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Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative's 2018 Meeting is First for Jim Lovingood as President
Thousands Enjoy Music by The Sweet Potato Pie Kids, The Zion Quartet, and Gold City
By Karen Brewer

                
Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

New President and CEO Jim Lovinggood presided over the 78th annual meeting of Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative the evening of Thursday, April 26, 2018 in Pickens. Below, read the article and view 165 photographs from the event by The Christian View magazine.


Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative's 78th annual meeting, held the evening of Thursday, April 26, 2018, was the first for Jim Lovinggood in his new position as Blue Ridge Electric's new President and CEO. Lovinggood has been employed with Blue Ridge Electric for 35 years. Terry Ballenger, Blue Ridge Electric's Communications Manager, introduced Lovinggood to the thousands in attendance, following music provided by The Sweet Potato Pie Kids and The Zion Quartet. "He's been in this position for about three months now, and he's just been 'running from pillar to post' ever since his feet 'hit the ground.' He's doing a great job for us. Mr. Jim Lovinggood."


Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

The Sweet Potato Pie Kids opened the Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative's annual meeting the evening of Thursday, April 26, 2018.  At the conclusion of this article, view a photo slideshow of 38 photographs of The Sweet Potato Pie Kids singing and playing at the Blue Ridge Electric Co-op meeting.


        

Lovingood thanked Ballenger and, after giving an update on registration and the voting process for the open Board of Directors positions, said, “We want to focus on something that we think is special, and that is the raising of our American Flag.” He directed the audience’s attention to a utility pole behind him that could also be seen on the large screens. “We’re going to invite The Zion Quartet back up. They’re going to sing two more patriotic songs, and, when they quit singing, you’re going to see seven Blue Ridge linemen climb that utility pole in an orderly fashion. Four of those folks are from Pickens division, and three of them are from Oconee division. This is a unique way to raise the flag. We think you’ll enjoy it. We’re excited about it.”


Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

The Zion Quartet sang Gospel and patriotic music at Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative's 2018 annual meeting. At the conclusion of this article, view a slideshow of 20 photographs of The Zion Quartet at the annual meeting.

Following the singing of “America, the Beautiful” and “God Bless America” by The Zion Quartet, Kenneth Southerlin, who chairs the Board of Directors for Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative, welcomed the crowd. “We’re so glad that you could be with us. This is our 78th annual meeting of our members, and we’re glad that you could be here and be a part of it. Our practice has been, as long as I know of, that we open all of our meetings with prayer. Of course, this will be no exception today. I’m going to invite you to stand with me. I will call Rev. Tommy Howard to come to the podium to deliver our invocation, and, after the prayer, I would request that we all remain standing, for our Lieutenant Governor, Kevin Bryant, comes and leads us in the Pledge to the Flag. The Pledge will be followed by the National Anthem, to be performed by Jessie Lee Gilstrap. Jessie Lee is the granddaughter of Blue Ridge Director Jimmy Lee Dodgens. In reciting the Pledge, you are invited to direct your attention to the power pole behind me, where the co-op linemen have just raised the American flag. Or, if that is difficult for you to see, you can view it on the screens on each side of the stage, where the same flag will be displayed by way of video camera. Rev. Tommy Howard, please come.”

Following Rev. Howard’s prayer, which included prayer for linemen who are often in danger while they perform their jobs, Lt. Gov. Bryant asked veterans to raise their hands, and the crowd applauded, and then Bryant led everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance. 

Jessie Lee Gilstrap then sang the national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner."

“Thank you,” said Southerlin. “You did a very beautiful job. Thank you very much. Now, it is my privilege to appoint our co-op President, Jim Lovinggood, as chairman of this meeting and ask him to come to the podium at this time for his remarks. Again, thank you for coming. I hope you enjoy your evening at Blue Ridge Electric Co-op.”

          


Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Terry Ballenger, Communications Manager for Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative.



Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Kenneth Southerlin, Chair of the Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative Board of Directors.



Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Rev. Tommy Howard, just before giving the invocation for the 2018 annual meeting of Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative. Also pictured are President and CEO Jim Lovinggood, Communications Manager Terry Ballenger, South Carolina Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant, Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina President and CEO Mike Couick, Jessie Lee Gilstrap (who sang the national anthem), and Blue Ridge Electric Board Chair Kenneth Southerlin.



Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

South Carolina Lieutenant Governor Kevin Bryant speaks at the 2018 annual meeting of Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative. Also pictured are Blue Ridge Electric President and CEO Jim Lovinggood, Communications Manager Terry Ballenger, Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina President and CEO Mike Couick, Jessie Lee Gilstrap (who sang the national anthem), Rev. Tommy Howard, and Blue Ridge Electric Board Chair Kenneth Southerlin.


Photographs by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Pictured in 25 photos in the slideshow below, Blue Ridge Electric linemen raise the American Flag.
Photographs by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine


In the photos in the slideshow below, The Zion Quartet sings patriotic songs as Blue Ridge linemen raise the flag.

                             
                      Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

                        S.C. Lt. Governor Kevin Bryant leads in The Pledge of Allegiance to the American Flag.
     
                                                 
                                 Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Jessie Lee Gilstrap, granddaughter of Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative Director Jimmy Lee Dodgens and his wife, Helen, sings the national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner," at the 2018 annual meeting of Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative. Also pictured are Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative President and CEO Jim Lovinggood, Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative Communications Manager Terry Ballenger, Attorney John Tiencken, The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina President and CEO Mike Couick, Rev. Tommy Howard, and Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative Board of Directors Chair Kenneth Southerlin.



                                                  
Lovinggood thanked Southerlin and welcomed the crowd. He then introduced the Board of Directors: Chair Kenneth Southerlin from Greenville County, Vice Chair Mendel Stone from Oconee County, Secretary Joel Davis from Oconee County, Treasurer Spencer Dalton from Pickens County, Ben Bolt from Anderson County, Jimmy Lee Dodgens from Pickens County, William Elrod from Pickens County, Frank Looper from Pickens County, and Len Talley from Oconee County.

He then introduced elected officials in attendance: Lt. Governor Kevin Bryant; State Senators Thomas Alexander and Rex Rice; State Representatives Mike Burns, Neal Collins, Davey Hiott, Bill Sandifer, and Bill Whitmire; Pickens County Clerk of Court Pat Welborn; Pickens County Council members Wes Hendricks and Carl Hudson; Pickens County Treasurer Dale Looper; and Oconee County Sheriff Mike Crenshaw; as well as candidates seeking political office: gubernatorial candidate Katherine Templeton; candidates for U.S. Congress from the Third Congressional District Dave Moore and Hosea Cleveland; South Carolina State House candidates Jody Gaulin and Ryan Cowsert; Pickens County Council candidates Margaret Thompson and Robert McKinney; and Oconee County Council candidate John Elliott. Also attending were Drew Broome from the office of U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, Danielle Gibbs from the office of U.S. Senator Tim Scott, and Jordan Christian from the office of U.S. Representative Jeff Duncan.

Also present were representatives from Central Electric Power Cooperative, Inc.: President and Chief Executive Officer Rob Hochstetler and Senior Vice President of Engineering and Technical Services John Boyt.

Lovinggood then asked Blue Ridge Electric employees to come forward and be recognized. “This is a very, very special group of people to me, and they are incredibly dedicated,” he said, as he commended them on their hard work and commitment, especially during storms as the Blue Ridge employees work when other businesses are closed.




Photographs by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Elected officials present at Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative's 2018 annual meeting.



Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Mike Couick, President and CEO of The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina.



Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

John Tiencken, Attorney for Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative

Photographs in the slideshow abovby Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative employees at the 2018 annual meeting. “This is a very, very special group of people to me, and they are incredibly dedicated,” said Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative President and CEO Jim Lovinggood, as he commended them on their hard work and commitment, especially during storms as Blue Ridge employees work when other businesses are closed.



Lovinggood then recognized veterans in the crowd of members of Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative. “We would also like to salute our military tonight. That is a very special group of people to us. The annual meeting would not be complete if we didn’t pause to honor our men and women who served in the military.” He asked for any World War 2 veterans to stand and then for all other veterans to stand and be honored. “I hope you enjoyed our flag presentation,” he said. “It is a unique way to do it. One of the gentlemen assisting with that tonight is a retired employee named Gerald Alexander. He was a lineman with Blue Ridge for about 30 years, and he was also a Vietnam veteran. So, we appreciate Gerald coming back and helping us with this flag presentation, as well.”


Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

When Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative President and CEO Jim Lovinggood asked if there was a World War 2 veteran present, this gentleman stood and was applauded by the crowd. All other veterans present at the Blue Ridge Electric annual meeting were asked to stand and were applauded, as well.



Lovinggood then honored the four high school students who were selected to be a part of the Washington Youth Tour, an expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., with spending money for the trip. “For more than 40 years, Blue Ridge Electric has been sponsoring rising high school seniors from this area to go on the Rural Electric Washington Youth Tour,” he said. “This is a week-long trip. It takes place in mid-June. I know a lot of folks who have gone have commented it was a life-changing experience for them. This year, we have four fine young people who were selected to represent us in our nation’s capital. Two of those are with us tonight. MacKenzie Hopkins, who is with us, from Walhalla High School. Isaac Buckner is not here tonight. Dawson Gilstrap, from Pickens High School, could not be here tonight. And Alden Richardson is here tonight. Congratulations.”

Lovinggood then recognized fifth grader Zephan Hunter from East End Elementary in Easley. “Another individual we have here tonight is a student, a young man, named Zephan Hunter. He is the son of Matt and Elizabeth Hunter from Easley. Zephan wrote a book called Lightbulb. Lightbulb was recently selected as the winner of the 2018 children’s book challenge, which is sponsored by EnlightenSC, an educational initiative of the electric cooperatives of South Carolina. The competition challenges fifth grade students to write and illustrate stories that focus on the impact of electricity in his or her life, communities, and the history of the state. Zephan is the first recipient of this award. His book will be published and distributed to elementary schools throughout the state. He also received $500 for his accomplishments. Congratulations.”


Photographs in the slideshow above by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative President and CEO Jim Lovingood congratulates MacKenzie Hopkins and Alden Richardson, two of the four high school students selected for the Washington Youth Tour who were present at the Blue Ridge Electric annual meeting. Also selected for the Youth Tour were Isaac Buckner and Dawson Gilstrap, who were unable to attend the annual meeting. A photo of each student was shown on the screen.
Photographs in the slideshow above by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine.

Zephan Hunter, a fifth grade student at East End Elementary School in Easley, was recognized as the winner of the 2018 Children's Book Challenge. Zephan wrote a book, entitled Lightbulb, which will be published and distributed to elementary schools throughout the state. The contest was sponsored by EnglightSC, an educational initiative of the electric cooperatives of South Carolina.


  

         

He then introduced Mike Couick, President and CEO of the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina for more than 12 years, and a native of York County who earned his law degree from the University of South Carolina. Couick thanked the members for allowing him to work for them, and he commended Blue Ridge Electric for having been selected as the winner of a co-op competition for the safest co-op in South Carolina. “They’re broken down in different sizes. Blue Ridge is among the group of co-ops that are the largest in terms of number of employees and the number of people served. And Blue Ridge is the champion for this year. The reason that’s important is, number one it saves you on your power bill, because they get paid less for their workers comp insurance and their casualty insurance, because they’re safe. But the most important thing is, those folks you saw getting to go home at night, get to enjoy their families, get to be part of the community. It’s extraordinary that Blue Ridge would win this award this year. Does anybody recall what happened on September 11, 2017? Hurricane Irma hit the state of South Carolina. You would have thought the hardest hit area would have been along the coast. It wasn’t. It was actually the territory area served by Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative. It wasn’t just hurricanes, it was tornadoes creating a lot of damage. You’re going to hear about the number of broken poles and the amount of outages. When you’re working in that type of destruction, you can be safe, but you can still have accidents. They didn’t have any. You need to be very proud of your co-op. You need to be very proud of your linemen. I know I am very proud. And again, I really appreciate getting to work for y’all. Thank you.”

Lovinggood then delivered the management report, and a video was shown with Lovinggood and the Blue Ridge Electric Board of Directors speaking of Blue Ridge’s service and accomplishments in 2017.

Lovingood then noted that the following week would be Blue Ridge Fest, the annual charity fundraiser. “This will be our 21st year. Over our first 20 years, we’ve been able to raise $2 ½ million for local charities here in our service territory.” He noted that music would be by the groups Magic, Jim Quick and the Coastline, and the headline act, The Spinners. “We still have the Upstate’s largest cruise-in,” he added. “We have raffle tickets and admission tickets on sale. We always refer to it as ‘Great Times for Great Causes’.”

He then introduced Gospel music group Gold City. “I am very proud to introduce a group called Gold City Quartet. They are from Gaston, Alabama, and they have been performing Gospel music since 1980. This is their third appearance here at the Blue Ridge annual meeting, and we’re excited to have them back.”

Gold City then gave a Gospel music concert for the crowd.

 


Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Gold City sang Gospel music at Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative's 2018 annual meeting. See below for a slideshow of 37 photographs of Gold City from the event.



Legal counsel John Tiencken announced the election results. Jimmy Lee Dodgens, from Pickens County, and Mendel Stone, from Oconee County, each ran unopposed and were reelected by acclamation to three-year terms, and Frank Looper, from Pickens County, was reelected for another three-year term.

In addition to each member receiving a gift of a toaster oven upon registering at the meeting, members and their families enjoyed free food and soft drinks. Drawings were held for many prizes, including the grand prize of a pickup truck.

Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative employee Jason Kelley is pictured with his daughter, Ruth, as she draws for many prizes at the 2018 annual meeting.



38 photographs of The Sweet Potato Pie Kids in the slideshow below by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine.


20 photographs of The Zion Quartet in the slideshow below by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine.

37 photographs of Gold City in the slideshow below by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine.