mindy Hardy, CCC

Communications Specialist, South Central Power Company, Lancaster, OH

Mindy has been a communications specialist at South Central Power Company since February 2016.

“I enjoy talking with members via social media, and I’m proud that we have more than doubled our Facebook fans since I started at the co-op -- from 4,400 to more than 10,000.  I enjoy seeing our employees and members at community relations activities, as it demonstrates how important we are to the multitude of communities we serve.  I love creating and implementing communications plans on a variety of topics that help educate or inform employees and members alike,” said Mindy.

Mindy loves hiking, traveling and visiting national parks, historic locations, and beautiful and interesting places. “I was lucky to be raised by parents that loved camping, which we did across the country and at the beach.  I hope I have instilled the same passion for outdoor experiences in my kids as well,” said Mindy.

Mindy has a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Mount Union College in Alliance, Ohio.  She spent more than 25 years in corporate communications in the financial services industry, and finds it a refreshing change of pace to be working for South Central Power Company. “I was not familiar with the cooperative business model, but now I can’t imagine working for any other type of business,” said Mindy.

Ashley Haynes, CCC

Communications Specialist, Pee Dee Electric, Wadesboro, NC

Ashley has worked at Pee Dee Electric for more than five years. Her favorite thing about working there is the people she works with and the camaraderie of the larger cooperative family.

She spends most of her time outside of work with her two children. She is an avid reader and enjoys painting and photography.

Ashley has a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Master of Arts in Technical and Professional Communications. She has a variety of work experience including sports marketing, education, technical project management and community outreach.

When asked if she had any unique stories related to earning the CCC designation, she stated, “The night prior to the exam I had a dream that the proctor announced that they had decided to add a verbal section to the exam, which we had to answer in front of the entire testing group. I woke up in a panic and texted my mentor first thing the next morning!”

Lauren Irby, CCC

Communications Specialist, Southside Electric Cooperative, Crewe, VA

Lauren has been a Communications Specialist at Southside Electric Cooperative for nearly four years.

“I have always enjoyed working in the communications industry, but I especially love working for a cooperative – everyone is so friendly and helpful! My team members in my department are great – I enjoy working with them,” said Lauren.

She is a member of a few service organizations and likes to volunteer in her community. She also enjoys taking road trips and seeing new things.

Lauren has a Bachelor of Arts in Communications Studies from Longwood University and is currently taking post-grad classes in Public Relations from the University of Virginia.

After college, she worked for Alpha Sigma Tau Sorority as a traveling consultant and later worked as an Account Coordinator for a public relations agency. She also worked briefly in the Communication Studies department at Longwood University before joining the co-op world.

Jackie Kamphaus, CCC

Communications Specialist, Kansas Electric Cooperatives, Topeka, KS

Jackie started as Communications Specialist at KEC in Nov. 2015. She also worked there in 2014 as the summer communications intern.

“The most fulfilling part of my job is working with our member cooperatives to create their local pages in Kansas Country Living magazine. I enjoy learning about our member co-ops and helping them connect with their consumer members,” said Jackie.

When she’s not at work, Jackie enjoys kayaking, rock climbing, running, camping, riding motorcycles, going to concerts, quilting and reading.

Jackie has a Bachelor of Arts in English, minors in business administration and art from Bethel College; and a Master of Arts in English Literature from Wichita State University.

Christine McGinnis, CCC

Communications Specialist, Sangre de Cristo Electric Association, Inc., Buena Vista, CO

Christine has worked at Sangre de Cristo Electric Association for about a year and a half.

When asked what she enjoys most about her role at the co-op, she said, “The crazy variety of things I do every day, from getting the CFL bulbs ready to recycle to corporate communications.”

She loves to be outdoors hiking, camping and skiing with family. She went on to say, “Both of our kids have been very involved in high school sports and our son plans to play football in college, so we also spend a lot of time following teams.”

Jackie has a bachelor’s degree in political science. She previously worked as the marketing director at a ski area, editor of a regional visitor’s magazine and for several regional newspapers.

When it came to earning the CCC designation, she said, “I was intimidated by the CCC process, but was fortunate to have been encouraged by another CCC, Cassi Gloe at the Colorado Rural Electric Association, to go for it. I work at a small co-op where everyone I asked to help, helped me study for the test. I learned a lot and my coworkers became invested in the outcome, too. After I returned from Salt Lake, they’d check in and ask if I’d heard whether I’d passed or not. I let them know I earned the certification before I let my family know I did.”

Zachary Smith, CCC

Field Editor, Association of Missouri Electric Co-ops, Jefferson City, MO

Zach has been at the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives since October 2016 as the field editor for Rural Missouri magazine.

“My favorite part about being part of Missouri’s Electric Cooperative family are the people I work with around the state and meeting the rural folks who are the soul of our magazine. I’m a barefoot kid from the Ozarks at heart, so I spend most of my free time outside either on the water or on the trail,” said Zach.

He has a Bachelor of Arts in Film Production from Webster University and a Master of Arts in Journalism from Mizzou. Zach is recently engaged to his best friend of 20 years, Valerie Jackson, whom he referred to as his better half and study buddy extraordinaire, when it came to preparing for the CCC exam.

Jade Sturgeon, CCC

Communications Representative, Butler Rural Electric Cooperative, Oxford, OH 

Jade has been the Communications Representative at Butler Rural Electric Cooperative for three years.

Butler Rural Electric Cooperative sponsors and participates in many community events, such as local county fairs. Jade stated, “I enjoy being at the events and meeting our members in the community.”

In her time away from the co-op, she enjoys working with her husband and parents on the family’s cattle farm, where they raise beef and show cattle.

Jade has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications from Indiana University.

Tory Tedder-Loffland, CCC

Education & Outreach Coordinator, Oklahoma Electric Cooperative, Norman, OK

Tory has worked at Oklahoma Electric Cooperative for nearly 12 years. She has been the Education & Outreach Coordinator since 2014.

“I have the best job. I say I get paid to volunteer and hang out with kids. At its roots, the co-op is a mission-driven organization created to improve lives and our standard of living and I love having a purpose. I started on the phones, but I felt the mission with every phone call. Now, as the Education and Outreach Coordinator, I have the best job at the co-op because all I do is get excited about mission, purpose, and good works. I get to go into schools and inspire young minds through science education and leadership training,” said Tory.

In her free time, Tory enjoys travel and hiking. She said, “I love to have experiences and with travel there is always something new to try and do. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received came from a co-worker, now retired, about 10 years ago. He received this advice from an ‘old-timer’ and was passing it on. He told me the co-op is a great place to work, but don’t forget to live. His advice was to contribute a certain amount out of every paycheck into a co-op credit union savings account and to increase that amount $100 with each increase in pay with the caveat that it be used for fun. I think that is a great life lesson. We work so often for recognition, accomplishment, and gain that we forget sometimes to refill our tank with joyful experiences. I followed his advice. I call it my travel fund. Only twice have I used it for unexpected emergencies and once for a down payment on a new Jeep Renegade which allows my husband and I to take the more interesting, unpaved, and mysterious path.”

Tory has a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies from the University of Oklahoma. She studied theatre, photography, art history, film, English, and religion. She notes multiple resources as contributing to her success as the co-op, including the Cooperative Communicators Association (CCA) Institutes and workshops, the educational opportunities available through her statewide association and being a member of Toastmasters.

Tory credits her daughter with her success on the CCC exam. “She is an amazing student and not at all humble about it. As I sat at the kitchen table making flash cards from the Body of Knowledge, she laughed and made some comment about my age and antiquated study habits. The result was that she taught me about Quizlet. Quizlet is basically a flashcard app. Quizlet made it so I could separate the BOK sections into study sets that I could review at any time. It is not likely I would carry around a huge stack of flashcards to pull out in the grocery line, but I could open an app on my phone. Those three minutes here and 10 minutes there added up to quality study time,” stated Tory.

Amy Tobin, CCC

Communications Manager, United Electric Cooperative, Savannah, MO

Amy has worked at United Electric Cooperative for 15 years. She became the Communications Manager in May 2017.

“I enjoy interacting with our members and keeping them informed of the happenings around the cooperative.  Also, I work with some top-notch people who make my job very enjoyable and we all share one common goal, taking care of our membership,” said Amy.

When away from work, her two children, Kolt and Kami, keep her very busy with activities and sporting events.  “Right now, their passions are my passions,” she stated.

Amy has a bachelor’s degree in Business Management and Marketing. She is currently working toward a Master of Business Administration, which she plans to complete in Dec. 2019.

“When I started working for United Electric Cooperative 15 years ago, I had no idea what an electric cooperative was all about. It was just a job for me. I quickly learned that working for a cooperative isn’t just a job, it is a career that has given me so many opportunities. My co-workers at United Electric are not just co-workers, they are friends and family to me.  I don’t feel like you get that atmosphere at too many places. Receiving my CCC is a great accomplishment for me, but I couldn’t have done it without my coworkers rooting for me and keeping me sane throughout the process,” stated Amy.

Katie Wilcox, CCC

Marketing & Community Development Rep, Pee Dee Electric Cooperative, Inc., Darlington, SC

Katie has been the Marketing and Community Development Rep. at Pee Dee Electric for four years.

“I enjoy the creative process of making marketing materials so members can best understand what we need to communicate with them,” said Katie.

She loves entertaining with friends and family, traveling, playing the harp, yoga, and spending time with her golden doodle, Whiskey, and two cats, Marley and ChiChi.

Katie has a Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing from Francis Marion University.  She credits previous work with an economic development agency as having introduced her to “all the fabulous co-op folks at Pee Dee!”