NRECA 75th_Logo-03 copyAt a recent NRECA Town Hall meeting, I was asked to speak to staff about a point of historical significance to commemorate the association’s 75th Anniversary. After considering many of the key events that have transpired since NRECA’s creation, I settled on something that has been not only important but consistent in the history of co-ops: The connection of NRECA to the U.S. military.

Since our beginning, U.S. electric cooperatives have shared common cause with the military. We curtailed line construction in our program’s infancy in the late-1930s and early ’40s to support the war effort. We hired thousands of returning GIs into operations jobs after World War II. We’ve encouraged our employees to participate in the National Guard and Reserves, and have provided service to dozens of military bases across the country.

To illustrate this point at the staff meeting, I talked about the experience of NRECA’s first two managers, Clyde Ellis and Bob Partridge.

Ellis was chosen to lead the association in January 1943, at the height of U.S. involvement in World War II. Later that same year, he took a leave of absence to join the Navy. As a Navy lieutenant, he was commander in charge of the armed guard protecting the Liberty ship SS Benjamin Silliman as it carried materials across the Atlantic to supply the war effort. He was witness to the VE Day celebrations in both London and Manchester, England, and one week later attended a reception in Paris given for him by leading Paris advocates of a world peace organization. During his two years in the Navy, he read many books on cooperative philosophy and achievements and visited Rochdale, England, site of the first successful cooperative and origin of the cooperative principles.

In 1968, NRECA named Partridge to succeed Ellis. Partridge was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army Reserves in 1938 and retired after the Korean War as a major general. During World War II, he saw action for three years as a reconnaissance officer and a tank commander in the South Pacific, including the campaigns of Eastern Mandates, Bismarck Archipelago, Luzon, and the Southern Philippines. He was also commander in charge of the deployment to Kauai ‘i to ensure that the Japanese had not infiltrated the island and was anchored off the coast of Japan when he and his troops learned that the Japanese had surrendered.

The experience of NRECA’s first CEOs was just the beginning of a long and deep connection between co-ops and the U.S. military that continues to this day. Visit REmagazine.coop to see photos from around the country showing the co-op/armed services bond.

Photo Gallery | Co-ops and Armed Services Bond

NRECA's first CEO, Clyde Ellis, was chosen to lead the organization during the height of World War II. That same year, he took leave to join the Navy. (Photo courtesy NRECA)
A Liberty Class U.S. cargo ship similar to the one CEO Clyde Ellis's armed guard protected during World War II. (Photo courtesy themodelshipwright.com)
Bob Patridge, NRECA's second CEO, was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army Reserves in 1938 and retired after the Korean War as a major general. (Photo courtesy NRECA)
For the July 4th parade in 1944, Lafayette Electric (now Scenic Rivers Energy in Wisconsin) turned its boom truck into an artillery piece that "shoots electric power to farms which help feed our men in national defense." It also summed up the contribution of rural electric cooperatives to the war effort. Shown are Lafayette Electric Co-op Office Clerk Helen Gilbertson and Manager Edward Paska. (Photo courtesy Scenic Rivers Energy)
Wisconsin’s statewide electric cooperative association launched a fundraising effort on November 1, 1943, encouraging electric co-op members across the state to buy war bonds. Part of a nationwide campaign endorsed by the Rural Electrification Administration, bonds purchased by co-op members here were to be earmarked for financing a B-17 “flying fortress” bomber for the War Department. (Photo courtesy Wisconsin Energy Co-op News)
Kimberly Miller and Dan Job, Army Reserves pictured at Synthetic Fuels Plant in Beulah, ND. The employees of Basin Electric Power Cooperative point out that when they were called up to active duty the co-op kept their pay whole, continued other benefits, and even allowed them to receive an annual salary increase. (Pho
Kimberly Miller and Dan Job, Army Reserves pictured at Synthetic Fuels Plant in Beulah, ND. The employees of Basin Electric Power Cooperative point out that when they were called up to active duty the co-op kept their pay whole, continued other benefits, and even allowed them to receive an annual salary increase. (Photo by Stephen Collector)
Kimberly Miller and Dan Job, Army Reserves pictured at Synthetic Fuels Plant in Beulah, ND. The employees of Basin Electric Power Cooperative point out that when they were called up to active duty the co-op kept their pay whole, continued other benefits, and even allowed them to receive an annual salary increase. (Pho

At Pedernales Electric Cooperative in Texas, Engineering Supervisor Randy Buchanan, front, a lieutenant in the Navy Reserve, and Ted Hodgkiss, right, underground maintenance supervisor and a chief master sergeant in the Air Force Reserve, cite the co-op’s moral and financial support during their deployment overseas in as crucial to helping them focus on their military mission. “They’re like family members,” notes District Manager John Houser, left, Hodgkiss’s supervisor. (Photo by Ed Thompson)

Blair Cirulli, 25, did a tour of duty in Afghanistan as a sergeant in the Army before retiring and pursuing employment at Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative. (Photo courtesy Blair Cirulli)
Air Force Captain Jeremiah Sloan of Craighead Electric Cooperative in Jonesboro, Arkansas became the first official hire of NRECA's veterans hiring initiative, Serve Our Co-ops; Serve Our Country. (Photo courtesy Jeremiah Sloan)
Some of the World War II veterans on the Indy Honor Flight show posters with photos of how they looked in wartime. The trip was supported by Indiana-based Wabash Valley Power, Hendricks Power Cooperative and NineStar Connect. (Photo By: Sabrina Kapp)
World War II veteran Edward Ehalt jokes with a Navy cadet at Baltimore-Washington International airport. Ehalt took part in an Honor Flight sponsored by Kentucky's Touchstone Energy Cooperatives. (Photo by Tim Webb)

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