May/June 2024 Thumb

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Meet Your Director Candidates

Annual Meeting Information

Nicole Franzel: America’s Favorite Houseguest

How a small-town girl made reality TV history

May/June 2024 MICHIGAN Thumb Electric Cooperative

Conserving is believing.

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Geothermal is the only renewable that provides reliable operation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.


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Geofurnace Htg & Clg (231)943-1000


Alger Delta Electric: up to $2,000

Cherryland Electric: up to $2,500

Cloverland: up to $6,275

Great Lakes Energy: up to $5,000

Homeworks/Tri-County Electric: up to $4,750

Presque Isle Electric & Gas Co-op: up to $4,750

Thumb Electric: Up to $2,000

visit us at The Reliable Renewable is a trademark of WaterFurnace International, Inc 1. ENERGY START rated units qualify for 30% through 2030 and 26% through 2032 and 22% through 2033

Michigan’s Electric Cooperatives


EDITOR: Christine Dorr


RECIPE EDITOR: Christin Russman

COPY EDITOR: Yvette Pecha


Emily Haines Lloyd

PUBLISHER: Michigan Electric

Cooperative Association

Michigan Country Lines, USPS-591-710, is published monthly, except August and December, with periodicals postage paid at Lansing, Mich., and additional offices. It is the official publication of the Michigan Electric Cooperative Association, 201 Townsend St., Suite 900, Lansing, MI 48933.

Subscriptions are authorized for members of Alger Delta, Cherryland, Great Lakes, HomeWorks Tri-County, Midwest Energy & Communications, Ontonagon, Presque Isle, and Thumb electric cooperatives by their boards of directors.

Postmaster: Send all UAA to CFS.

Association Officers: Tom Sobeck, Presque Isle Electric & Gas Co-op, chairman; Gabe Schneider, Cherryland Electric Cooperative, vice chairman; Chris O’Neill, HomeWorks TriCounty Cooperative, secretary-treasurer; Craig Borr, president and CEO.


Michigan Country Lines 201 Townsend St., Suite 900 Lansing, MI 48933 248-534-7358

CHANGE OF ADDRESS: Please notify your electric cooperative. See page 4 for contact information.

The appearance of advertising does not constitute an endorsement of the products or services advertised.

Michigan Country Lines, Your Communications Partner

For more than 40 years, our co-op members have received Michigan Country Lines because it is the most effective and economical way to share information. Michigan Country Lines keeps members up-to-date about everything going on within their electric co-op. Issues contain news about co-op services, director elections, member meetings, and management decisions that members need to know about as owners of the co-op. The magazine also includes legal notices that would otherwise have to be placed in local media at a substantial cost. Sending Michigan Country Lines helps the co-op fulfill one of its essential principles—to educate and communicate openly with its members. The board of directors authorizes the co-op to subscribe to Michigan Country Lines on behalf of each member at an average cost of $4.15 per year, paid as part of members’ electric bills. The current magazine cost is 52 cents per copy. Michigan Country Lines is published, at cost, by the Michigan Electric Cooperative Association in Lansing. As always, we welcome your comments at

6 10 14



Follow Michigan influencer

Cassondra Wanders as she takes us through the Air Zoo Aerospace & Science Experience in Portage, Michigan.


Quiches & Savory Tarts: Light and fluffy recipes perfect for brunch and beyond.


Northland Outfitters in Germfask, Michigan, is not just a place for nature lovers, but a home for a giant wooden troll—named Benny.


Worms of Misfortune: Reminisce with cooperative member Margaret Elwood about digging up worms during the Great Depression and the lesson she learned.

MI Co-op Community

To enter contests, submit reader content & more, visit

Recipe Contest

See details on page 10. Casseroles, due June 1. Win a $100 bill credit!

Guest Column

Share your fondest memories and stories. Win $200 for stories published. Visit to submit. Win $200 for stories published!

Mystery Photo

See details on page 18. Win a $100 bill credit!

Contents May 2024 Vol. 44, No. 5 /michigancountrylines /michigancountrylines




2231 Main Street

Ubly, MI 48475-0157

1-800-327-0166 or 989-658-8571




Randall Dhyse, Treasurer

District 1 • 989-658-6013

Craig Osentoski, Director District 2 • 989-658-6003

Erica Peruski, Director District 3 • 989-658-6004


Kim Nunn, Vice President District 1 • 989-658-6005

Mike Briolat, Secretary District 2 • 989-658-6006

Duane Kursinsky, Director District 3 • 989-658-6007


Louis Wenzlaff, Director District 1 • 989-658-6008

Jonathan Findlay, President District 2 • 989-658-6010

Matt Sommer, Director District 3 • 989-658-6012

Brad Essenmacher, General Manager

Marketing and Communications: Mitch Hirn, CCC,


Huron County

Bad Axe—Northstar Bank Pigeon—Northstar Bank

Tuscola County Akron—Northstar Bank Caro—Northstar Bank Mayville—Mayville State Bank Millington—Mayville State Bank

Thumb Electric Cooperative is an equal opportunity provider and employer.


Noah Scharf

Noah started at TEC as a broadband technician on November 1. He lives with his wife, Sara, and their two children Logan (4), and Jonah (2). Before coming to TEC, Noah worked as an installer for SpeedConnect for seven years. He started climbing cell towers five years ago. Noah started doing IT in middle school, before going to the Tuscola Technology Center for computers and also co-oping at USA schools. He said, “I like the challenge of going to a house and figuring out how to get the cable from point A to point B.” Outside of work, Noah enjoys hiking, backcountry camping (no electricity), regular camping, history, kayaking, and traveling (he hopes to see most of the national parks).

Morgan Smalley

Morgan started at TEC as a billing representative on February 26. She is the daughter of Dave and Kelly Smalley. Morgan has a bachelor’s degree in business management and administration from Saginaw Valley State University. Before starting at TEC, she worked for three years at United Title Agency as an escrow closer. Morgan was born and raised in Ubly. When she is not working, she enjoys traveling and spending time with friends and family.

Digging into an Outdoor Project? Before you dig, dial 811 or visit to protect underground utilities. Careless digging poses a threat to people, pipelines, and underground facilities. Contact 811 first and help keep our community safe. 4 MAY 2024

Holiday Office Closings

Memorial Day, Monday, May 27

Independence Day, Thursday, July 4

Line crews are available 24/7 for outage response. Please call 800-327-0166.


The Annual Meeting of the members of Thumb Electric Cooperative of Michigan will be held at the Thumb Octagon Barn, 6948 Richie Road, Gagetown, Michigan, at 10:00 a.m. on June 8, 2024, to take action on the following matters:

1. The reports on officers, directors, and committees.

2. The election of one director from Huron County—District 2, one director from Sanilac County—District 2, and one director from Tuscola County—District 2 to the board of directors of the cooperative.

3. All other business which may rightfully come before the meeting or any adjournment or adjournments thereof.

Dated: April 16, 2024



Please be advised that the following information is available to Thumb Electric Cooperative members:

1. Complete rate schedules;

2. Clear and concise explanation of all rates that the member may be eligible to receive;

3. Assistance from the cooperative in determining the most appropriate rate for a member when the member is eligible to receive service under more than one rate;

4. Clear and concise explanation of the member’s actual energy use for each billing period during the last 12 months.

The information can be obtained by contacting Thumb Electric Cooperative at 800-327-0166.


The fuel mix characteristics of Thumb Electric Cooperative as required by Public Act 141 of 2000 for the 12-month period ended 7/31/23.




Nuclear Waste 0 0.006

*Regional average information was obtained from the MPSC website and is for the 12-month period ended 7/31/23.

The fuel mix data presented by Thumb Electric is the data from CMS Energy, which supplies nearly all of Thumb Electric’s purchased power.

lbs/MWh Your co-op Regional average* Sulfur Dioxide 0.25 0.95 Carbon Dioxide 897 1,092 Oxides of Nitrogen 0.23 0.78 High-Level
of emission/waste
Fuel source Your co-op’s fuel mix Regional average fuel mix Coal 0% 26.446% Oil 0% 0.428% Gas 85% 35.916% Hydroelectric 0% 0.724% Nuclear 0% 26.167% Renewable Fuels 15% 10.319% Biofuel 0% 0.760% Biomass 15% 0.364% Solar 0% 1.170% Solid Waste Incineration 0% 0.006% Wind 0% 7.616% Wood 0% 0.403%



Nestled in the charming city of Portage, Michigan, the Air Zoo Aerospace & Science Experience (Air Zoo) is a world-class museum and science education center. A testament to the history of aviation and aerospace exploration, the Air Zoo invites visitors to discover the wonders of flight.

Igniting imaginations through engaging and immersive exhibits, from hot air balloons to vintage aircraft and cutting-edge spacecraft, the museum’s collection spans the entire spectrum of aviation history. Whether you’re a history buff, a science enthusiast, or simply looking for a fun and educational outing, the Air Zoo offers something for everyone.

The Legacy of the Air Zoo

The Air Zoo has evolved from a modest aircraft collection into a world-class aerospace museum. Suzanne and Pete Parish’s passion for preserving the legacy of aviation history has cemented the Air Zoo as a premier destination in the heart of southwest Michigan.

The Parishes were both accomplished pilots—Suzanne having served with the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) and Pete being a retired World War II Marine Air Corps Aviator. The two of them, who had amassed a collection of planes, were particularly enthusiastic about World War II aircraft. A friend of theirs offered to give them his Grumman Bearcat, a fighter aircraft from the war, if they agreed to open a museum. Soon

after, The Kalamazoo Aviation History Museum opened to the public in November 1979.

In addition to the Bearcat, the founding collection included a Wildcat, Hellcat, and Flying Tiger. With all the wild animal aircraft, it was quite fitting how the name Air Zoo quickly caught on.

Originally a nine-plane hangar exhibit, the Air Zoo now features over 100 rare aircraft and spacecraft. Visitors can marvel at iconic planes like an SR-71 Blackbird and an F-14 Tomcat. Boasting over 100,000 square feet of museum space, the Air Zoo spans across two facilities: the Flight Discovery Center and the Flight Innovation Center. The Discovery Center features real-time, flight-based activities, exhibitions, and

Wanders Adventure Series
6 MAY 2024

the Restoration Center, where a team of experts restores historical artifacts in public view. Current conservation efforts include two WWII aircraft recovered from the bottom of Lake Michigan.

In addition to its impressive aircraft collection, the Air Zoo has acquired more than 100,000 rare artifacts and archives. By meticulously restoring vintage aircraft and preserving these artifacts, the museum honors the achievements of pioneering aviators and offers invaluable insights into the evolution of aviation.

Hands-On Exhibits

The Air Zoo’s Innovation Center is where you’ll find immersive exhibits that offer hands-on experiences unlike any other. From science experimentation stations to full-motion flight simulations and open cockpits, exhibits are designed to spark curiosity and encourage imagination.

Through the “open cockpit” experience, you’ll get a feel for what it was like to fly famous historical aircraft. Climb behind the stick for a real “pilot’s eye” view from the seat of an aircraft.

Step into the world of virtual reality with the Air Zoo’s flight simulators. “Fly” in a safe, controlled environment and choose from realistic simulations of take-off, landing, and aerial maneuvers in various aircraft. Whether you’re battling against giant robots, embarking on a spacewalk mission, or engaging in an aerial dogfight over the Pacific Ocean, the Air Zoo’s virtual adventures offer a thrilling way to experience aviation and space exploration.

A variety of indoor amusement parkstyle rides are included with museum admission. Get a spectacular aerial view of the museum aboard the 26-foot Century of Flight Ferris Wheel. Fly through the sky on the Montgolfier Balloon Race ride, steer a Flying Circus Biplane, and feel the weightlessness of parachuting on the Paratrooper Jump.

At Toddler Tarmac, the Air Zoo’s indoor children’s play area, imaginations soar with various hands-on activities tailored to engage young visitors. Little aviators are sure to have a blast at this dynamic aerospace museum. The Air Zoo has something interactive for everyone to enjoy.

Plan Your Visit

The Air Zoo promises an unforgettable experience all year-round. Admission prices vary depending on age and membership status, with discounts available for seniors, military personnel, and groups. Museum galleries are wagon, stroller, and wheelchair friendly. Ample free and accessible parking is available for all visitors. Upon check-in, guests may request wheelchairs and wagons to use, free of charge.

Fuel up during your visit at Kitty Hawk Cafe, serving grab-n-go items, snacks, sandwiches, and other made-to-order options. Take home some extra cargo and stop by the Fly Buy Gift Shop for gifts and souvenirs. An online store is also available.

Scan the QR code to watch a video of Cassondra’s adventure to the Air Zoo.
/cassondrawanders /cassondra.wanders @cassondrawanders @cassondrawanders 7 MICHIGAN COUNTRY LINES
Cassondra Scott is a content creator, writer, and social media influencer at Cassondra Wanders——sharing small businesses and sights to see all over the state of Michigan.


Financial Statement Balance Sheets

Thumb Electric Cooperative: Dec. 31, 2023, & 2022



receivable, less allowance for credit losses of $652,133 and $635,805 in 2023 and 2022, respectively

ASSETS 2023 2022 Electric Plant In service—at cost $ 184,911,162 $ 155,208,017 Under construction 17,925,288 21,081,602 Total electric plant 202,836,450 176,289,619 Less accumulated depreciation 58,849,083 55,358,194 ELECTRIC PLANT—NET 143,987,367 120,931,425 Other Assets and Investments Nonutility property 75,281 79,838 Investments in associated organizations 2,884,238 2,866,682 Energy loans receivable 35,437 48,280 Special funds 1,376,680 1,372,624 TOTAL OTHER ASSETS AND INVESTMENTS 4,371,636 4,367,424 Current Assets Cash and temporary cash investments 1,202,788 889,139 Accounts
3,376,691 5,700,658 Materials and supplies 12,935,300 11,111,376 Prepaid expenses 420,626 325,051 Deferred tax asset - 0 1,591 Current assets from discontinued operations - 0 163 Other 24,913 16,881 TOTAL CURRENT ASSETS 17,960,318 18,044,859 TOTAL ASSETS $ 166,319,321 $ 143,343,708 EQUITIES AND LIABILITIES 2023 2022 Equities Memberships $ 192,790 $ 190,495 Patronage capital 29,645,399 27,081,198 Other equities 5,400,772 4,717,184 TOTAL EQUITIES 35,238,961 31,988,877 Long-Term Liabilities Long-term debt, net of current 98,382,355 85,358,907 Deferred revenue 500,000 500,000 Deferred tax liability 698,653 501,966 TOTAL LONG-TERM DEBT 99,581,008 86,360,873 Current Liabilities Current maturities of long-term debt 3,351,219 2,822,404 Note payable—line of credit 16,985,000 11,825,952 Accounts payable: Purchased power 998,698 1,051,799 Nonutility 1,749,694 3,678,460 Other 5,703,221 2,737,359 Accrued property taxes 864,818 817,696
2023 2022 Accrued payroll and vacation 872,709 797,309 Accrued expenses 190,491 188,968 Deferred revenue 72,290 14,919 Customer deposits 178,488 175,839 Current liabilities from discontinued operations -0 300 Other 213,479 591,425 TOTAL CURRENT LIABILITIES 31,180,107 24,702,430 Deferred Credits 319,245 291,528 TOTAL EQUITIES AND LIABILITIES $ 166,319,321 $ 143,343,708
2023 2022 Operating Revenues Electric sales $ 24,527,326 $ 23,844,902 Fiber sales 9,069,072 7,915,240 Other sales 1,933,113 1,085,533 35,529,511 32,845,675 Operating Expenses Cost of power 10,885,110 11,130,788 Generation 63,729 44,254 Cost of wireless sales 88,798 189,484 Transmission 141,449 128,440 Distribution—operations 1,279,947 1,012,516 Distribution—maintenance 2,822,259 2,991,119 Customer accounts 1,567,963 1,632,623 Customer service 252,545 261,961 Sales 17,069 8,970 Administrative and general 2,138,420 2,234,157 Depreciation and amortization 4,932,249 4,555,513 Taxes—property 1,237,680 1,064,594 Fiber 3,567,187 2,505,940 TOTAL OPERATING EXPENSES 28,994,405 27,760,359 Operating Margins Before Fixed Charges 6,535,106 5,085,316 Fixed Charges Interest on long-term debt 4,062,298 3,042,041 Other interest 420,186 207,167 TOTAL FIXED CHARGES 4,482,484 3,249,208 Operating Margins After Fixed Charges 2,052,622 1,836,108 Capital Credits 785,298 637,706 Net Operating Margins 2,837,920 2,473,814 Nonoperating Margins Interest income 648,725 636,416 Other 57,515 56,982 TOTAL NONOPERATING MARGINS 706,240 693,398 Net Margins From Continuing Operations Before Income Taxes 3,544,160 3,167,212 Loss from Discontinued Operations -0 (10,591) Income taxes of subsidiary 198,274 120,381 NET MARGINS $ 3,345,886 $ 3,036,240 8 MAY 2024

Flowers & Gardens

Enter for a chance to win a $50 energy bill credit!

Submit Your “Monuments, Statues & Memorials” Photos by May 20!

Submit your “Monuments, Statues & Memorials” photos by May 20 for the July/August issue! Submit your best photo and encourage your friends to vote! The photo receiving the most votes will be printed in an issue of Country Lines along with some of our other favorites.

Enter Your Photos And Win A Bill Credit!

To enter the contest, visit Enter your picture, cast your vote, and encourage others to vote for you as well. If your photo is printed in Country Lines during 2024, you will be entered into a drawing for a chance to win one of four $50 credits on your December 2024 bill.


1. Warryn Layne with her Grandpa Schell’s dahlia flowers from his garden. Damian Schell

2. Living life in full bloom. Bev Tietz

3. Monarch on lilacs. Robert Daniels

4. Untitled. Katie Yaroch

5. Lilies. Dale Childs

6. A ruby-throated hummingbird enjoying nature’s nectar. Jasinda Scoviac





Sharon Libich, Presque Isle Electric & Gas Co-op

6–8 ounces goat cheese, softened

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 garlic clove, minced

2–3 boxes (15-count each) precooked phyllo dough mini shells (Athens brand)

½ cup prepared pesto

¼ cup diced sun-dried tomatoes and/or red bell pepper, for topping

½ cup coarsely chopped almonds

In a medium microwavable bowl, combine the goat cheese, cream cheese, and minced garlic. Stir until combined. If needed, soften in the microwave to achieve spreading consistency. Set aside. Fill each mini shell with 1 heaping teaspoon of the cheese mixture (halfway), top with a dollop of pesto, a little sun-dried tomato/ red bell pepper, and a sprinkle of almonds. Serve the (cold) tartlets immediately, as phyllo cups will soften as they sit. Use any remaining cheese mixture (if any) as a dip with crackers or even as a sandwich spread.

Watch a video of this month’s winning recipe at type/videos/

MI CO-OP Recipes WINNING RECIPE! Recipe Contest Win a $100 energy bill credit! Casseroles, due June 1. Submit your favorite recipe for a chance to win a $100 bill credit and have your recipe featured in Country Lines with a photo and a video. Submit your recipe at , or send it via email (include your full name and co-op) to
Light and fluffy recipes perfect for brunch and beyond.
10 MAY 2024


Katie Schneider, Midwest Energy & Communications

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

8 large eggs, whisked

1 cup full-fat cottage cheese (full fat has less water)

1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese

½ cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

2 tablespoons cornstarch

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

½ teaspoon onion powder

½ teaspoon garlic powder

¼ teaspoon kosher salt, optional

¼ teaspoon hot sauce, optional

4 strips bacon (or turkey bacon), cooked and chopped

Preheat oven to 325 F. Grease a silicone muffin pan with olive oil. Create a water bath by filling a 9x13-inch pan halfway with warm water. Set the muffin pan in the pan of water. To a blender, add the eggs, cottage cheese, cheeses,

cornstarch, all seasonings, and hot sauce. Blend on high until smooth, about 30 seconds. Divide the bacon into the cups, then fill to the top with the egg mixture. Carefully place the prepared pans onto the middle rack of the oven. Bake for 30 minutes (or longer, depending on the size of your muffin tins) and cook until the eggs are just set. The egg bites will pull slightly away from the edges when they are done. Carefully remove pans from the oven; let set for 10 minutes before using a spoon to gently loosen and remove the bites from the pan. Serve immediately or make ahead of time for busy mornings. Once cooled, store them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. Enjoy cold or reheat in the microwave for 30 seconds. You can also try out different cheese, vegetable, and seasoning combinations.


Kerri Hanson, Great Lakes Energy

2 tablespoons salted butter

¹⁄ ³ cup finely diced onion

12 ounces white or baby bella mushrooms, trimmed and sliced

2 cups baby spinach

6 large eggs

1 cup half-and-half

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

12 ounces grated Swiss cheese

1 unbaked pie crust

Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large sauté pan, heat the butter over medium heat until melted. Add the onion and sauté until tender, about 5–6 minutes. Add the


Nancy Hascall, Cherryland Electric Cooperative

1 unbaked pie crust (or 1.5 cups cooked rice)

1¾ cups half-and-half

1 cup shredded cheese of choice

1 heaping tablespoon jalapeño cream cheese

• pinch of salt

• dash of cayenne pepper

¼ teaspoon paprika

3 eggs

1 small bell pepper, thinly sliced

1 small red onion, thinly sliced

• Additional topping options: mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh spinach, broccoli, salmon, etc.

Preheat oven to 325 F. Have ready an unbaked 8-inch deep pie crust (alternatively, press rice into pie tin to form a crust.) Heat the half-and-half just until it starts to boil. Reduce heat and add shredded cheese of choice. Add the jalapeño cream cheese. Stir until melted. Add salt, cayenne pepper, and paprika. Remove from heat and vigorously stir in the 3 eggs, one at a time. Pour into crust. Top the quiche with the thinly sliced bell peppers, red onions, and optional toppings, if using. Bake until firm, about 45 minutes.

mushrooms and sauté until the liquid has evaporated, about 5–6 minutes. Add the spinach and sauté until wilted, about 1–2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, half-and-half, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Stir in the onion/ mushroom/spinach mixture and add the Swiss cheese. Pour the mixture into the unbaked pie shell. Bake until the quiche is lightly golden and set in the center when the pan is gently wiggled, about 45-50 minutes. Cover the crust with foil if it is browning too quickly. Remove from oven and let stand 10 minutes (important)! Slice and serve.


Meet the Director Candidates


Craig Osentoski (incumbent)

Raised on a dairy farm in Sanilac County, Craig Osentoski is a pharmacist currently working in Bad Axe for Walmart Pharmacy. He has worked in both the Bad Axe and Caro locations full time for the past 31 years. Craig is married to Kelly Jo, and they have two children. He has been a TEC member since 1996. Craig has been involved in the community by serving on


Mike Briolat (incumbent)

Mike Briolat is a cash crop farmer working 1,700 acres with his brother, Steve, son, Justin, and his father, Leonard, in Sanilac County just south of Ubly. While farming part time, he worked at Tower Automotive for 30-plus years, giving it up to focus full time on the farm. Mike was born and raised in the Ubly area, where he is a member of Good Shepard Parish (St. Johns) and is a member of the Knights of Columbus. Mike

Jonathan Findlay (incumbent)

Jon Findlay farms with his father Michael and brother Kevin. Together they farm around 3,500 acres of certified organic ground, growing corn, soybeans, black beans, navy beans, small red beans, spelt, wheat, and rye. The family also has a processing facility that cleans, packages, and distributes much of its products. They are honored to work with 12 other individuals.

Jon has been a TEC member for over 13 years and was born and raised on a farm just north of Caro, where he attended Caro High School. After high school, he went to college and received a degree in aviation science and marketing before moving back to the family farm. Jon and his wife, Carrie, have been married for 18 years and have four children: Madison, 17; Logan, 15; Austin,

the board of directors for Ubly Heights Golf and Country Club, Huron Medical Center (Central Huron Enterprise Group), Ubly Fox Hunters Club, and the Huron County Community Foundation. He also volunteers as a hunter safety instructor for the Michigan DNR. Craig strives to assist TEC in achieving reliable electric services at affordable prices and focusing on customer service. He is also engaged in the continued development of the fiber internet network.

is a 19-year member of Thumb Electric Cooperative and lives in Greenleaf Township with his wife Diana. Mike appreciates the opportunity to serve as your director for the past nine years. He is a Credentialed Cooperative Director and if re-elected, he would work towards continuing to provide the reliable service and affordable rates that you have come to expect. He also looks forward to providing that same level of service to members with the fiber internet that is currently being deployed.

13; and Sierra, 10. They are members of St. Christopher Catholic Church in Caro. Jon was on the Tuscola County Farm Bureau board for eight years, where he served as president for two of those years. He was a member of the parish council at St. Christopher (at the time Sacred Heart), as well as helping coach the varsity swim team.

Jon is a nine-year Credentialed Cooperative Director and is honored to serve on the TEC board. “During the last several years, we have made many decisions that impact our members. Perhaps the greatest was to bring fiber internet to the Thumb. This technological advancement will help bridge rural America with our friends in the city. The pandemic showed how great our need is to bridge this gap, and I am very excited to be a part of this transition!” he said.

12 MAY 2024
received no other petition requests for the 2024 Board of Director seats. If you would like to run as a candidate in the 2025 election, watch for upcoming notifications in Country Lines magazine or call our office for details on how to do so.

Thumb Electric Cooperative of Michigan 85th Annual Meeting

The 85th Annual Meeting of Thumb Electric of Michigan was held at the Thumb Octagon Barn in Gagetown, Tuscola County, Michigan at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, June 10, 2023, pursuant to call and notice thereof given to each member of the Cooperative and pursuant to the laws of the State of Michigan.

The meeting was called to order by Jonathan Findlay, President of the Cooperative, who presided. Kyle O’Mara, Attorney for the Cooperative, acted as recording secretary of the meeting and kept the minutes thereof.

President Findlay introduced the members of the Cooperative’s Board of Directors and Board Officers as follows: Jonathan Findlay, President, Tuscola County; Kim Nunn, Vice President, Sanilac County; Randall Dhyse, Treasurer, Huron County; Michael Briolat, Secretary, Sanilac County; Matt Sommer, Tuscola County; Erica Peruski, Huron County; Duane Kursinsky, Sanilac County; Louis Wenzlaff, Tuscola County; Craig Osentoski, Huron County.

Also introduced was General Manager Brad Essenmacher and Kyle O’Mara, Attorney for the Cooperative.

The reading of the Notice of the Meeting and Affidavit of Mailing thereof to all the Cooperative members within the time prescribed by the Cooperative Bylaws was dispensed with; it having been published in Country Lines. A copy of the Notice and Affidavit is attached to these minutes and incorporated herein.

The President reported that the members of the Cooperative present in person had been checked by the registration of names of the members and the names of the members who had submitted mail-in or electronic ballots had been duly recorded. He declared that based upon said records, a quorum of the members was present in accordance with the Bylaws of the Cooperative.

The President also reported that members of the Cooperative were present at the meeting in person, by mail-in ballot, and by electronic ballot, all of said members being named and described as to their county of residence and as to their method of attendance. The report of ballots submitted in advance of the meeting were ordered filed in the records of the Cooperative.

The minutes of the 84th Annual Meeting of the Members were not read since a copy of same had been mailed to each of the members. There being no additions or corrections to those minutes, upon motion duly made, seconded and carried, said minutes were approved as drafted.

The Treasurer’s Report to the 85th Annual Meeting was not read since a copy of same

had been mailed to each of the members. There being no amendments thereto or questions upon the matters contained therein, upon motion duly made, seconded and carried, the report was approved as presented.

President Findlay then introduced the Cooperative’s General Manager, Brad Essenmacher. Manager Essenmacher thanked the Cooperative employees for all their labors and efforts over the past year. He then reported on the Cooperative’s financial status, rates, member services, marketing activities, tree trimming, energy shortages, and TEC’s ongoing rollout of broadband internet service. In closing, Manager Essenmacher thanked the members for their interest in their Cooperative and for their support.

After questions and answers of the General Manager’s Report, the meeting was returned to President Findlay, and upon motion duly made, seconded and carried, the General Manager’s Report was approved as presented.

President Findlay then gave the President’s Report explaining growth of the Cooperative’s equity while maintaining competitive rates, tree trimming, and TEC’s ongoing rollout of broadband internet service. He also acknowledged Mr. Dallas Braun, who retired as the Cooperative’s General Manager in December after 32 years of employment with TEC. Upon motion duly made, seconded and carried, the President’s Report was approved as presented.

The next order of business was the election of three Directors, one each from Huron County – District 3, Sanilac County – District 3, and Tuscola County – District 3. The director positions are for three-year terms each. The ballot also included the approval of an amendment to Article III, Section 3 of the TEC Bylaws. The amendment had previously been unanimously approved by the Board of Directors but, pursuant to the Bylaws, required ratification by the members. The text of the proposed amendments had previously been provided to the members in Country Lines.

The following attendees were appointed as Inspectors of the Election, all of whom were sworn to the faithful performance of their duties by the Cooperative’s Attorney, Kyle T. O’Mara, who is also a notary public:

• Richard Sadro

• Clint Seidl

• Elwin Koth

• Dan Hergenreder

The Nominating Committee Report was published in Country Lines. The Committee nominated the following for Directorships:

• Huron County – District 3: Erica Peruski (Incumbent)

• Sanilac County – District 3: Duane Kursinksy (Incumbent)

• Tuscola County – District 3: Matt Sommer (Incumbent)

Kyle O’Mara entertained further nominations from the floor for each Directorship in each county. There being no such nominations from the floor, upon motion duly made, seconded and carried, the nominations were closed. Each candidate was then introduced and invited to address the members for up to five minutes.

Kyle O’Mara then requested the members to vote upon their ballots for the respective Directorships. The Inspectors of the Election were requested to collect and tabulate the ballots.

Kyle O’Mara turned the meeting back over to President Findlay. The President then asked if there was any old business to address. There being none, he asked for new business. There being none, he announced several legislative guest speakers. Each legislator and/or their representative was invited to address the members for up to five minutes.

Following the presentations of the legislators, Kyle O’Mara announced the results of the tabulation of votes, including in-person, mail-in, and electronic ballots, which were as follows:

• Huron County – District 3: Erica Peruski (Incumbent) – 366 votes

• Sanilac County – District 3: Duane Kursinsky (Incumbent) – 363 votes

• Tuscola County – District 3: Matt Sommer (Incumbent) – 379 votes

The elected Directors were declared to be Erica Peruski from Huron County – District 3, Duane Kursinsky from Sanilac County –District 3, and Matt Sommer from Tuscola County – District 3.

Kyle O’Mara also announced the results of the tabulation of votes regarding the abovereference Bylaw amendment, which were as follows:

• Yes: 378 votes

• No: 56 votes

The Bylaw Amendment was declared adopted.

There being no other business before the Board, on motion made and unanimously carried, the Annual Meeting was adjourned at noon. The members were released to enjoy lunch and the provided entertainment.





In the heart of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, nestled along the Manistique River, lies Northland Outfi tters, a campground and canoe/ kayak livery that has become more than a destination; it’s a canvas for dreams. Owned by Durea and Levi Brady, a couple who embarked on an extraordinary journey from Denver to the UP, Northland Outfi tters is now not just a place for nature lovers, but a home for a giant wooden troll— named Benny.


The story begins with Durea and Levi, who had a dream of owning a campground. In 2022, after two years of exploration, they stumbled upon Northland Outfitters, an enchanting spot that felt less like a campground

and more like a natural haven. The Bradys envisioned a place where families could connect with nature, and they found it in the woods of Germfask, Michigan.

“We spent two years looking for the right camping grounds,” said Durea. “We’d begun to wonder if we’d ever locate ‘the one,’ but then we visited Germfask and we knew we’d found home.”


The Bradys had been considering additional revenue streams—and then the dream of a literal revenue stream appeared. The couple wanted something memorable and distinctive that would draw individuals to their campground and

the community they had fallen in love with. Enter Benny.

“We’d seen a natural art installation by a recycled material sculpture artist from Copenhagen, Denmark, Thomas Dambo, in Breckenridge, Colorado. It was so impactful and inspiring. We started dreaming up something like this at the campground,” said Durea. “We knew if we were going to try something like this, it needed to be a part of the natural habitat, not something artificial or out of place.”

The Bradys reached out to Dambo, who was serendipitously in the States on a tour, and agreed to meet with the couple to talk about their idea. After visions were shared, the image of Benny the Beard Fisher, resting along the riverbank, started to come to life.

14 MAY 2024


The Bradys turned to their community for support, receiving generous donations of wood from lifelong UP residents and local businesses. The result was Benny, the 14-foot-high and 30-foot-wide towering figure whose tangled wooden beard runs down the riverbank, hoping to catch something—if not a fi sh, then some admiring looks. People traveling the river on various water vessels can catch a glorious view of Benny as they round the bend. He’s also available to visit via the campground. Benny is a welcoming figure on this perfect bit of home that the Bradys have carved out for themselves.

“We absolutely think of the campground as a home,” said Durea.

Danish recycle artist Thomas Dambo breathes life into discarded wood and landfill scraps, crafting colossal sculptures of trolls. These mystical creations are scattered across 17 countries. For more information, please visit

“Maybe not a conventional one, but we have the opportunity to welcome new people into our family every few days. It’s the best feeling.”


The family feel of Northland Outfitters has made it more than a campground; it’s a place for community. Benny’s presence has brought people together, fostering a sense of pride and joy among visitors. On a busy day last summer, they brought 300–400 guests into their family fold.

Looking ahead, Durea and Levi envision not just a campground but a community hub, complete with events in the woods featuring live music, food trucks, and art tents that will solidify Northland Outfitters as its own work of art.

Benny is part of that canvas, drawing people closer to nature to discover what is both beautiful and magical about the wild.


For the comfort of Troll visitors and camping guests, visitation to Benny will be moving to a timed ticket system, beginning mid May. Tickets will need to be purchased online prior to arrival. Tickets can be purchased at





How a small-town girl made reality TV history

Big Brother” is one of the longest-running reality game shows of all time, having begun airing on CBS in 2000. Throughout the show’s tenure, there have been more than 300 “houseguests.” And while houseguests commonly compete in multiple seasons, only one of them has ever won the show twice: Nicole Franzel of Ubly, Michigan. She earned that distinction late last year with her victory on “Big Brother Reindeer Games”; her first win came in 2016. Having played for a total of four seasons of “Big Brother” and one season of “The Amazing Race,” Nicole spent “most of her 20s” appearing on television screens.

Becoming a reality show legend was not something Nicole (a Thumb Electric Cooperative member) could have envisioned when she applied to be on the show the first time in 2014. She and her mom Jeni had been superfans of “Big Brother,” which features contestants living together under 24/7 surveillance in isolation and voting someone out each week, since she was 8. But the first year Nicole was eligible to audition (the show’s age requirement is 21), she didn’t put much thought into doing so—“I thought there was no way I’d get in,” she said. She was also in the process of completing nursing school at Saginaw Valley State University. But Jeni,

who’d been encouraging her to try out, made one more push and called Nicole at school the day before the application deadline, urging her to come home and make an audition video. Nicole did, and the day after submitting it, she got a call from the show’s casting department. She went through a series of telephone and live interviews, and was ultimately chosen as one of 16 houseguests for season 16.

That first year, she came in seventh place. Nicole said that at the time, she was really glad to have had the experience, but she didn’t expect anything to come from it. She took and passed her nursing board exam and began working in a hospital rehab unit. But then, “California area codes started popping up” on her caller ID—the show’s producers liked Nicole and wanted her to come back. She returned to “Big Brother”

16 MAY 2024

in 2016, and this time, as the last houseguest standing, she went home with $500,000. She got much more than clout and cash though—one of the other contestants on the show that year was Victor Arroyo. They didn’t have a “showmance,” but Victor pursued her after the season ended and they started dating a year later. Victor, who lived in Louisiana, moved to Ubly with Nicole, and they are now married and have a 2-year-old son named Arrow.

These days, Nicole is a social media influencer and small-business owner. Nicole and Jeni operate Franny and the Fox, a clothing boutique featuring handmade, eco-friendly apparel. Initially, it was an online store that exclusively featured clothes for children. But upon hosting pop-up shops in Port Austin and getting great feedback, Nicole and Jeni opened a storefront in Cass City and expanded their product line to include women and babies. “My mom and I love to shop, and we’ve always had a unique style,” Nicole said. She’s happy to have the opportunity to work from home and be with her son, but she keeps up her nursing license in case she decides to return to the profession one day.

As far as keeping her options open to television, Nicole announced she had retired from “Big Brother” upon starting her family. But when producers offered her the prospect of playing “Reindeer Games,” which was filmed in just six days, she couldn’t pass it up. “Saving Christmas” through a series of holiday-themed competitions, Nicole walked away with the $100,000 prize, which she plans to use to build a barn for a hobby farm. She is back into retirement—for now. “If the opportunity for the right show at the right time appears, I’ll consider it,” she said. “But I’m also super content with never going back.”

If “Reindeer Games” is truly the end of Nicole’s reality TV career, she can retire with her head held high. “I never expected to be in this position—but I can proudly say I’ve stayed true to myself through everything,” she said. She’s made great friendships through the show and says being watched for eight years of her life undoubtedly benefited her personal growth. “It was a great learning experience,” she said. “But the thing I learned the most is that no matter where I go, I always want to come back home.”


“I never expected to be in this position—but I can proudly say I’ve stayed true to myself through everything.”
Nicole, Arrow, and Jeni.
Victor, Arrow, and Nicole.



Win a $100 energy bill credit!

Where In Michigan Is This?

Identify the correct location of the photo above by May 20 and be entered into a drawing to win a $100 electric bill credit. Enter your guess at

March 2024 Winner! Our Mystery Photo winner is Allan Hascall, a Cherryland Electric Cooperative member who correctly identified the photo as the 24-foot monument The American Horse at the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids.

Winners are announced in the following issues of Country Lines: January, March, May, July/ August, September, and November/December.

Worms of Misfortune

n the summer of 1937, my older sister Barb and I found ourselves knee-deep in dirt, our fingers stained with the earth’s secrets. Our family’s home was in Hillman, Michigan, a couple blocks from the Thunder Bay River. The Great Depression had gnawed at our livelihood, leaving us with little more than stubborn resolve and empty pockets.

IOne of the stores in town sold bait for fi shing, and so my sister and I went in and asked how much we would earn if we dug up worms. The manager answered 10 cents for 100 worms.

With shovels and a shared desperation, we headed out near the Thunder Bay River to dig up worms. Our hands plunging into the cool earth, we pulled out the worms one by one. The worms squirmed, protesting their eviction.

We were on a mission—to turn soil into silver.

I had the great idea to cut the worms in half to double our profit! 20 cents was a great deal of money back in that day. So, we took the 200 worms

into the store, and we were handed the 20 cents. We were so excited, we couldn’t wait to tell our mother.

Well, word had gotten back to our mom about what we did, and when we arrived home and showed our mom the 20 cents, she said “We are all going back to the store to return that man’s 20 cents.” Both my sister and I said, “But why, Mom?” She replied, “You cheated that poor man by cutting those worms in half to get more money. You should be ashamed of yourselves!”

Now, at 96 years old, I sit on my couch and look back at all the fun we had growing up in our little town of Hillman. Barb is long gone, but her laughter dances in the wind.

Remember this tale when life throws you a curveball—sometimes the early bird doesn’t get the worm!

About the Author:

Margaret is retired and likes to fish, read, play Scattegories, and watch nature programs. She is an outgoing person who loves people and parties too.

MI CO-OP Guest Column Guest Column Win $200 for stories published! Share your fondest memories and stories. Win $200 for stories published. Visit to submit.
18 MAY 2024

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Michigan electric cooperatives believe there should be “No Barriers” for veterans with disabilities. That’s the name and idea behind CoBank’s No Barriers initiative. Michigan cooperatives are looking for qualified veterans* from our local community to participate.

No Barriers is a five-day, all-expenses-paid expedition in Colorado, designed to help veterans with disabilities transform their lives through curriculum-based experiences in challenging environments (climbing, rafting, and hiking).

If you are a disabled veteran or you know of a disabled veteran in our community who would like to participate in the No Barriers program, please apply directly at

If you have questions about the application process or need assistance filling out an application, please contact us at:

970-484-3633, ext. 305

Learn more about No Barrier’s mission and programs at



Thumb Electric Cooperative
disability rating to
have VA

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