Rural Montana Magazine - November 2013 - page 8

or many co-op mem-
bers, Erlend Laird is the
face of Southeast
Electric Cooperative. 2013
marks his 50th year as a
SECO director, and in those
years he has become a living
history book of the co-op.
For those five decades, he
has been a vocal advocate for
SECO in virtually every rural
electric setting; from the
small, crowded boardroom in
Ekalaka, to the halls of
Congress in Washington,
D.C. Not content with just
staying at home and attend-
ing a meeting once a month,
he immediately became very
engaged in being the best
director possible. He became
a Credentialed Cooperative
Director, a designation given
by the National Rural
Electric Cooperative
Association for those direc-
tors who complete a series of
courses designed to train and
educate board members in
the important areas of the
cooperative. For many years
he has served on the board of
Upper Missouri G&T
Cooperative, where he has
protected the interests of the
co-op at the generation and
transmission level. He has
represented Southeast
Electric in our statewide
organization, Montana
Electric Cooperatives’
Association, seeing that even
the small co-ops are taken
care of. His influence has
been felt across the state and
the nation in the 50 years he
has served the members of
Southeast Electric
He has guided Southeast
Electric through every imagi-
nable up and down and
through the “thin” times
when every penny counted.
Speaking of earlier years, he
once said, “We were watch-
ing our pennies back then.
We used to stop in Billings to
pick up supplies to save the
cost of freight. We would
often buy only one box of
bolts at a time.” Thankfully,
those times are past, and he
has helped direct the co-op to
be financially strong.
It is impossible to calculate
the hundreds of thousands of
miles he has driven or flown
attending important meetings,
nor the thousands of hours he
has spent preparing for and
attending the hundreds of
meetings he has felt are his
responsibility. He has certain-
ly worn out more than one
vehicle for the sake of the co-
op members. And though
vehicle mileage is sometimes
reimbursed, most of the
hours he spent have been
donated freely. Like most co-
op directors, he has never
received direct compensation
for his hours of service to
Fifty years of such dedicat-
ed involvement have given
him a reservoir of knowledge
of not only the rural electric
industry, but of the particular
nuances of SECO. Add to that
knowledge the wisdom that
comes from his common-
sense, practical, conservative
approach, and he has become
a voice that is recognized and
respected in all circles of the
rural electric industry. It is
safe to say that when he
speaks, people listen.
He knows he cannot serve
forever, and is he hoping
younger members will come
forward to serve. He gives a
bit of advice to the younger
trustees that will follow;
“Don’t just follow along,” he
says. “Use your own mind.
Travel and attend as many
meetings as you can to find
out what is really going on in
the industry. Question the
manager in charge.”
When asked if he had any
regrets, he said, “I regret we
did not build the four miles
of line into the oil fields
south of Baker. At the time,
everyone thought oil wells
don’t pay.”
We all know about
He will be greatly missed
when he does step down as a
SECO director. No one can
pretend to replace the knowl-
edge and experience that he
has spent virtually a lifetime
gathering. No one in this co-
op’s history even comes close.
He has experienced great
personal satisfaction in serv-
ing. It’s because he under-
stands the business and he
understands people. He has
said, “The best part about
being on the board of
Southeast Electric is meeting
new people and working with
good people.”
The cooperative world is
full of good people, and
Erlend Laird is one of the
By Jack Hamblin
Southeast Electric
. . .
Erlend Laird has
likely flown or
driven hundreds of
thousands of miles
while serving as a
director for
Southeast Electric
Cooperative for
the past 50 years.
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