'to Plant Trees'

by Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Exec. Editor

Richard Johnstone

During "The Great Hunger" in Ireland in the middle of the 19th century, the Henderson family, like so many of their countrymen, left the Emerald Isle and immigrated to Canada, settling in Ontario. Many years later, lured by the prospect of inexpensive, rich farmland, young Nelson Henderson moved with two of his brothers to the Canadian heartland, settling in the Swan River Valley of Manitoba.

Nelson's life was typical of his generation, marked by service to his country in the trenches of World War I, and later by marriage, the raising of a large family, and the constant toil that comes with running a farm. Apparently he was a man of few words, too, but a few of his words have resonated over the decades, preserved and shared with the world by one of his sons, Wesley. On his graduation day, Wesley wrote that his father gave him this piece of advice: "The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit."

Anyone who's ever cared about a child, a community or a noble cause of any sort will appreciate this advice. Because, despite humankind's selfishness and short-sightedness, occasional cruelty and frequent folly, most people are decent, kind, hard-working, and committed to creating a better future for subsequent generations. The many comforts and conveniences, technological wonders and medical miracles that we all enjoy are a testament to this commitment.

A decade ago, several electric cooperative leaders decided to make an additional investment in the future of their communities. They did so by creating an educational scholarship foundation to provide modest but important financial aid to young people who wanted to attend college or trade school, but in many cases needed just a little bit of help to make their dreams possible. A key leader in this effort is the subject of this month's cover story, Worth Hudson of Halifax County. Worth at that time was chairman of the board of Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative and the head of the education committee for the trade association that publishes Cooperative Living and provides training, safety and governmental affairs support to Mecklenburg and the 15 other electric cooperatives that serve more than 700,000 homes and businesses in Virginia, Maryland and Delaware.

Worth is a remarkable individual, a true Renaissance man, cultured yet down to earth, a career educator and perennial community leader, an avid gardener, a wonderful husband, father and grandfather, and someone who has worked tirelessly to promote educational opportunities for young people. Thanks to his devoted efforts, and those of other electric cooperative leaders, the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives Educational Scholarship Foundation has, since its founding in 2000, helped 262 young people pursue their desire for higher education.

In the context of today's high and higher education costs, the funds awarded have been modest: the scholarship amounts of $500 and $1,000 may not be transformational, but they have been very helpful in boosting the spirits of deserving young people, and in putting their dreams a little closer to reality. Thanks to tax-deductible contributions from generous cooperative members over the last decade, the foundations ability to help has grown steadily, as 2009 set a record both for total scholarships (48) and total dollars awarded ($43,500). That's quite a move up from 2001, when the first five scholarships were given out, each for $500.

There are many worthy causes out there, and many crying needs, perhaps none greater than providing relief to Haiti following the catastrophic losses inflicted on her people and her infrastructure by January's earthquake. But whether we provide financial support for Haiti's recovery, or volunteer our time to a worthy group in our own neighborhood, our lives are infused with glowing meaning when we follow Nelson Henderson's encouragement "to plant trees." And while we may never see these trees grow to maturity, surely there's a sweet satisfaction in knowing that they will shade and shelter generations we will never know, but with whom we will forever be connected.

For additional information on the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives Educational Scholarship Foundation, go to www.co-opliving.com or www.vmdaec.com. You may download a scholarship application form from either Web site; 2010 scholarship applications must be postmarked by April 1. If you're interested in making a tax-deductible donation, please make your check payable to "VMD Educational Scholarship Foundation" and mail it to: The Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives, 4201 Dominion Blvd., Glen Allen, VA 23060, Attn: Debbie Swiderski. You may also call Mrs. Swiderski at 804-968-4080, or e-mail her at dswiderski@odec.com.   


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