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Oakdale Electric Wins 2021 Leifer Award

The Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association has announced that Oakdale Electric Cooperative is the recipient of the 2021 N.F. Leifer Memorial Journalism award, which promotes excellence in communication and is presented to the co-op with the strongest overall local content pages in the Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News over the past year.

Deana Protz serves as the co-op’s public relations & communications specialist, which includes the responsibility of editing the local pages. In her eight years as a communications specialist at the co-op, Protz’s work has also won seven awards of excellence in individual communication categories, primarily human interest and photography.

In selecting Oakdale as this year’s Leifer Award winner, an independent judge cited Protz’s creative story ideas and page spreads, awarding a couple of bonus points for creativity. The judge also commended Protz for “fun and relevant” content, noting that every story has a clear connection to the co-op.

Deana Protz transitions to a new position as human resources administrator/executive assistant in early December. WECA and WECN staff would like to congratulate her and wish her well with her promotion.

About the award: The N.F. Leifer Memorial Journalism Award is named for former Vernon Electric Cooperative manager Norman F. “Lefty” Leifer, who was instrumental in launching what was then known as the Wisconsin REA News in 1940. The Leifer Award has been presented annually since 1966.

2021 Potthast Award: Larry Hallett

Larry Hallett, chief operations officer with Richland Electric Cooperative has been selected as the recipient of the 2021 Herman C. Potthast Award. Hallett’s career spans more than 40 years progressing from linework to management. Nominators laud Hallett’s unwavering commitment to safety over the course of his career.

Richland Electric Cooperative General Manager and CEO Shannon Clark writes in part, “In 1998 Richland Electric Cooperative had a workers compensation experience modifier of 1.76. The cooperative had not made any attempt to become a RESAP Accredited System due to the ‘laundry list' of things that would have had to improve. Beyond that, employee morale was such that very few took an active interest in improving the culture. When I interviewed Larry, who was then a journeyman lineman for the operations manager position he made it abundantly clear that if he were to be selected, changing our safety culture would be the number one priority. In 2003 I selected Larry to serve as the Operations Manager at Richland Electric Cooperative.

Locally, Larry has been instrumental in moving us from a system with some serious safety issues to one that has a safety culture is that is ever-present and never complacent. On average our experience modifier ranges near .78. We have experienced but one lost-time accident in recent years. We have been a RESAP Accredited System for about 20 years. Perhaps you can’t measure the accident that didn’t happen, but you can certainly measure the results of a system where accidents haven’t happened.”

Clark also lauds Hallett’s development of the in-house "Safety Pays" programs which rewards employees who make a personal commitment to safety and his participation in the WECA JT&S Committee and the rules sub-committee. Nationally, Hallett was active in participating with national safety summits and provided written input to the RESAP Delegate Committee during the efforts to revise and improve the RESAP program.

“In summary, Larry Hallett has gone above and beyond simply keeping the lights on to making sure that our cooperative and many others in the industry recognized that without safe working practices the world would be a much darker place,” Clark writes.

Pat Hawes, journeyman lineman and transmission maintenance supervisor with Dairyland Power Cooperative writes, “Whenever we’ve had the opportunity to work together Larry makes sure that every aspect is addressed to ensure the safety of everyone. His ability to communicate safety concerns and issues causes everyone on the job to step up their game just a little bit extra that can ensure people go home to their families at night.”

WECA congratulates Larry Hallett, recipient of the 2021 Herman C. Potthast Award.

About the Award: The Herman C. Potthast Award is named for a man of great dedication to training and safety who served Wisconsin rural electric cooperatives for 29 years. He was a state and national leader, instrumental in implementing and promoting instruction and training to ensure safety among those working in the electric cooperative field. Potthast passed away in 1972.

The Herman C. Potthast Award recognizes outstanding service, dedication, leadership, and cooperation among electric cooperatives, with a focus on safety. The award was created in 1973 and is presented annually. A committee from Job Training & Safety (JT&S) calls for nominees and selects the winner.

2021 ACE Award Recipient: Byron Nolde

October 8, 2021—The Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association announced this week that Byron Nolde, CEO of Oconto Electric Cooperative, has been selected as the recipient of the annual Ally of Cooperative Electrification (ACE) award. The ACE award recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the electric cooperative industry.

The son of an Army Colonel, Nolde was born in Germany. His father was the last official casualty of Vietnam War. Nolde graduated from Saginaw Valley State University and worked in business, finance, and accounting early in his career. He served as vice president and chief financial officer with Presque Isle Electric and Gas, where he started in 1989. He has served as CEO for Oconto Electric since 2003.

Top and above: Photos from a visit at Oconto Electric
Cooperative with Senator Tammy Baldwin
(D-Wisconsin) in 2016.

Nolde at an NRECA conference in

2018 WECA Education & Lobby Days,
Madison, Wis.

In nominating Nolde for the ACE award, Oconto Electric Cooperative Chairman Todd Duame writes,

Nolde at 2021 OEC Annual Meeting
On behalf of Oconto Electric Cooperative (OEC) board of directors, myself, and staff, we are proud and excited to nominate Byron for the Ally of Cooperative Electrification (ACE) Award.

We believe Byron’s extensive knowledge of the utility industry, coupled with his in-depth accounting skills helps OEC maintain a competitive position in an industry that is changing fast. Byron has been instrumental in negotiating OEC’s last two power contracts, with the most recent being secured with Minnesota Power an Allete Co., whose portfolio has grown to include 50% percent renewables, which is very important in being able to meet the recent passing of renewable regulations requirements.  

OEC is also a very unique cooperative in that it owns and operates its own 1-megawatt hydroelectric plant. Not only does this provide the cooperative with renewable credits but it enables the cooperative to produce green power. Again, the savings these generate provides rate stability to its members.

Byron has increased OEC’s equity from 30% to 50%, and has diversified OEC’s loan portfolio, which in turn has saved the cooperative thousands of dollars in interest and has helped maintain membership rates. 

           Nolde at 2018 NRECA conference.
In addition to all of the contributions Byron’s industry knowledge and skills provide to the daily function of the business, he is always equally concerned about the membership and their rates. Byron continually keeps the members in mind in every aspect of his duties and responsibilities at the Cooperative, as well as his fellow peers and area cooperative families.

Finally, with all of the above-mentioned accomplishments and contributions to the electric cooperative industry, Byron possesses one of the most important leadership qualities and that is his integrity. Byron always keeps the cooperative in the forefront of every decision he makes, but also analyzes what is best for the individual and how his decisions with impact “ALL”. His caring attitude and ability to work with everyone supersedes our expectations. We believe you will agree with us, as shown in our nomination application and coupled with the additional support letters from his peers and those that work closely with him, that Byron would represent the qualifications that have been established for this award very well.  

Thanking you in advance for your consideration in reviewing our nomination of our CEO, Byron C. Nolde for this prestigious award. Should you need any additional information, please don’t hesitate to contact me.


Todd Duame, Chairman
Oconto Electric Cooperative

In 2017, Byron was nominated and was a finalist for the Ethics in Business Award, sponsored by the American Foundation of Counseling Services in Green Bay, Wis.
This award acknowledges those that display leadership qualities of integrity and model strong upright character
in today’s business world.
Many people submitted letters in support of Nolde’s nomination for the ACE award. Excerpts include:

“As a member of Oconto Electric, I have witnessed Byron’s leadership in advancing positive change. Examples include: innovative rate structures, reliability enhancements, innovative wholesale electric power pricing contracts, green pricing programs, electric charging stations, and a host of other member-oriented initiatives,” wrote Barbara Nick, who recently retired as CEO of Dairyland Power Cooperative.

“Byron embodies the cooperative spirit with enthusiasm and conviction,” Shane Larsen, Rock Energy Cooperative CEO.

“Byron’s most notable contribution to the programs and services carried out by OEC as well as WECA and NRECA, was that he helped make things happen, not just by his participation but also with valuable insight and guidance,” wrote Beata Wierzba, former WECA government relations director. “He is someone I could always count on.”
“OEC is one of the few cooperatives to achieve the 1 million employee hour ‘No Lost Time” milestone,” wrote Chad Knutson, senior safety and loss prevention consultant with Federated Rural Electric Insurance Exchange. “Bryon played a significant role in the cooperative receiving this award, always stressing ‘Safety First’ with employees.”

“Byron has been an excellent participant in the Wisconsin Manager’s group, serving also as its president. He has faithfully served on the Legislative Committee and has never been afraid to speak his mind, not only to the committee but to our representatives at the state and federal level,”
wrote Robert Cornell, manager of Washington Island Electric Cooperative. “Please give Byron’s nomination for this award the highest priority. He deserves it.”

Nolde has also been recognized for his community engagement and leadership with multiple awards in recognition of his military support and business ethics. He serves as a director on the RESCO board and has served as director of the Electric Coalition Health Insurance Trust.

WECA would like to congratulate Byron Nolde, recipient of the 2021 ACE Award and thank him for his many contributions to the industry.

Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News Magazine Earns National Award

June 25, 2021—The Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News (WECN) took home an Award of Excellence in the Best Historical Feature category of the 2021 Willies Awards. The honor for excellence in co-op journalism was bestowed at this week’s NRECA Statewide Editors Association annual institute in Austin, Texas.

WECN Associate Editor Mary Erickson’s piece, titled “Connections to the Past: Historic Bridges Cross Co-op Country,” was featured in the September 2020 edition of the magazine. Bridges featured included the Tiffany Stone Arch Bridge and Turtleville Iron Bridge, Rock Energy Cooperative; “7 Bridges” McGilvray Road, Riverland Energy Cooperative; Dunnville Bottoms Trail Bridge, Dunn Energy Cooperative; Soo Line “S” Bridge, Eau Claire Energy Cooperative; and the Gilman Swinging Bridge, Taylor Electric Cooperative.

Judges said of the story, “Easy-to-read, folksy style of writing draws the reader in. Highlighting historic bridges in travelogue across five different co-op service areas provides a breadth to the story that more than makes up for not relying on quotable sources. Great photos and descriptions/backgrounds of the unique structures featured.”

“The magazine continues to be recognized for its ability to draw readers in with quality features and information,” said WECN Editor Dana Kelroy. “We hear time and again that readers appreciate the local stories and often read the magazine cover-to-cover each month. We’re incredibly proud of that.”

The award-winning feature can be seen here: https://wecnmagazine.com/article/connections-to-the-past/

Pierce Pepin's Will Tuchtenhagen Awarded $10,000 Glenn English Scholarship

June 25, 2021—Congratulations to Pierce Pepin's very own William Tuchtenhagen for being awarded the Glenn English National Cooperative Leadership Foundation's top scholarship, worth $10,000. Tuchtenagen served on the 2017–2018 WECA Youth Board and went on to be the NRECA Wisconsin State Representative in 2019, where he served as a junior chaperone in Washington, D.C. and participated on the youth education panel at the 2019 NRECA Annual Meeting.
At that meeting, according to NRECA, Tuchtenhagen spoke on a panel about the need for rural broadband. He is currently on his second summer as an intern at Pierce Pepin Cooperative Services, where among other duties, he is very involved in deployment of broadband!
"He is the quintessential co-op kid looking to stay involved in our industry", NRECA said in making the announcement.
The Glenn English National Cooperative Leadership Foundation encourages educational advancement by awarding high education scholarships to eligible students. The Foundation has awarded almost $100,000 in scholarships to NRECA’s Youth Tour alumni since the program’s inception in 2014!
In addition to Tuchtenhagen’s $10,000 scholarship, NRECA announced three winners of the $2,000 “Engineers of the Future” scholarship, and four winners of the $1,000 “Youth Tour Alumni” scholarship. Tuchtenhagen is the only winner from Wisconsin. 
Tuchtenhagen attends Luther College where he is majoring in Political Science and International Studies.


Together Again
Steve Freese, WECA President and CEO

A few of our readers have contacted me to ask why a magazine produced for your electric cooperative carried content relating to COVID-19 over the past few months. (An equal number of readers have contacted me to say thank you for sharing this vital information.) The simple fact is found in the Seven Cooperative Principles, to which all electric cooperatives adhere.

Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News

The Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News serves as the voice of the state’s rural electric cooperatives. Founded in 1940, the publication focuses on statewide issues that affect electric cooperatives, promoting the general welfare of Wisconsin’s electric cooperatives, their member-owners, and the areas they serve.

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