It All Started by Attending Annual Meetings
Curious member now serves on the Lane Electric Cooperative board
By Craig Reed
With a professional background in telephone systems that involved working with the infrastructure for power systems, Hugh Buermann was no stranger to the electrical industry.
That experience—and because his Cottage Grove residence was in Lane Electric Cooperative’s service area—led Hugh and his wife, Yvonne, to make the short drive to the co-op’s annual meeting for his district.
Hugh found the meeting interesting, leading him to ask questions to learn more about Lane Electric and the cooperative process.
When longtime Lane Electric board member Ed Bangle retired before his three-year term was up, he approached Hugh about applying for the interim position. Chris Seubert, another board member, also encouraged Hugh to apply.
Hugh was appointed to the board, representing the Row River District. He has been reelected twice and now has six years of experience.
During his career in the telephone industry, Hugh worked at substations and on poles that carried power lines, but he had to learn about the cooperative concept.
“I have no regrets whatsoever,” says Hugh. “I love the position. I’ve learned it’s a heckuva lot of work. I had to learn what a cooperative is, I had to learn the responsibilities of a co-op director and I had to learn about handling a lot of money that didn’t belong to me, but that I was responsible for.
“I had the interest, I had the time to do it and I was honored to be picked by the board to fill the interim position.”
Hugh, 79, is the board’s treasurer, chairman of the board’s scholarship and audit committees, and is the board’s representative to the Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association.
Debi Wilson, Lane Electric’s general manager, says being a co-op director requires not only a dedication of time to understand the operations, but to stay abreast of the rapidly changing industry.
She says Hugh’s duties as a board member are increased by his chairman positions on two committees.
“Hugh approaches all of his responsibilities with fervor,” Debi says.
Hugh, who grew up and worked on his parents’ farms in Idaho, got his start in communications and electronics in the U.S. Navy. He joined in 1959 after graduating from high school in New Plymouth, Idaho.
He was sent to electronics school on Treasure Island in San Francisco. After his schooling, he spent three years on destroyer ships in the Pacific Ocean working on communication and radar systems.
“It was a very good decision,” Hugh says. “It set me up for my career. I was able to learn a trade that I’ve used ever since.”
After his discharge from the Navy, Hugh came to Drain, where his parents had a farm west of town. Hugh went to work as an equipment operator, building logging roads.
In 1964, he married Yvonne, a teacher in Drain. A year later, Hugh was hired by Pacific Northwest Bell. He was one of six hired from 300 applicants.
“I know my electric experience in the Navy helped me get that job,” he says.
Hugh started as a residential installer, then worked his way up to manager of business telephone systems for large businesses and television events. He was involved in installing communications at large facilities such as the Eugene airport, the University of Oregon, Lane Community College and Sacred Heart Hospital.
For 20 years, Hugh worked in the Autzen Stadium press box during televised events to ensure the communications systems worked properly.
Hugh worked 25 years with the phone company before retiring in 1990. He worked five years doing telephone contract work and then five years with Oregon Lottery, installing and repairing its systems. He retired from the workforce in 2005 at age 65.
Hugh and Yvonne have been co-op members for 35 years.
“Being a director requires as much as you want to put into it,” Hugh says. “A lot of people get elected to a position, but then don’t do anything with it.
“I’ve learned how to work with budgets and how to do my part in helping the co-op be a solvent organization. I’ve been pleased that I’ve been able to participate with the board in providing the money needed to replace and improve the outside facilities.”
Hugh says he’s spent a lot of time studying the co-op’s right-of-way program and has made trips into the field with Lane Electric crews to see the progress.
“That program has to be in the forefront for the co-op because of the threat of wildfires,” he says.
Hugh says he is pleased Lane Electric has the facilities to deal with storms and subsequent power outages to provide consistent power to its members.
Hugh says serving on the board has been a gratifying experience.
“I get a lot of people who thank me for doing this,” Hugh says. “I’m amazed at the number of people who don’t have problems with the rates. I think they trust the co-op and its board or else they moved into the area from other places that have higher rates and they’re thankful for Lane Electric’s rates.”
Hugh’s board term runs through 2021.