Whetstone Valley Electric family recognized in national #whopowersyou contest

A family is founded in love, not blood. A community is built by connections, not boundaries. Rachel and Blake Schmieg have opened their hearts to foster children and grown their family through adoption. They power through ups and downs and strengthen their community with care they feel called to share.

What comes naturally to the Schmiegs has earned them recognition nationally. The family, members of Whetstone Valley Electric Cooperative of Milbank, South Dakota, placed third in Touchstone Energy’s annual #WhoPowersYou contest. Whetstone Valley Electric is a Class C member of Basin Electric through East River Electric Power Cooperative, Madison, South Dakota.

Schmieg family
The Schmieg family: (back row, from left): Caden, Tanen, Rachel, Sadie; (middle): Jensen, Eva, Blake; (front, seated): Kaliyah, Suryianna.

Now in its fifth year, the national contest elevates co-op members who embody the cooperative principle of commitment to community. Nominations are taken in September, and winners are selected by a panel of judges and announced in November. In celebration of their impact, winners are awarded cash prizes.

The family, who lives north of Milbank, was nominated by Blake’s mother, Marcia. Rachel Schmieg says when her mother-in-law asked if she could nominate the family, she told her to “go for it,” but didn’t think the nomination would go anywhere. “This is just what we do,” she says.

Her mother-in-law recognized that what they do, in fact, changes lives, and so did the contest judges. The Schmiegs have fostered 12 children since 2016. They have three biological sons and four adopted daughters, some of who came to them as foster children. They range in age from 3 to 21.

Their oldest daughter, who is now in her third year of nursing school, joined their family as a legal adult. Knowing the family’s work as fosters, the local police department connected them with a young woman, 18 but still in high school, who needed support and stability. The Schmiegs soon knew she was meant to be a member of their family forever.

As they made their adoption journey with her, they discovered a segment of the state’s laws would prevent the adoption from happening. Rather than take “no” for an answer, they worked with the state legislature to draft a bill that changed the law, paving the way for them and others to build lifelong bonds with the young adults who need them.

“We have had a lot of support. We’ve been very blessed. We quickly realized that when we start giving back to those who are having a hard time, God’s blessings multiply,” Rachel says. “This is what we felt God was calling us to do. We are more fortunate than others, and if we have the ability to share that with others, that’s what God wants us to do with our life.”

Their care extends into their community connections. They own Precision Machining and Fabrication in Big Stone City, South Dakota, which engineers, designs, and produces specialty parts for local manufacturing businesses. Blake is also a partner in a gun business and a property management company. He volunteers on Big Stone City’s fire department and serves as secretary on its board. Before fostering, Rachel provided child care to more than 50 families over 12 years. She leads a women’s group at their local church, where she and Blake both have been active as teachers, mentors, and committee members. And in between it all, they found time to pick up and deliver school meals to families when the schools shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March.

As Marcia wrote in the nomination: “Blake and Rachel never have a dull moment in their busy home, church, school, work, and community lives, and we are immensely proud of them. We highly think they deserve to be recognized because of their community love
and care.”

The community love comes back to them, as well. “Not everyone can foster children. It’s great to see how they support other people who can [foster]. Their way to help might be dropping off a meal or watching the kids,” Rachel says. “The ups and downs of being a parent are multiplied by complications of foster care. Having that interaction and consistency helps, having the ones who still show up, even after the bad days. Support from others helps us hold it together.”