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year, and he was forced to replace that dream with another.


He transferred to Missouri Western State College, that reunited him with a girl he knew from high school who later became his wife, Renee. During this time he also came in contact with a pastor named A.L. Palmer, who he says had a great influence on his faith and started him on the path of study- ing leadership and making a differ- ence in the lives of others.


He found work back in his home- town of Trenton at Grundy Electric Cooperative and had some lineman experience before he began working in energy services doing energy audits and working with ground source heat pump installations. That led to work on distribution automation projects that really got his interest in technol- ogy off the ground. He eventually finished his degree in business man- agement at William Woods University while raising a family and managing his work responsibilities.


He worked his way up to operations manager at Grundy and on to CEO of the cooperative. During that time, he led a full scale deployment of a dis- tribution automation system that was recognized by PennWell Publishing at a DistribuTECH international confer- ence as the project of the year among electric, water and gas utilities.


Swank joined CREC in 2005 and brought Renee and their daughters, Brittany and Caroline, to Stillwater. He immediately picked up where he had left off at Grundy; working to improve efficiencies, increasing auto- mation and implementing leadership programs for employees. One of his favorite topics is leading change, be- cause as he sees it, change is coming, and you can either embrace it or get swallowed by it.


“Many have said there are more changes coming in the next 10 years


Swank discusses with members the possibility of the consolidation during an aware meeting. Five meetings were held within the CVEC and CREC service areas last fall allowing members to choose a meeting to attend.


Winter 2015 5


than we’ve seen in the last 75 years,” Swank said. “Change is different, and different sometimes feels wrong. I respect that. Our job is to take all this change that is being driven at us and confront it.”


That philosophy led to the discussion between Swank and his longtime colleague George Hand about the possible consolidation between CVEC and CREC. Hand was a longtime advocate of the cooperative model on a state and national level, and is well known for his straightforward approach to stressing the importance of stability and reliability of service to cooperative members.


“George is as practical and a com- mon-sense type guy as you will ever find,” Swank said. “He’s been a leader and a champion for co-ops at the national level. The fact our member- ship bases are so similar, and we’re geographically connected, it all started to make more sense the longer we discussed it.”


In order for consolidation to become a reality, the idea first had to be approved


by the boards of both cooperatives, and neither Swank nor Hand were exactly sure if the idea would be supported.


“We took the idea to the boards and found they embraced it too,” Swank said. “We have a strong group of servant leaders who can look at the long-term picture. That makes us very fortunate. They have a tremendous desire to lead, and they evaluated the economies of scale the consolidation could give us, and have voted to move forward with the plan.”


Managing two cooperatives who hope to become one is definitely a challenge, but he was taught early that challenges are nothing to shy away from.


“Everything is a challenge,” Swank says. “Our biggest challenge is to stay relevant to our membership. New gen- erations don’t think about their coop- erative the same way their parents and grandparents did. We have to adapt to address that. But our roots are still rural, and our reputation and integrity are still the most valuable things we have. Those never go out of style.”


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