Co-ops to recognize leaders

Farm Forum

A life of cooperative service deserves recognition and, at times, an induction. For their service in advancing their communities and this state’s cooperatives, three of South Dakota’s cooperative leaders are being honored in the South Dakota Cooperative Hall of Fame. Bill Bielmaier from West River Electric Association in Wall, Mark Hofer from Central Electric Cooperative in Mitchell and Ronald Sandine from TrioTel Communications in Salem will be recognized at the induction banquet at the Ramkota Hotel in Pierre on Sept. 13. For anyone wanting to attend the banquet, tickets can be obtained by calling the South Dakota Association of Cooperatives at 605-945-2548.

An induction into the Cooperative Hall of Fame is the highest honor bestowed upon men and women who have contributed to the cooperative industry in significant ways. In order to qualify, an inductee must show a commitment to the cooperative community; attain identifiable improvement to the cooperative industry; and demonstrate statesmanship, innovation, personal commitment, leadership and vision in the cooperative movement.

William “Bill” Bielmaier has served electrical cooperatives since 1983, when he was elected to West River Electric’s board of directors in Wall, S.D. One year after being elected to the board, Bill was voted in as treasurer where he served for six years before being voted in as secretary in September 1996, the same position he holds today. Throughout his years of service, Bill has offered leadership not only on the West River Electric board of directors, but also on the board of directors for the South Dakota Rural Electric Association in Pierre, S.D., for 28 years and other national committees representing electric cooperatives.

After 33 years of serving rural electric cooperatives, Bill will step down from the boards and committees he has supported and retire. However, his service in the utility world will be remembered. Bill has been a staunch supporter of innovation and technology in the industry and has witnessed changes such as automated meter reading systems, electronic line staking programs, iPads, new mapping systems and supervisory control systems. The members at the end of the line were Bill’s focus and concern. Their needs caused Bill to plan carefully and make decisions based on the member’s best interests.

Another inductee to the South Dakota Cooperative Hall of Fame is Mark Hofer of Spencer, S.D. Mark has served electric cooperatives since 1990 when he became a director for Intercounty Electric Association in Mitchell, S.D. This cooperative merged with Tri County Electric in 2000 during Mark’s service and became Central Electric Cooperative.

Mark was also elected to the South Dakota Value Added board of directors in 2007 and served as chairman from 2008-2010. Since 2009, Mark has also been representing Central Electric on the South Dakota Wind Energy board.

As a respected leader with a commitment to serve this state’s cooperatives, Mark was elected by the members of South Dakota’s electric cooperatives as the state’s representative on the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association board in 2006. In this position, Mark served on a variety of committees dedicated to perfecting cooperatives, assisted in reconstructing rural electric safety and developed a new safety program for cooperatives. NRECA’s Jeffrey Conner wrote, “Through [Mark’s] leadership, we are better able to identify areas where NRECA can contribute to the technical proficiency of electric cooperatives and anticipate challenges in a changing industry…Mark not only understands rural communities and what makes them special places to live and work, but he is also their champion.”

Ronald Sandine has supported South Dakota cooperatives since 1975, when he joined the board of directors of TrioTel Communications Inc. in Salem, S.D. During 41 years of service on this board, Ron has been dedicated to serving TrioTel members and the community of Salem. He served the last 19 years as the president of the board.

Ron has aided the cooperative industry faithfully and has seen many changes in policy and technology. He has served members through periods of industrial growth, natural disasters and policy capsizals. Under Ron’s progressive and innovative leadership platform, TrioTel achieved a major success in 2010 when the board was granted a $12.3 million federal broadband loan/grant under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This led to the implementation of a Fiber-To-The-Home (FTTH) infrastructure.

Bryan Roth, general manager and CEO of TrioTel Communications, wrote that Ron’s “persistence in providing co-op members with the latest and most technologically advanced services vaulted TrioTel as the first cooperative communications company in the state of South Dakota as 100 percent fiber strong.” This fiber optic network infrastructure proved to be the breakthrough opportunity for members needing high speed internet.