Born With a Rural Heart
By Craig Reed
LEC board member loves helping make life better for area residents
Shortly after putting her first words together as a toddler, Ingrid Kessler looked up at her parents and said, “When are we moving to the country?”
Their reply was, “When you grow up.”
She and her husband, Andy Burke, now live with dogs and cats on their rural property in the Noti area.
“I’ve always had a rural heart, a rural soul,” Ingrid says.
Taking that passion for rural life and its communities to another level, Ingrid is an advocate for rural folks in her role as a member of Lane Electric Cooperative’s Board of Directors. She has represented the co-op’s Central District—an area southwest of Eugene—for the past six years. Ingrid was elected to another three-year term in June.
“One of the responsibilities that is most important to me is contributing to the quality of life here in rural Lane County,” Ingrid says. “I know serving on the board is a big opportunity to help make things better for the people who live here.
“It’s a fascinating industry. It is a lot of work to become familiar with a brand new industry, but there are a lot of programs to help educate you.”
Ingrid says that education has come from attending both Oregon and nationally sponsored classes. She also complimented Lane Electric General Manager Debi Wilson, the co-op’s staff, and Ted Case, executive director of the Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association, for answering her many questions.
“Our industry deals with many complex issues,” Debi says. “It is critical that each director stay informed of these issues to make the best decisions for the benefit of the membership. Ingrid is not afraid to step out and advocate for the co-op and its members. She has visited with elected officials to let them know who we are and to ask for their support on issues that impact power costs.”
In addition to using her electric co-op education to benefit Lane Electric, Ingrid used it as the chairperson on the statewide Action Committee for Rural Electrification. ACRE is the federal political action committee of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Representing approximately 1,000 electric cooperatives, ACRE supports incumbents and candidates for the U.S. House and Senate who will speak for and protect the interests of co-ops and their members.
Last year, Ingrid was elected to the NRECA Board of Directors.
“She speaks on behalf of all Oregon cooperatives as a director at NRECA,” Debi says.
“Most recently, she and her fellow directors advocated for financial relief related to the COVID-19 pandemic. NRECA worked with our elected officials in Washington, D.C., to ensure that cooperatives would be eligible to receive the Paycheck Protection Program loans. They were successful.”
At the local level, Ingrid says it’s been important to keep electricity rates as low as possible and to safeguard renewable resources. At the state and national levels, she has spoken to officials about energy policy, focusing on such issues as affordability, environmental impact and social justice.
Before becoming a rural resident, Ingrid spent most of her life in big city environments. She was raised in Manhattan and attended Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, earning a degree in classics—ancient Greek and Latin.
She was attending Stanford University in California and working toward a doctorate in the classics when she had “a very early mid-life crisis.”
“I wanted to be a veterinarian,” she says.
She was accepted at Michigan State University in East Lansing and earned her doctorate in veterinary medicine in 1994.
“I went from ancient philosophy to emergency veterinarian medicine,” she says with a laugh.
While working toward her doctorate, Ingrid took a special animal surgery course at Washington State University in Pullman. After finishing the course, she traveled west and then down the Oregon Coast. That trip inspired her to apply for veterinarian jobs in Oregon.
After two years of general practice at Bush Animal Hospital in Eugene, Ingrid had the chance to fill in as a relief doctor at the Emergency Veterinary Hospital, on the border of Eugene and Springfield.
“In the first hour, I knew emergency medicine was for me,” she says.
Two months later, she began working full time at the emergency hospital. Ten years later, in 2006, she and a business partner bought the emergency facility. The hospital grew under the management of the partners and their staff.
During that time, Ingrid represented the hospital as a member of the Eugene Chamber of Commerce and the local government affairs council. Through those groups, she met Lane Electric General Manager Rick Crinklaw, who invited her in 2011 to be a member of the co-op’s scholarship committee. She accepted. When the Central District board position opened in 2014, she was encouraged to submit her name.
“It was a very hotly contested election,” she recalls, noting there were six candidates. “I was very, very fortunate to prevail.”
For five years, Ingrid was a busy businesswoman, a veterinarian, and a Lane Electric board member who was learning about an entirely new industry. She also found time to train as a triathlete, competing in swimming, biking, and running in both Ironman and individual sport events. In 2019, her schedule got a bit lighter when the emergency hospital was sold, ending her career as a practicing veterinarian.
“For five years, I had more than a full-time job and the board position,” Ingrid says. “It can be done. So for anybody who might have the interest in a board position, it’s both a great way to serve the community and to have the personal opportunity to be involved in the community, talking about things that are important and to affect wonderful changes for our shared future.”