Life's Seasons
By Richard G. Johnstone, Jr., Editor

Richard Johnstone
Richard Johnstone

Life, like the calendar year, has its distinct seasons. A sky the color of a robin’s egg … the tangy smell of wood smoke … loud colors sprinkled across the landscape … a breeze that hugs you at noontime, then chills you at dusk. All announce early autumn.

My life’s early autumn was recently announced to me by a government report, one noting that strides in medicine and healthy living have increased the life expectancy of Americans from 47 years in 1900 to about 77 today. Being on the verge of 47 myself, that report gave me pause. Even double-pause. First of all, my 15-year-old daughter’s perception of me would be correct and I really would be an old man if this were 1900. It also occurred to me that, if I’m lucky enough to live to the average, then I’m in the early autumn of my life. Ouch.

And yet, one of the reasons that 47 is now early autumn rather than late winter in the lives of most Americans is because of universal electric service. Think about it: electricity has done everything from reducing and in many cases eliminating the crushing grind of manual chores that shaped and shortened daily life on the farm in the old days, to powering the marvels that allow preemies to survive and older folks to thrive to ever-riper ages.

And the fact is, electricity would not have been available in your area two generations ago — and may not even have been available today — if local residents in the 1930s and ’40s had not gotten together and formed an electric cooperative to provide their area — your area — with reliable electric service. These early pioneers were able to provide their communities with affordable electricity because they did so on a not-for-profit basis. Today, your cooperative still provides its members — including you — with this electricity at cost.

Back then, residents of communities across the state and throughout the nation formed electric cooperatives; today, there are 13 electric cooperatives across Virginia serving about 350,000 homes and businesses, and over 900 across the country, in 47 of the 50 states, serving about 12 million homes and businesses. It’s a remarkable success story, a story stressing the power of neighbor helping neighbor, and also stressing the importance of several key principles. These 7 Cooperative Principles, arrived at and articulated by a group of weavers in England over 150 years ago, continue to guide your cooperative today.

And since October is Cooperative Month, we thought you would enjoy reading about these 7 key principles whose meaning and value continue to resonate today.

1. Voluntary and Open Membership. Cooperatives are open to all persons  able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership.

2. Democratic Member Control. Cooperatives are democratic organizations, owned by those they serve. Their member-owners set policies and make decisions about the business through a democratically elected board of directors, chosen from the cooperative membership. Each member — large or small — has an equal vote, the sign of a true democracy.

3. Autonomy and Independence. Cooperatives are autonomous, independent self-help organizations controlled by their members. Because of this local ownership and control, cooperatives are among the most customer-friendly businesses anywhere.

4. Cooperation Among Cooperatives. Cooperatives practice what they preach, and work together with other cooperatives at a state, regional and national level to gain additional strength and influence and buying power. For instance, Virginia’s electric cooperatives work together and publish this magazine, at a higher quality level and a lower cost than any individual cooperative would be able to achieve on its own.

5. Education, Training and Information. As member-owned and member-controlled businesses, cooperatives obviously have an obligation to keep their members informed about issues that affect the cooperative. Cooperatives work hard to be open, honest, and communicative.

6. Members’ Economic Participation. All cooperative members have an economic stake in the business, as customers and as member-owners. Cooperatives operate on a not-for-profit basis, and any funds left over are assigned to the members as capital credits, and later returned to the members as the economic condition of the cooperative allows.

7. Concern for Community. This last principle is the gem in the cooperative crown. Cooperatives care about their communities. A business doesn’t get any more “local” than an electric cooperative, which is owned by thousands of members of a local community, staffed by local people, and governed by a board of local people, democratically elected by their neighbors. 

Autumn is a great time for reflecting on important things. Faith. Family. Country. Community. And, we hope you agree, an integral part of your community is your electric cooperative.


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