Steve Nelson didn’t necessarily plan to stay long in the job his peers elected him to back in 1996.
He had been named general manager of The Frontier Power Company, the Coshocton-based electric distribution cooperative, only four years earlier. In that position, he automatically had a seat on the board of trustees for Buckeye Power, the generation and transmission cooperative that is the source of electricity that co-ops like Frontier Power provide to their members.
Even early on, Nelson made a strong impression on the state’s other co-op managers, and he was elected as chairman of the board at a time when Buckeye Power was navigating some tricky issues, such as electricity deregulation and ever-more-stringent environmental regulation.
“I never planned to be chairman more than a little while,” says Nelson, now 65, who’s celebrating 25 years as Buckeye’s chairman this year. “I don’t know how much longer I’ll stay at it, but for now, it seems like they still want me, so I’ll keep doing what I can.”
Ohio’s 24 electric cooperatives are as diverse in their needs as they are in their geography, so keeping the board running smoothly isn’t always an easy task —
but it’s one to which Nelson is particularly suited.
“Personally, I see a lot of that job as building unity,” he says. “You put a group of people together with the main goal that they always vote in the best interests of the group as a whole, but they all come from different places and represent a bunch of ideas, and it’s not always easy to look past those ideas. I’ve been around a long time, though, and I can use that sense of history to maybe explain an issue from different angles they might not have seen.”
“The term of the chairman is only a year at a time, and Steve keeps getting reelected year after year — so it’s obvious the board values his leadership,” says Pat O’Loughlin, president and CEO of Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives.
“He does such a good job running the board meetings, which is the most visible part of the job, even though it’s certainly not the most important,” O’Loughlin says. “He makes sure that everyone on the board has a voice, that they all get to have input on issues of importance to them, and people appreciate that. Board members respect Steve’s common-sense approach.”
Nelson also is generous with the time that he devotes to board business. Running the Buckeye Power board meetings may be the most visible of his duties, but it only takes up a small portion of the time he gives to the cause. As chairman, he’s an ex officio member of all the various board committees, and he represents Buckeye Power in meetings with numerous outside partners, such as American Electric Power — which sometimes add up to four or five extra meetings every month — outside of his full-time job as CEO of Frontier Power.
Nelson realizes he’s not going to be at it forever, though. He enjoys traveling with his wife of 45 years, Beth — they were high school sweethearts at River View, just up the road from Coshocton — and plays golf in whatever spare time he comes by.
“Steve’s one of the most dedicated people I know to the cooperative ideals,” O’Loughlin says. “He puts in the time, often behind the scenes, to ensure that Ohio’s cooperatives are well represented.”