In this season, when the language of political debate easily descends into coarseness and personal attacks, cooperatives have an advantage – an ethic that promotes courtesy and respect among people with sharply differing opinions.
Spirit of Civility
“One thing I have noticed when I go to co-op meetings – local, regional and national — is the spirit of respect and civility in the conversations and dialogue. I think it is part and parcel of the cooperative business structure based on values. It influences how we behave toward one another.”
Kessler’s affection for cooperatives is seemingly boundless. She says the model can easily serve as an answer to anyone who is seeking to discover how people can interact with dignity toward each other, who believe in equitable economics and thoughtful stewardship of resources.
It wasn’t scholarship or philosophy, however, that led her to Lane Electric.
It was a Siamese cat from her childhood in New York City. Her affection for the cat prompted her to volunteer at the local Humane Society when she was a student at Stanford. It was her interaction with the animals that caused an abrupt change in her studies, leading her to earn a doctorate in veterinary medicine in 1994.
A move to Oregon and two years later found her caring for animals at the Emergency Veterinary Hospital. After ten years there, she bought the hospital with a partner and serves as the co-director for the facility, which cares for about 10,000 animals each year.
Crossing Paths with the Co-op
Since 2006, she had crossed paths with Lane Electric many times because of her community work for such organizations as Rotary, her Local Government Affairs Council, the Eugene Chamber of Commerce and two groups that assist child and animal abuse victims. Notably, she also served on the Scholarship Committee at Lane Electric. When a board position became available in 2014, she sought and won the election.
That foray into practical democracy intrigues Kessler because she says that participation on a co-op board gives her a real opportunity to “think and act” on issues that affect local, state and national policy.
“We may have a very local challenge we are trying to address, but there are moments when you stop, step back and take your place in the wider dialogue. I find that very satisfying. Truly, your voice – every voice — counts. We have access and we are asked to participate. Actually, it’s expected.”
That’s democracy. It’s an approach to human governance that has roots going back to the ancient Greeks, a culture Kessler knows well.
“These values that co-ops are founded on are timeless. They matter. They inform our every action. Most of all, they are not a slogan. These (values) are practical realities which ultimately serve members.”
CONTINUING THE CONVERSATION…
What motivated you to serve on your co-op board?
After I was able to buy the veterinary hospital in 2006, I found that things changed in some good ways. Though I have always been in love with animal emergency medicine, my clinical career and time to practice was less because the responsibilities of business ownership burgeoned. I have always thought that businesses have a responsibility to get involved in the community. This is especially true if you live in a smaller community. I volunteered for several organizations and I ended up encountering Lane Electric Co-op in many of these groups and various events. I saw how the co-op was aligned with the community. Eventually I was on the co-op’s scholarship committee and that’s where I really saw the potential to serve in ways I had not thought about including issues relating to our infrastructure, environment and politics.
What keeps you motivated?
Honestly, in a lot of way this is a match made in heaven. I find it deeply fascinating. The scientist in me is thrilled at the physics. Electricity. How it works. How it is generated. The business owner in me loves looking at that side – making the numbers work – and carrying out fiduciary responsibilities. It’s been two years. I find that it satisfies my need to serve others. It offers constant opportunity. I recently have become involved as the ACRE Chair for Oregon. It is fascinating seeing how profoundly legislation affects us and to know at the same time that through political involvement, we can be part of the discussion and policy-making.
How well do you feel you understood the expectations and responsibilities of being a director BEFORE you joined your co-op’s board?
I was on various committees and was president of a local advocacy group for abused children. I knew how boards worked. I was very deliberate before joining the co-op board. Because of the bookish side of me, I sat in on meetings and quickly saw there is a steep learning curve. I started learning all the acronyms before my candidacy was announced.
Are you concerned that younger people are missing the message about rural electric cooperative?
I truly believe interest in our industry and business model is there. People are talking about electricity differently. Even in the short time I have been here, I see it. I asked a lot of my friends and younger women what we can do to engage them more. At first I got some smart-aleck answers including someone saying they are most grateful for electricity when they blow-dry their hair. Now, I have noticed they want to talk about distributed generation, hydro, conservation and keeping costs low. The dialogue is changing. The younger generation is very interested in social matters of fairness and equality. They are interested in having things be as good as possible.
How important is the education and training of a board member?
It’s a duty of the director to become as informed as possible. You have to possess a certain level of understanding and getting your educational certificates from NRECA – the CCD and BLC – help in that process.