April 2020

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April 2020


COUNTRY LINES HomeWorks Tri-County Electric Cooperative

Getting To Know Your Next CEO,

Chris O’Neill Celebrating Our Lineworkers

Maple Valley Odyssey Of The Mind Advances To State Tournament

People Fund Grants $22,050 To Local Causes











New CEO, Same Commitment To Serving You



Portland office/Mail payments to: 7973 E. Grand River Ave. Portland, MI 48875 Open 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Monday–Friday Blanchard office: 3681 Costabella Ave. Blanchard, MI 49310 Open 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Monday–Friday Night deposit box available at both locations. Electric bill/account questions: 517-647-7554 or 1-800-562-8232 Pay by phone, anytime: 1-877-999-3395 Service questions/outages: 517-647-7554 or 1-800-848-9333 (24 hours for emergency calls) Tri-County Propane: 1-877-574-2740 HomeWorks Connect 1-800-668-8413 homeworks.org Email: tricoenergy@homeworks.org

Board of Directors District 1 — John Lord Vice-Chairman 2276 Plains Rd., Leslie, MI 49251 517-974-2518 jlord@homeworks.org District 2 — Jim Stebbins 7139 Peddler Lake Rd., Clarksville, MI 48815 616-693-2449 jstebbins@homeworks.org District 3 — Luke Pohl Chairman 15560 W. Hanses Rd., Westphalia, MI 48894 989-292-0427 lpohl@homeworks.org District 4 — Kimber Hansen 6535 N. Wyman Rd., Edmore, MI 48829 989-506-5849 khansen@homeworks.org District 5 — Corinna Batora 7655 N. Watson Rd., Elsie, MI 48831 517-256-5233 cbatora@homeworks.org District 6 — Ed Oplinger Secretary-Treasurer 10890 W. Weidman Rd., Weidman, MI 48893 989-644-3079 eoplinger@homeworks.org District 7 — Shirley Sprague 15563 45th Ave., Barryton, MI 49305 989-382-7535 ssprague@homeworks.org Editor: C harly Markwart, CCC

Join us on Facebook. facebook.com/homeworks.org 4 APRIL 2020

Chris O’Neill, Incoming CEO


or those of you who don’t know me yet, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Chris O’Neill, and on May 1, I will have the great honor of taking over as your next CEO upon the retirement of Mark Kappler.

To say I’m excited to hit the ground running would be a vast understatement. I have worked at HomeWorks for 18 years, and for me, the way I feel about this Cooperative is right there in the name: It’s home. I started out in customer service and moved on to positions in a variety of other departments including safety, information technology and fiber internet, where I have helped to head up our HomeWorks Connect project for the past three years. In every position I have held at HomeWorks, my overarching goal has been the same: to serve you well. A lot of that comes from the lessons I have learned from Mark during his tenure as CEO. He has long emphasized “the things we do every day” to meet your needs, and I can promise you that I will work to maintain that member-first focus for you. The nice thing is that I know that won’t be difficult to do with the staff Mark has helped to foster and grow here at your Cooperative. I know that every single HomeWorks employee is just as dedicated as I am to providing you with the best service possible, and I can’t wait to help lead them in continuing to do so. HomeWorks has thrived for more than 80 years because it was founded by you, our members, to fulfill a real need in rural mid-Michigan. Eight decades later, we’re still in this together, governed by the same principles that guided the Cooperative back then. I believe firmly in those Cooperative principles, and I can’t tell you how proud I am to be a part of an organization that is so unwaveringly committed to carrying them out. I know I’ll have big shoes to fill when Mark steps away from the helm on May 1, but I also know he has helped to put our Cooperative in an excellent position for sustained future success. I am grateful to our board of directors for entrusting me with the task of making sure we continue to achieve our mission of providing you with reliable energy, comfort and communication solutions to enhance your quality of life.

Our Response To COVID-19 The safety and well-being of our members and employees is our top priority at HomeWorks Tri-County Electric Cooperative. As part of that commitment, we want you to know that we have taken several safety measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For us, matters like this essentially come down to three key factors: • Employee Safety • Member Safety • Reliable Service While this is an incredibly fluid situation, please know that with each new development that comes in, we are taking every step possible to ensure that our employees and members stay safe and that we continue to provide you with the reliable electric, propane and fiber internet service you have come to expect from HomeWorks. We’re in this together!

At the time of this printing, our lobbies are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and our drive-thru stations remain open. Please check our website or call for the current status. To learn about the current measures we are taking in response to COVID-19, visit HomeWorks.org.

You’ve Got


In High Places.

Our lineworkers helped provide you with power that was 99.95% reliable in 2019.

April 13, 2020 is National Lineworker Appreciation Day.

#ThankALineworker Speaking of lineworkers... Congratulations are in order for two of our own! Blanchard electric supervisor and longtime lineman Bob Verhaar (shown below speaking to a member at a 2019 district meeting) retired from HomeWorks on March 27, after 40 years with the Co-op. And in February, Blanchard lineman Justin “Zeke” Chambers (shown below, middle) was recognized by the board of directors for completing the hours needed to officially earn his journeyman lineman certification.

Congratulations, Bob Verhaar!

Congratulations, Zeke Chambers!

Find Comfort And Savings With ENERGY STAR® A

pril showers may bring flowers, but they can also bring unwanted mold, mildew and odors into your home. So, what can you do?

Purchase a new ENERGY STAR® dehumidifier. A certified dehumidifier will help control excess moisture in your home, lower your utility costs, and make your home more energy-efficient and comfortable to live in.

Less Energy Use = Lower Utility Bills An ENERGY STAR® dehumidifier uses nearly 15% less energy than a similarly sized conventional unit. In fact, the annual energy saved by one of these models could power your ENERGY STAR® certified refrigerator for nearly two months!

Size Matters

Condition Without Dehumidification

Slightly to Moderately Damp:

Space feels damp and has musty odor that may be intermittent. 50–75% relative humidity.

Recommended Capacity Range, Pints Per Day Small– Medium Room (2,000 sq. ft.)

Large Room (Over 2,000 sq. ft.)







Very Damp: Space

consistently feels and smells damp. Damp spots appear on walls and floors. 75-90% relative humidity.

Wet: Walls or floor

sweat, or seepage is present. High-load conditions such as laundry drying may be present. 90–100% relative humidity.

A dehumidifier’s “size” or capacity is usually measured in pints per 24 hours. The capacity you need depends on two factors: the size of the space that needs to be dehumidified and the conditions of the space without dehumidification.

So, stop and smell the flowers and relax knowing your ENERGY STAR® appliance is working for you.

Use the chart to estimate the minimum capacity for your portable dehumidifier.

Visit michigan-energy.org or call 877.296.4319 for additional energy-saving information and incentives.



Fight the damaging effects of excess moisture in your home with an ENERGY STAR® dehumidifier. • 15% more energy efficient than similar sized non-certified models • Reduce excess moisture and mildew smells • $15 rebate for ENERGY STAR dehumidifiers

APPLY ONLINE michigan-energy.org P H O N E : 877.296.4319 ONLINE:

Energy Optimization programs and incentives are applicable to Michigan electric service locations only. Other restrictions may apply. For a complete list of participating utilities, visit michigan-energy.org.





Snap Shot Enter to win a


energy bill credit!


Bridges Of Michigan

Upcoming Snap Shot Contest Topics And Deadlines

1. Ginny Velting of Lowell (receiving service in Barryton) submitted this photo of the Fallasburg Covered Bridge in Lowell.

Go to HomeWorks.org and select Country Lines under the Electric tab to submit your photos and see all of the 2020 Snap Shot themes. It’s fast and easy. To send by mail: include your name, address, phone number, photographer’s name, and details about your photo. Mail to Attn: Country Lines Snap Shots, 7973 E. Grand River Ave., Portland, MI 48875. Photos will not be returned. Do not send color laser prints or professional studio photos.

3. Heather Balcom of Shepherd says, “This is our spectacular Mackinac Bridge seen from a viewing platform within Straits State Park in St. Ignace.”

“Nightscapes,” Deadline: April 15 (June issue) “Festivals & Fairs,” Deadline: May 15 (July/August issue) “Michigan’s Natural Beauty,” Deadline: July 15 (September issue)

Submit Your Photos!

Contributors whose photos we publish in Country Lines in 2020 will receive a $10 bill credit the month after publication.

2. P enny Palmer of Vestaburg says, “My husband and I visited this 120-foot bridge in 2009. It spanned the Flat River, north of Lowell, and was the oldest covered bridge still in use in Michigan. Unfortunately, it was destroyed by a fire in 2013.”

4. Gary Ireland of Leslie says, “I took this picture of the sun setting under the Mackinac Bridge in Mackinaw City Lighthouse Park.” 5. Glenda Adams of Evart submitted this photo of a bridge over the Thunder Bay River in Hillman.



Photos courtesy of Carmelle Schantz

CREATIVE KIDS Maple Valley Odyssey Of The Mind Teams Qualify For State Tournament Two Odyssey of the Mind teams representing Maple Valley Schools in Nashville and Vermontville qualified for the Michigan state tournament this year after finishing in the top two in their divisions at the Region 4 competition in February. Odyssey of the Mind is an international creative problemsolving competition open to students in kindergarten through college. Each team is given a problem and challenged to work together throughout the season to come up with a creative solution that shows their skills in areas including math, science, engineering, and the arts. At competition, the teams present their solutions in a live performance crafted by the students. On the day of the event, teams are also posed with a separate spontaneous problem to solve on the spot. “Odyssey of the Mind teaches students how to work in a team and think creatively,” said Carmelle Schantz, who started the Maple Valley program in 2015 and now coordinates it alongside Darcey Turner. “I participated as a child and loved it, and I wanted to bring an 12 APRIL 2020

extracurricular activity to Maple Valley that was inclusive. All students are welcome to join and any one of them can excel in it.” This year, 35 Maple Valley elementary and middle school students participated on six teams at the regional tournament, where they competed with nearly 50 teams from across southwest Michigan. “Our students prepared for months for the regional, and we’re so proud of how they performed,” said Schantz. “All six of our teams medaled, and they were up against great competition. To have our two Division 1 teams [grades 3–5] advance is a great accomplishment by our kids, and they’re excited to keep competing.” Michigan’s state tournament, originally scheduled for March 14, has been tentatively rescheduled for April 18 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If the competition is able to be held, top-finishing teams there will move on to the world finals, which are scheduled to take place this year at Iowa State University in May.

Performing !

g! n i t bra e l e C

Your Board In Action Meeting at Portland on Feb. 24, your board of directors: • Approved allocation of 2019 margins to members based on their patronage, including $1,320,679 for HomeWorks TriCounty Electric and $1,529,799 for Wolverine Power Cooperative. • Authorized Co-op management to refrain from making a general capital credit retirement at this time, and to reassess late in 2020, once a revised long-term financial forecast has been completed.

• Authorized management to retire the balance of $162,217 in unclaimed capital credits from 2014 to donated capital.

• Reviewed the 2020 district meetings and election process, noting that Districts 2 and 4 will hold director elections this year and that District 4 will be a contested election. • Learned about progress made by HomeWorks Connect in building a high-speed fiber-optic internet network.

• Discussed and accepted Board Policy 106 – Director Replacement, with minor wording changes.

• Learned there were 82 new members in January.

• Acknowledged the January safety report, listing employee training as well as minor employee and public incidents involving electric, propane, or fiber optic.

Time Set Aside for Members to Comment Before Cooperative Board Meetings The first 15 minutes of every board meeting are available for members who wish to address the board of directors on any subject. The next meetings are scheduled for 9 a.m. on Monday, April 27, and Monday, May 18. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our board meetings are temporarily being conducted remotely. Members who wish to have items considered on the board agenda should call 517-647-7554 in advance of the meeting.

People Fund Grants $22,050 To Local Families And Organizations Meeting March 4, the Tri-County Electric People Fund board made 11 grants totaling $22,050, including: • $2,500 to St. Mary’s St. Vincent de Paul, Charlotte, to assist with a utility and shelter program; • $2,523 to Vermontville Fire & EMS for training manikins and AED trainers; • $1,625 to the Mecosta County Sheriff’s Posse to purchase communication equipment; • $3,000 to Portland Backpacks for Bellies for weekend meals for children in need; • $1,500 to YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids, Ionia, to purchase thirdgrade swim safety equipment;

• $5,000 to Enrich of Ionia County to help cover the cost of a new roof; • $1,500 to the Fort Custer National Cemetery Honor Guard, Shelbyville, for member uniforms and equipment maintenance; • $890 to a Mecosta County family for assistance with property taxes; • $625 to an Isabella County family to replace a hot water tank; • $387 to a Montcalm County family for housing expenses; and • $2,500 to an Ionia County family to help cover the cost of a roof.

How to Apply for a Tri-County Electric People Fund Grant The Tri-County Electric People Fund provides grants to individuals and organizations in the Co-op’s service area for food, shelter, clothing, health, and other humane needs, or for programs or services that benefit a significant segment of a community. Write to 7973 E. Grand River Ave., Portland, MI 48875, for an application form and grant guidelines, or visit the People Fund tab at HomeWorks.org. Note: Applications must be received by May 19 for the May meeting or by June 30 for the July meeting.


Getting To Know Your Next CEO

With Chris O’Neill In January, your board of directors voted unanimously to promote HomeWorks Fiber Outside Plant Manager Chris O’Neill to CEO, effective May 1, upon the retirement of current CEO Mark Kappler. Chris has been with the Co-op full-time for 18 years, after first joining the team as a part-time co-op student. Throughout his tenure at HomeWorks, he has worked in customer service, dispatch and engineering, safety, information technology, and most recently, fiber internet, where he has helped to head up the HomeWorks Connect project for the past three years. Chris is a native of Portland and a graduate of Portland St. Patrick High School. He has a bachelor’s degree in business management from Davenport University, an associate’s degree in business administration from Lansing Community College, and professional certifications in fiber optic and occupational safety & loss control. He and his wife, Cali, reside in Portland with their three sons. We sat down with Chris recently to talk about his new role at the Co-op he’s called home for nearly two decades. Here’s what he had to say: You’ve been with HomeWorks your entire career. What does it mean to you to be named CEO of the Co-op you’ve been a part of for so long? Being named CEO of HomeWorks is an honor and a privilege to me. It is something I have been working 16 APRIL 2020

toward for 18 years. It represents a lot of hard work, but more importantly, it represents the type of service to others that this organization and I truly believe in. I am humbled by the board’s selection. What have you learned from Mark Kappler and your other mentors at HomeWorks that will help you in your leadership of the Cooperative? The big things I have learned from Mark are the importance of planning and preparation, the conducting of data analysis before, during and after business decisions, and the leveraging of technology for greater member service. Those are key lessons I will carry with me through my career. My customer service manager, Pat Essner, taught me about being member-focused and accountable to the members and my fellow employees. In my time in the safety department, Harley Jaques taught me the value of safety and reliability and how to connect with others to find win-wins. And in engineering and IT, Chris Jensen and Tom Manting helped me realize that with the proper commitment and focus, I could achieve anything I put my mind to. I’m grateful for all of the great mentors I continue to learn from here at HomeWorks.

Being named CEO of HomeWorks is an honor and a privilege to me. It is something I have been working toward for 18 years. It represents a lot of hard work, but more importantly, it represents the type of service to others that this organization and I truly believe in. I am humbled by the board’s selection. ~ Chris O’Neill, Incoming HomeWorks CEO

What excites you most about the future of HomeWorks? I am most excited about how our infrastructure upgrades and our use of technology across all of our businesses are making our services safer and more reliable, and will keep our members’ costs stable over time. I am also excited about just how many talented and committed employees we have on staff. These folks are innovating every day to create better services and a better place to work. What are the greatest challenges you see ahead?

and that is something as an employee that is really easy to be passionate about. To you, what is it that makes HomeWorks special? The secret sauce at HomeWorks is our culture. The passion, accountability and focus our employees have for serving the member and serving each other is second to none. Hallmarks of safety, quality and efficiency are front and center every day, and that creates the reliability and affordability that make our services so exceptional.

Politics are probably the greatest external challenge to the Co-op, and that’s why it is so important for HomeWorks and our members to stay engaged with our elected officials, so Co-op members aren’t left behind. Rural America’s future depends on that engagement.

What do you like to do in your free time?

What makes co-ops different from investorowned utilities?

As you come in as CEO of HomeWorks, what should our members know about you?

Co-ops are different because we are member-focused. Unlike investor-owned utilities, cooperatives aren’t focused on short-term financial statements and shareholder interests. Instead, we’re focused on long-term decisions and investments that have the member’s quality of life as the central mission. We serve those on the end of the line,

Our members should know that continuity in management and service is important to me, and that we will be looking to constantly improve our services. The members should be very proud of the organization they own. If they have questions or ideas on how we can improve, I can always be reached at 517-647-1284 or by email at coneill@homeworks.org.

I enjoy spending time with my young family, playing golf and music, and reading about archeology and foreign policy.

Thank You, Mark!

As we welcome Chris O’Neill in as our next CEO, we also want to recognize Mark Kappler for 24 dedicated years of service to the Co-op and 12 years leading HomeWorks as our general manager/ CEO. Mark has helped to grow and improve our electric and propane businesses exponentially during his tenure, and helped to initiate the launch of our exciting HomeWorks Connect fiber internet project, among many other achievements. Thank you for all you’ve done for our members, Mark! Your HomeWorks family wishes you the best in your retirement! MICHIGAN COUNTRY LINES 17

HomeWorks.org homeworks.org facebook.com/homeworks.org facebook.com/homeworks.org Report Outages: 1-800-848-9333



• District 1: May 11, St. Mary Parish Center, Charlotte • District 2 (ELECTION): May 12, St. Edward’s Family Center, Lake Odessa • District 3: May 20, Eagle Park Hall • District 4 (ELECTION): May 19, Montabella Jr.-Sr. High School cafeteria, Blanchard • District 5: May 18, Fulton Elementary gym, Middleton • District 6: May 13, Beal City High School gym • District 7: May 14, St. Michael Parish Center, Remus

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Please note that at the time of this printing, our 2020 district meetings are planned to go on as scheduled. However, we are closely monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic and current recommendations from the CDC and state and local health authorities regarding public gatherings. As the meetings get closer, if needed, we will adapt our plan in accordance with the most up-to-date public health recommendations. We will inform all members of any change or cancellation prior to the meetings.

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