Iowa's Electric Cooperatives shine the light on exemplary community service volunteers

The Touchstone Energy Cooperatives of Iowa sponsored a new contest to highlight their cooperative commitment to community. The Shine the Light contest launched in June 2021, and member-consumers and employees of Iowa’s locally owned electric cooperatives were invited to nominate volunteers who are working to improve quality of life in their communities.

“We were very pleased with the response we received this first year,” says Erin Campbell, director of communications for the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives. “This contest gave our co-op members a wonderful opportunity to show their appreciation for family, friends, and neighbors who are making a positive difference in their communities.”
Thirty-nine nominations were submitted from across the state, highlighting the work of many incredible Iowans.

Three finalists were selected and awarded with a $1,500 donation to their charity or community organization of choice.

The Shine the Light contest will return this summer. The Touchstone Energy Cooperatives of Iowa will again accept volunteer nominations during the month of June.

Susanne Askelsen

Enthusiastically supports teachers and students

woman standing in front of lockers
Susanne Askelsen was part of the new foundation’s steering committee and served as the first president for four years.

Suzanne Askelsen of Cambridge was nominated by Carol Gilbert, wife of recently retired Basin Electric Director Charlie Gilbert. Askelsen is their daughter. “I nominated Suzanne for this contest as a thank you to the person she is and how she lives her life,” Carol says. “It’s been wonderful to watch her grow into the young woman she is today. By her shining example, Suzanne lives out her personal belief daily in ‘doing what you can, with all you have, wherever you are.’” The Gilberts are members of Midland Power Cooperative, a Basin Electric Class C member.

Askelsen was recognized for her work with the Ballard Education Foundation, an education foundation that partners with the Ballard Community School District, alumni, businesses, and individuals to identify and meet the needs of Ballard students and teachers. She was part of the new foundation’s steering committee and served as the first president for four years, identifying event sponsors and taking the lead on fundraising. A mother of six, she makes it a priority to serve in her community. “My parents taught me to always lend a helping hand,” Askelsen says. “To me, life is about making a better place for everyone around you.”

Dr. George North

Establishes a recreational destination for the community

man sitting on bench
Dr. George North relaxes on a bench in Wilder Park, the park in which he has been committed to helping grow and develop since the early 1990s. It all started with getting his Boy Scouts involved by planting 250-300 trees. “Rarely when you plant trees do you get to see the result of that activity,” says North. “Trees don’t grow that fast. Fortunately, I’ve lived long enough to see the fruition of the vision.”

Dr. George North of Allison was nominated by Deb McWhirter, a member of Basin Electric Class C member Butler County Rural Electric Cooperative, for his work with Wilder Park, one of Iowa’s major outdoor classrooms. Driven by his ethos to serve others, North is a retired dentist with a long record of community involvement, including several years as a scout leader. He was instrumental in developing Wilder Park as it has grown to provide affordable outdoor recreational services in Butler County. The park features more than 100 different tree species and is home to an uncommon species arboretum.

North says it’s all about giving back to the community, something he has lived by his entire life. “I think you’re obligated to give back,” he says. “Part of life’s responsibility is to pay it forward, give back to your community, do what you can to facilitate the growth and ambiance. To me, that’s just part of living.”

Marlene Walthart

Shares her time and lifelong love of animals

woman with dogs
Marlene Walthart plays with a litter of puppies at the Emmet County Animal Shelter. The shelter has grown from a predominately cat rescue to also include a dog section. The shelter plans to use the $1,500 Shine the Light grant for an expansion to rescue more puppies.

Marlene Walthart of Estherville was nominated by Dawn Eveleth, a member of Basin Electric Class C member Iowa Lakes Electric Cooperative, for her work with the Emmet County Animal Shelter. Motivated by their love for animals, Walthart and her husband, Larry, have volunteered at the animal shelter for years and continue to serve the facility in various ways. The Waltharts also set up a not-for-profit can redemption center next door to raise money for the shelter.

As for how the shelter will use its $1,500 Shine the Light grant, Lisa Henning, founder of the shelter, says expansion is always needed to rescue, rehabilitate, and rehome abandoned animals. “The need for puppy rescue is overwhelming right now,” says Henning. “We’re going to put an outside run on the intake kennel. If we can run two groups of puppies at the same time, we can rescue more.”

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