Rural Missouri - November 2019 - 16

RM

| COMMUNITY

Pathfinders

Platte-Clay's ambassadors have been serving their co-op since 1963
by Jim McCarty | jmccarty@ruralmissouri.coop

I

n the Army, a Pathfinder is the advance guard
dropped into a battle zone to prepare the way
for those who will follow. Capt. Will Akin, himself a former Army Pathfinder and currently the
Emergency Management director for Clay County,
explained that to an energetic group of ladies known
as the Pathfinders at Platte-Clay Electric Cooperative when he spoke at their most recent meeting.
Since 1963 Platte-Clay's Pathfinders have been
assisting their electric cooperative in a voluntary
role not unlike their airborne counterparts. Formed
by the cooperative's first manager, Howard Alexander, the group studies the issues that affect their
electric cooperative and does everything possible to
help the cooperative succeed in its role of supplying
safe, affordable and reliable electricity.
"The Pathfinders have been great ambassadors
of Platte-Clay," says the Kearney-based cooperative's CEO David Deihl. "They are from different
communities and part of different clubs and they
can take our message out and share it with a lot of
groups. They've helped us in many ways - talking
about our renewable energy programs, changes in
the business, legislative issues. There's not a lot of
people who get that in-depth level of information."
The Pathfinders and similar groups at electric coops around the nation were formed in the 1960s
when electric cooperatives were struggling to meet
the needs of a growing membership that was beginning to rely on electricity for more and more tasks.
As the electric cooperatives began building their
own power plants and fighting against those with a
vested interest in seeing them fail, the cooperatives
turned to a valuable ally - their members.
Those early Pathfinders were a grassroots army
of highly informed members who wrote leaders,
made phone calls and marched on the state and
U.S. capitols on behalf of their electric cooperative.
Many could remember living without electricity and
how their electric cooperative brought them power
when others said it couldn't be done.
In the early days there were three separate Pathfinder groups based in Excelsior Springs, Plattsburg and Weston. They came together once a year at
a banquet. Sometime after 1987 the groups merged
into one large group that meets throughout the year.
An article in the May 1965 issue of the Rural

16

RURAL MISSOURI | NOVEMBER 2019

Electric Missourian tells about a Pathfinder meeting where John Davenport, head of the statewide
electric cooperative association, briefed the group
on the issue of cooperatives losing members to their
competition due to unfair laws.
Another story printed in 1964 covered a trip the
Pathfinders took to Cameron where they toured the
offices of N.W. Electric Power Cooperative, which at
the time generated the electricity they used. Their
goal was to understand what it took to provide
enough power to serve Platte-Clay and seven other
electric cooperatives in northwest Missouri.
Over time the mission of the Pathfinders has
changed says Platte-Clay's Linda Richardson, who
has coordinated the group's meetings for the past
20 years. "When they started, they went to a lot of
meetings and wrote a lot of letters," she says. "But
as the co-op changed so did the Pathfinders. It
evolved into a service group. I don't think we could
do half of the things we do without them. If we did,
we would have to bring in outside help."
One thing that has not changed is the constant
briefings on the status of their cooperative. At each
meeting, the manager gives an update on the coop's finances, regulations that could drive up the
price of electricity and new programs.
"About every committee we have has a Pathfinder

on it," says David. "We bounce new ideas off them.
We get their input on everything we do."
By learning the ins and outs of providing electricity to rural people in the shadow of Kansas City, the
Pathfinders can enlighten those who have misconceptions about their electric cooperative. "They have
to know you are a Pathfinder to ask," says Pathfinder Sarah McKinley. "But if they start talking about
electricity, I jump right in." One of her favorite roles
is judging the Youth Tour competition that sends
high school students to Washington, D.C.
Judy Cox, who can remember living without
electricity on the family farm near Braymer, says
her membership in the Pathfinders has helped her
understand what causes outages and how electricity is generated through trips to power plants and
the wind farms at King City. "They have improved
response to problems," she says. "They are really
well managed. They keep us informed. Also we help
with the programs Platte-Clay has like blood drives,
the holiday open house and the annual meeting."
"We are workers," adds Judith White, a Pathfinder since 1984. She says the most important thing
she's learned through the Pathfinders is the importance of trimming trees so that they don't interfere
with power lines. "I learned that's why others have
outages and we still have electricity," she says.
The group holds steady at around 50 members. Some have been members for more than 40
years, while two members achieved 50 years with
the group. The oldest Pathfinder, Gwendean Scott,
turned 100 in September and is still active.
The newest member, Cheryl Winkelbauer, joined
in September after learning about the Pathfinders at
the Platte-Clay annual meeting. "I met these ladies
and they sat down and explained what the Pathfinders did," she says. "I saw it as an opportunity to
get involved and do something for the community."
Her attitude is typical of the entire membership, who volunteer whenever there is a need. Their
efforts free up the cooperative's staff to focus on
their day-to-day responsibilities. "They will volunteer and work at anything," says Linda. "It doesn't
matter what age they are. I've been told I spoil them.
I do, because they are just good people."
Above: The current Pathfinders members meet at PlatteClay headquarters. Left: The group toured N.W. Electric
Power Cooperative and posed for this photo in 1965.



Rural Missouri - November 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - November 2019

Contents
Rural Missouri - November 2019 - Intro
Rural Missouri - November 2019 - Cover1
Rural Missouri - November 2019 - Cover2
Rural Missouri - November 2019 - Contents
Rural Missouri - November 2019 - 4
Rural Missouri - November 2019 - 5
Rural Missouri - November 2019 - 6
Rural Missouri - November 2019 - 7
Rural Missouri - November 2019 - 8
Rural Missouri - November 2019 - 9
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Rural Missouri - November 2019 - 38
Rural Missouri - November 2019 - Cover3
Rural Missouri - November 2019 - Cover4
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