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​We talk a lot about people at DEC, specifically those who make up our employee family – the ones charged with the all-important task of “keeping the lights on.” Without them, the Co-op’s mission of providing reliable electric to our members would be impossible to fulfill. Initially, most people might think that the bulk of this responsibility rests with a utility’s engineering and operations teams. If the power is out, they fix it. If a home is ready for electrification, they make the connection. But where would our line crews be without well-maintained, dependable vehicles? How can our engineers be expected to design and think creatively about our system in workspaces that don’t engender innovation? Both are necessary to keep the Co-op at the top of its game. Employees can only perform at their best to the extent of the tools and infrastructure provided to them, and thankfully – under the thorough oversight of manager of property and fleet Steve Perry for the past 35 years – Team DEC has everything it needs to continue growing its legacy of reliability following his retirement on May 31.

Perry began his career at the Co-op in 1988 as a meter reader, a position he held for three years before applying for Assistant Manager of Property and Stores, under then-Manager Harold Dew. Prior to coming to the Co-op, Perry had received a degree in Industrial Engineering and worked at ILC as an Industrial Engineer Technician and supervisor, a role that helped prepare him for the trajectory of his career at DEC.

“When I was at ILC, I was a supervisor. I went from doing industrial engineering work, plant layout work, motion and time studies and then I got into supervising a production line,” Perry says. “So when I got here, I had the opportunity to get into management, and I applied for it and I got it.”

In his new role, Perry’s responsibilities were many, ranging from overseeing the general maintenance of the office and property, the upkeep of its fleet of trucks, meter readers supervisor and functioning of the radio communication system employees used to contact the office while working in the field, just to name a few. In 1996, Perry was charged with leading his first major project – constructing a new headquarters building.

“It was a challenge, but it was fun because I learned a lot,” Perry says of the experience. “While it was being built, we were in modular buildings over where the new warehouse is, so we had to get those set up. We had to tie them into the sewer system, things like that. We had to get foundations and footers put in for those modular buildings, so we were in there while this building was being built.”

According to Perry, the construction of the now current DEC building is one of his favorite Co-op memories, along with the lessons he learned and the people he got to meet along the way.

“Building this facility was great. I learned a lot dealing with the other agencies I had to deal with, dealing with contractors. Just learning – that was the best thing about it,” Perry says. “And meeting people – I’ve met a lot of people in my 35 years here, a lot of contractors, a lot of people. So it’s been a good experience.”

Still, like most of us, Perry’s career has not been without its challenges. Perry says one of the most notable for him was working through the ice storm of 1994, during which time he was personally without power for a week while still coming into the office – ensuring the condition of the fleet and property are maintained to best help crews restore power for DEC members.

“You could hear the trees cracking,” Perry says. “That was a mess. Poles were breaking off. That really opened our eyes as a company. We started upgrading our lines and everything – bigger wire, poles, everything, which was great. We have a strong system now.”

Perry says that events like the ice storm instilled in him the idea that succeeding as a utility depends mostly on the employees’ ability to work together, regardless of personal differences.

“You’ve got to be a good family and a good team to be successful. I think that here, we’re a good team. We’re just like a family, and we have been successful over the years,” Perry says. “When it’s time to get the job done, we get the job done.”

This sentiment of collaboration is echoed in Perry’s advice to future Co-op employees, encouraging them to prioritize teamwork as well as hard work.

“Continue to work hard and get along,” Perry says. “Get along with each other and continue to work hard on our company’s goal. Continue to keep the lights on and just work together. That’s the main thing.”

As he prepares for his last day at DEC the end of May, Perry says he’s looking forward to pursuing several of his outside interests post-retirement, including coaching high school basketball, fishing, spending time with his grandchildren and doing some travelling.

“I’ve got a lot of stuff to do, so I’ll be busy,” Perry says.

All of us at DEC congratulate Steve Perry on his 35 years of service to the Co-op, and we wish him all the best in this next exciting chapter.

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