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July 2013 Issue

July 2013
Feature 1

Youth Congress

Feature 2

Home Smart Home


"Looking Back,
Looking Up"

Wisconsin Favorites
Wisconsin Favorites
Through Flowers"



50th Youth Congress

Students, Alumni Mark Co-ops’ Education Milestone

Seven years ago on a hot July morning, New Lisbon High School senior-to-be Janelle Woggon and 24 other students from across Oakdale Electric Cooperative’s service territory piled into vehicles and made the 150-mile trip to the University of Wisconsin–River Falls campus. She didn’t know any of the other students and admitted to being apprehensive about the electric co-ops’ Youth Leadership Congress, which that year drew 139 teens from across the state.

“I didn’t have a clue how cooperatives worked, and to be honest, I was a little reluctant to attend the conference,” she says. “Little did I know that in those three short days the knowledge I acquired and the friends I made would have such a lasting impact on my life.”

Since then graduating from UW–La Crosse in multiple communications disciplines, Janelle last fall became Oakdale Electric’s communications and public relations specialist, putting to practical use many of the lessons learned during those three days in 2006. She cites the team-building exercises, workshops involving co-op case studies, and presentations on cooperative history, organization, and principles as Youth Congress offerings that helped ground her in the way co-ops operate.

Core Concepts

Those types of classes, plus presentations designed to identify and bring out leadership skills among teens, have been at the conference’s core since it was first scheduled under the name “Youth Seminar” in June 1964. Initiated by the Public Relations Department of Wisconsin Electric Cooperative (WEC, now Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association), the youth program was prompted by action at a statewide annual meeting earlier that year where co-op delegates resolved to “devote our interested attention and concern to...encouraging a lasting dedication to the principles of cooperation among these potential future owners of our systems.”

Twenty-one electric co-ops answered the call to sponsor students to that first conference, including Chippewa Valley Electric, which sent three boys. One of them, recommended to the co-op by the agriculture teacher at Holcombe High School, was Roger Paulsen.

Roger attended a program that included presentations by national co-op leaders, U.S. Department of Agriculture spokespersons, and university and elected officials. In all, 93 students took part, and Dr. Richard Delorit, dean of the university’s School of Agriculture, called it “one of the finest programs ever held on this campus.”

After high school, Roger went on to graduate from the state university system with a business administration degree, and he relates: “I have recently retired from a career that involved cooperatives for 33 of my working years. I would like to think that the Youth Leadership Congress had something to do with my years as a cooperative manager, financial supervisor, credit manager, and environmental specialist.”

Lasting Associations

The summer “seminar” became the Youth Leadership Congress in 1966, the year Clarence “Butch” Boettcher attended as an Osseo High School sophomore sponsored by Eau Claire Electric Co-op. Butch was familiar with co-ops, as his father served on various cooperative boards including the electric co-op’s. “But being an only child and a rural kid, I didn’t have a lot of social outlets. We were all a little bashful and nervous,” he says, noting it was the first time he’d been to a college campus.

“I remember how much fun it was getting to know other people. When we started talking to one another, we discovered we were from similar backgrounds and had the same feelings,” says Butch, who got comfortable enough to put his name in as a nominee for the statewide Youth Board, a group first elected at that 1966 conference. The board was to help WEC and the university plan and run the next year’s program. He won the election.

One of Butch’s fellow board members, an upperclassman sponsored by Clark Electric named David Wittek, was so impressed by River Falls that he went on to enroll there after high school to study agricultural education. Following the same path two years behind Richard, Butch also earned ag education degrees at River Falls and, like the pal he met at the ’66 Youth Congress, went on to teach at the high school level before both became outreach education instructors at Chippewa Valley Technical College. “We were colleagues at CVTC for 27 or 28 years,” says Butch.

Both are now retired from teaching, though Butch recently celebrated 30 years as a director of Eau Claire Energy Co-op. He now chairs that board and is also a 16-year member of the Dairyland Power Cooperative board, which he chaired for five years.

“Encouraging our young people to become involved with co-ops is one of the most important things we as directors can do,” he asserts.

Family Affair

Another alumnus of that ’66 Youth Board, Annette (Marshall) Sebranek, sponsored by Richland Electric, fondly remembers writing a play and acting in the talent contest that would become a feature of the Youth Congress for many years. “I was always theatrical; I remember portraying an old lady in our play,” she recalls. “It was a fun group of people.”

Annette, who attended nursing school after high school and worked for a time at the Mendota Mental Health Hospital, would later put her theater skills to use directing plays and heading up the high school drama department while also owning and operating a day care center. Now retired from her 35 years in the day care business, Annette and her husband live in Ames, Iowa.

Annette’s nephew, Billy Marshall, also sponsored by Richland Electric, concluded his one-year term on the statewide Youth Board last year. Her sister Maureen is a former Miss Wisconsin Rural Electrification and keynoted the 1972 Youth Congress evening banquet.

Co-op Jobs

At the 1967 program—Annette’s and Butch’s second year in attendance—was Dave Weiland, another shy country kid, sponsored by Trempealeau Electric. “I wasn’t a social person; I didn’t want to dance,” he says. “I was probably too shy to go, but our neighbor, LaVern Kleinsmith, who was on the co-op board, encouraged me.”

The co-op lessons stuck, as Dave would be hired by Dairyland Power Co-op in 1973. He apprenticed in La Crosse and from 1977 until his retirement this past April he was a substation electrician operating out of Dairyland’s Elk Mound facility. He now lives—on electric co-op lines, he points out—in New Mexico.

With even more years than Dave in electric co-op service, Jeanne (Wrolstad) Opperman was hired as a receptionist in 1971 right after high school graduation by Central Wisconsin Electric Co-op. She’s now assistant to the CEO.

Jeanne says she wanted to back out of going to the 1970 Youth Congress after a friend dropped out, but her boyfriend—who she would eventually marry and who had actually attended the 1964 seminar—“intimidated me into going.” She was one of 12 students sponsored by her co-op and had been persuaded to apply by her school guidance counselor.

“I didn’t know anybody else, and I was very, very shy. It forced me to reach out.” Even though she lived on co-op lines, she says she really didn’t know anything about co-ops, but the Youth Congress remedied that. “It was a wonderful event,” she says, and it got her foot in the door for a career spanning 42 years...and counting.

Broader Perspective

With one year less than Jeanne working for electric co-ops, but similarly hired soon after his 1972 high school graduation, Martin “Marty” Hillert came to the 1971 Youth Congress with considerable co-op background information, gained from serving on the Clark Electric Co-op junior board of directors during the previous year. Of the Youth Congress, Marty observes: “The program itself gave me a much broader perspective of the electric cooperative business in Wisconsin and the nation.”

It was a focus that he’d come to experience in the years after being hired by Clark Electric as a management trainee. After 13 years at the co-op, moving up to the job of office manager, Marty left Wisconsin for a manager’s position with a Minnesota electric co-op. He returned to Wisconsin in 1996 to manage the state’s largest electric distribution co-op, Adams–Columbia Electric. He’s also served terms as this region’s representative on the board of the National Rural Utilities Finance Corporation, a primary source for electric co-ops’ capital needs.

“The Youth Congress is probably where I began to think about the possibility of being involved in a cooperative business,” Marty says.

Later this month, UW–River Falls for the 50th time will open its facilities to scores of teens brought there by Wisconsin’s cooperatively owned electric utilities. The three days of seminars and sociability should again help impress on young minds what sets cooperatives apart in the business world. The experience just might change their lives.—Perry Baird





Home Smart Home

Intelligent Appliances could Herald “Home of the Future”

The “home of the future” is far from a new idea. Post-World War II America expected computer punch cards to cook entire dinners without help from human hands. Today, Wi-Fi and smartphones can help make “smarter homes” a reality.

Communications modules inside some appliances and wall outlets can use a home’s Wi-Fi to send and receive simple messages from a connected home energy network. Other smart home components include remotely controlled thermostats and, potentially, the capability to link to the electric grid so appliances can better take advantage of off-peak rates, when electricity is less expensive.

Network Needed

To make this happen, more than random appliances and fancy outlets are required—you need a home energy network to tie everything together. Some home security, cable, and phone companies offer such systems, usually sold as a “home monitoring solution.” Some allow you to unlock your front door or open your garage door from an app on your smartphone, view your home from a camera, and manage and monitor electrical devices. Fees generally start at $10 a month and go up depending on the services you choose, says Brian Sloboda, a senior program manager specializing in energy efficiency for the Cooperative Research Network, an arm of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

“Smart homes have a lot of potential, but whether that potential can be realized depends on so many factors—namely, whether your home has high-speed Internet,” he cautions. “You also have talk to your electric co-op about whether it has special rate structures that will allow you to use smart appliances to their full value.”

The aim of smart homes, Sloboda explains, is to increase convenience for homeowners while saving energy and money for both consumers and the utility. Consumers would be able control various devices and potentially see lower electric bills, while their electric utility could shift load from peak times—which ends up saving money for everyone by avoiding the need to purchase expensive peak-time power or even build new power plants to meet growing demand.

Early-stage Studies

A few electric cooperatives around the country are performing studies to determine if home energy networks might benefit co-op members, but all are in the early stages. Currently, the biggest bang for the buck comes from remotely controlling a home’s automated thermostat because many consumers do not program them.

To see real energy savings from a home energy network, consumers should work in partnership with their local electric co-op, Sloboda emphasizes. “Some app developers have suggested that consumers could use their smartphones to pre-heat the oven while driving home—is anybody really going to use that? We have to see more research before this concept gets off the ground.”

Even manufacturers aren’t sure. General Electric’s appliance division recently launched a line of smart appliances, called Brillion, meant to link with a home energy network. GE set up a series of tests to see how the equipment would operate in a home energy network at various utilities across the nation. GE soon stopped the energy-savings emphasis of the program because not enough utilities offered incentive rates for the appliances.

Evaluating a Smart Choice

            Before buying into “the home of the future,” Sloboda encourages homeowners to ask themselves:

            • What are my goals? Do I want home security and energy savings, or
               do I just want the latest app?
            • Do I have broadband in my home? Many of the systems require a high-speed Internet
               connection to work.
            • What devices do I want to control? It’s not just appliances or thermostats—apps can lock
               doors and turn off lights, too.
            • How much is it worth to me? Many services charge a monthly fee in addition to upfront
              equipment costs.
            • What appliances need to be replaced, and does an app really make sense for that appliance?
            • Who owns the data collected from your appliances and how will they use it?

None of the smart home appliances that appear to be coming to market will cook dinner with just the push of a button. But some will allow you to see what is going on at home, who is home, and even turn the air conditioning on and off.

“The bottom line is, consumers have to decide if a smart home will aid or hinder their lifestyle—and if their electric utility even offers incentives to make it worth the expense,” Sloboda concludes.—Magen Howard, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association









by Perry Baird

Gazing upward on cue are students sponsored by Wisconsin electric co-ops at the 1968 and 2012 Youth Leadership Congresses.

The images used in the graphic on this month’s cover shows high school attendees at two Youth Leadership Congresses, 44 years apart. The photographer in both cases knew the best way to get a group photo of more than 100 people and have the best chance at not obscuring anybody’s face is to shoot down on the assemblage from a high perch, having the subjects look upward toward the camera.

In more ways than through a photographic lens were young people brought into focus by the summer educational program started by Wisconsin’s electric cooperatives in 1964.

Out of Their Shells

As this month’s main feature story relates, a typical comment heard from Youth Leadership Congress (YLC) participants as they looked back—in some cases several decades back—on their experiences was how shy and apprehensive they were as teens embarking on the three-day visit to the UW–River Falls campus and the co-op seminar. Because electric co-ops initially selected one student each from high schools within their service territories, it meant most of the teens didn’t know each other going into the conference—a source of some trepidation for rural kids who, in the words of one mid-1960s participant, lacked “social outlets” in those days.

YLC alumni we contacted uniformly told us being thrown together with unknown peers in an unfamiliar setting yielded positive personal outcomes. First, the rural teens discovered they weren’t alone in their misgivings; virtually all of the student attendees were in the same boat. As one respondent noted, “We discovered we had so much in common; most of us came from farm backgrounds.” Another remarked how the circumstance forced her to come out of her “shell” and interact with fellow students in the classrooms, dining halls, and dormitories during the co-ops’ seminar, all the while increasing her confidence. Still others commented on the eye-opening experience of visiting a college campus for the first time.

Co-op Connection

Then there was the cooperative information presented, grounding youth in the operating principles of a unique type of business. As the story tells, some after graduation would even go on to careers with cooperatives or serve as directors of co-op governing boards.

The promise of such enduring cooperative connections, of course, was what prompted the electric co-ops to organize that first annual Youth Seminar (two years later called Youth Congress) and to sponsor the program 49 more times.

As a rationale for boosting youth programs of that type, an April 1964 resolution adopted by delegates of the Wisconsin electric co-ops’ statewide association pointed out: “A new generation is moving into active ownership and control of electric cooperatives and still another generation within a very few years will have the most numerous representation within our membership.” That certainly came to pass, and in the years since, succeeding generations have advanced to take their turns.

The youngest of the students attending that inaugural seminar in 1964 are now themselves retirement age. Meanwhile, the roster of Youth Congress alumni has swelled to nearly 7,500—an investment from which electric co-ops continue to benefit.






Riverside International Friendship Gardens
Honor Cultural Diversity

Take a walk around the world this summer by visiting the Riverside International Friendship Gardens in La Crosse’s Riverside Park. At this 1.2-acre oasis along the banks of the Mississippi River, you can walk past gingko trees and across a foot bridge in China, savor the purple sage from a besedka in Russia, enjoy the irises amidst the alpine rocks in Germany, follow the clipped hedges around the knot garden and grand fountain in France, and watch for trolls lurking around the waterfalls in Norway.

Of course, you won’t actually leave La Crosse, let alone the United States. However, you’ll feel like you’ve traveled far and wide once you step through the Chinese Moon Gate near the gardens’ front entrance and traverse the meandering pathways. Benches and gazebos placed throughout provide plenty of places for visitors to sit quietly and appreciate the beauty and the diverse cultures that are represented here.

The International Friendship Gardens are a celebration of La Crosse’s relationships with its sister cities from around the world: Luoyang, China; Dubna, Russia; Friedberg, Germany; Epinal, France; Forde, Norway; and Bantry, Ireland. The gardens are designed to represent the style of a typical garden in each sister city’s nation, with plants chosen to duplicate native plants and authentic details inspired—and sometimes contributed—by each of the represented countries.

For example, the afore-mentioned Moon Gate at the entrance to the Chinese garden is topped by carved granite dragons from China. Funds for the dragons were raised, in part, by visiting teachers from Luoygang. The entire space is designed to resemble a nobleman’s walled garden in ancient China.

The centerpiece of the Russian garden is a circular pavilion called a besedka, modeled after a similar structure on the banks of the Volga River in Dubna. Topping the fountain in the French garden is a statue of a small boy pulling a thorn out of his foot, a miniature of a similar statue for which Epinal is famous. The French garden also has imported French roses cultivated especially for Epinal. Last year, the Norwegian garden was populated with seven hand-carved wooden trolls in a nod to Scandinavian folklore that has the mythical creatures lurking in forests and mountain caves.

Since the 2007 grand opening, the International Friendship Gardens have grown each year, with new elements added to existing gardens and entire new plots in the planning stages. Plans for the Irish garden—whose progress depends on coordination with outside agencies since its location abuts an historic building as well as the river—call for a water wheel and a design that will mirror the town square for which Bantry is known. Also planned is a garden of native Wisconsin plants.

The gardens reflect friendship not just between La Crosse and its sister cities, but within the La Crosse community as well. The project is a three-way partnership among the City of La Crosse, the Bluff Country Master Gardeners, and the Riverside International Friendship Gardens Board of Directors. The gardens were built with donated money and materials and countless hours of volunteer labor. They’re also tended by volunteers, who gather regularly to weed, water, and mulch. The gardens keep evolving; no two visits yield the same sights. Colors and foliage change with each season, and the appearance changes each year as plantings mature and new details are added.

Put some international flair in your summer without ever leaving the state. Visit the Riverside International Friendship Gardens, where a world of blooms awaits you.—Mary Erickson

Riverside International Friendship Gardens are located at the northern end of Riverside Park in La Crosse, along the Mississippi River. Admittance is free but donations are appreciated. For more information, call (608) 791-4769, visit www.riversidegardens.org, or visit Riverside International Friendship Gardens on Facebook.



©2013 Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News