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Real Kentucky

Something real happens in Kentucky each May and June.

In the weeks when the weather moves from moderate to muggy, thousands of Kentuckians come together in a series of gatherings that showcase a state with a strong sense of tradition and unique character.

Kentucky’s 24 electric co-ops are halfway through hosting their annual meetings—events that combine the business of consumer-owned utilities with the personalities of the communities they serve. (Actually, three co-ops hold their annual meetings in July, but that would have ruined my opening sentence.)

Electric co-op annual meetings offer an antidote to a world when culture and events seem beyond our control or understanding. These days telephone marketing calls come from anywhere in the world. When we call an “800” service number we want to ask, “Where are you?”

But co-op annual meetings are a gathering of neighbors. When news and advertising shoots out at us from all sorts of electronic sources, co-op annual meetings provide places where human beings see and talk to each other.

And as I travel the state to these meetings, their differences and similarities are equally striking. The traditional Kentucky quilt offers an apt analogy—a single fabric and purpose peppered with various colors and designs.

The appeal of the annual meetings results from a couple of the characteristics of electric co-ops. As user-owned businesses, their only purpose is to provide the best combination of price and service for their consumer-members. The other notable aspect is their local nature. Electric co-ops’ business is local—they operate in the community they serve, and have no reason to plan to be anyplace else.

So their annual meetings reflect the diversity you find in communities all across Kentucky. Some are small affairs focused mainly on the business session that publicly reports on the utility’s operations. Others include community celebrations with a county fair feel: food, information booths, live bands, and entertainment for the kids.

As I drive to the different towns and watch these collections of friends and families spending time with each other, I wonder whether these annual meetings are old-fashioned throwbacks to more neighborly times, or the latest in cutting-edge human relations. I always decide they are both.

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