Rural Missouri - June 2020 - 49
by Heather Berry | email@example.com
from Westphalia who hadn't survived.
"This trip gave me a conﬁdence that I didn't know I
had," says the 49-year-old. "By writing the essay and winyle Kruse will never forget the day he stepped on
ning, I was pushed out of my comfort zone."
the Braniff ﬂight in 1987. At 17 years old, it was his
Kyle and Dena eventually married, starting their family
ﬁrst ﬂight and he was headed to Washington, D.C.
and careers. Before long, nearly two decades had passed
"I was just a country boy from Russellville," says
and their daughter, Hannah, was a junior in high school.
Kyle. "It was a trip that would hold many ﬁrsts for me."
"My teacher, Mrs. Schwab, gave us a mandatory assignSince 1964, Missouri's electric cooperatives have sent
ment in English class about rural electricity in America,"
high school juniors to the U.S. capital as part of the Nashe says. "I remembered Dad and Mom talking about a trip
tional Rural Electric Cooperative Association's Youth Tour
to D.C. they both went on in high school, but I didn't know
to Washington, D.C. Students are selected by their electric
much more. I just ﬁgured it was something cool the co-ops
cooperatives through a local application process. Today,
did for kids back in the '80s," says Hannah, who is now a
that means more than 100 high school students are sponveterinary student at Mississippi State University.
sored by Missouri's electric cooperatives each June for
"Dad was our high school superintendent at the time
what is often called "the trip of a lifetime."
and when I mentioned the essay and he said, 'You just
Sadly, this year's Youth Tour trip was hosted as a virneed to write it and enter.' So I did," says the 22-year-old.
tual event due to health concerns surrounding COVID-19.
Hannah says her parents helped her learn how to presThe journey offers students a chance to learn more
ent the essay to Three Rivers Electric's panel of judges.
about the political process and engage their elected of"My parents said, 'Don't just read it, try to connect with
ﬁcials while learning more about our nation's history along
your audience. They want to get to know you, not just hear
with hundreds of Youth Tour delegates from other states.
you read an essay,' " she recalls. "It was good advice."
During Kyle's junior year of high school, it was his
"One of my favorite things was seeing the monuments
English teacher, Mrs. Engelbrecht, who assigned the Youth
at night," Hannah says. "The World War II monument was
Tour essay to her class. The students were to write about
amazing at sunset." Like her dad, she says the Potomac
how electric cooperatives made life better for their commuRiver cruise was another favorite. She recalls learning the
nities. They also were given history about electric cooperatwo-step from the Texas delegates during the boat ride.
tives to prepare for the writing project.
"I don't know if I'd had the conﬁdence to leave home and
Once the essays were graded, it was up to the students
attend college in another state if I hadn't gone on Youth
to decide whether or not they wanted to enter
Tour," Hannah reﬂects.
their work into the essay contest. If the
cooperative ended up choosing their essay, it
years later, Hannah's brother, Brady, entered
meant an all-expenses-paid weeklong trip to
his junior year in New Haven. Low and behold, his
the nation's capital for the winner.
English teacher gave the assignment to write an essay
"To me, it seemed like an easy assignment
about rural electric cooperatives.
with a possible big win at the end of the tun"Dad, Mom and Hannah had all entered and
nel," says Kyle, 50.
won. Dad and Mom both said to write this and
He submitted his essay to Three Rivers Elecenter," Brady says.
tric Cooperative and was selected as one of the
The essay got Brady to the ﬁnals where his prewinners. Before Kyle knew it, he was packing for the trip
sentation helped him win a spot on the 2016 trip.
to Washington, D.C. with dozens of other winners from
"I'd grown up where everyone knew everyone. I'd gone
from kindergarten to high school with the same friends,"
"The trip gave me the chance to meet people outside
recalls the 20-year-old computer science major who also
my usual circle here at home," says Kyle, who is now the
attends Mississippi State University. "This was the ﬁrst
superintendent of the St. Clair R-XIII School District. "It
time I'd be with a group of people I didn't know."
broadened my horizon and helped me realize that I could
Brady says the trip was "the best thing to ever happen
accomplish anything I set my mind to. That was one of the
to him." A highlight for him was the stop at Arlington Namost educational assignments I ever had in high school."
tional Cemetery and the changing of the guard.
Kyle's favorite trip highlights were meeting Sen. Jack
Like the rest of his family, Brady shares that self-conDanforth, an evening river cruise down the Potomac River,
ﬁdence was one of the best personal take-aways from the
and of course, the Smithsonian Institution.
opportunity he was given.
The next year, 1988, Kyle's girlfriend from Russellville,
"Teens, if your teacher gives you this assignment, just
Dena Parker, entered a Youth Tour essay and also won.
do it. And if the teacher doesn't, enter through your local
"Even as a 17-year-old I can remember thinking how
electric cooperative's contest. The rewards you take away
impressed I was with the trip chaperones and how they
will be so much better than a grade," touts Brady. "If you
kept everything so organized and on schedule," recalls
win, you're going to have an experience that could change
Dena, now a nurse practitioner at Mercy Hospital in Washthe trajectory of your life. But if you don't enter, you'll
ington, Missouri. "I'd never ﬂown either, and the longest I'd
never know what might have been."
been away from home was a week at church camp."
Dena says the Vietnam Memorial was a moving stop for
Check out www.amec.org/content/youth-programs for
her because an uncle had served during the conﬂict. Dena
more information about Missouri's Youth Tour program and
recalls locating the name on the wall of a family friend
to see a video highlighting last year's trip.
JUNE 2020 | RURALMISSOURI.COOP
5/7/20 11:46 AM
Rural Missouri - June 2020
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