Cooperative NetworkCooperative Network bestowed its Cooperative Builder Award, the organization's highest honor, on three cooperators at its annual meeting Nov. 15 in Rochester, Minn. Dennis Hunwardsen, Ron Tenner, and Lee Uldbjerg received the award in the 36th year of its presentation.

Dennis Hunwardsen of Jackson, Minn., spent 44 years in local management and statewide leadership of cooperative enterprises. In 1966 Dennis was recruited by the general manager of the Clarence Cooperative Company in his hometown of Clarence, Iowa. He went to work there consolidating and managing the co-op's financial records and attending to various financial and regulatory duties. Eleven years later he moved on to a stint as general manager of United Shippers Cooperative in Cresco, Iowa, then to the Omaha Bank for Cooperatives, where he was a loan officer and assistant vice president for seven years. The latter 1980s and most of the '90s saw Dennis managing a number of different cooperatives in Iowa and Nebraska. From 1998 until his retirement last New Year's Eve, Dennis was general manager of FCA Co-op in Jackson, Minnesota. Dennis has served as a director of the Iowa Institute of Cooperatives, the Minnesota Association of Cooperatives, the Wisconsin Federation of Cooperatives, the Minnesota Cooperative Education Foundation, and Cooperative Network. He was a founding board member of Pillar Insurance Company and is currently a director of Cooperative Development Services.

"Dennis has played a major part in shaping cooperatives across the Midwest," said Bill Oemichen, president and CEO of Cooperative Network. "His devotion to the cooperative form of business has benefitted countless co-op members in the past four and half decades."

Also honored with the Cooperative Builder Award was Ron Tenner of West Salem, Wis. At one time or another during the past 41 years, Ron has served as a director, chairman, vice chairman, treasurer, delegate, search committee manager, and reorganization committee chairman for Tri-State Breeders (now Accelerated Genetics). He's been a corporate, regional, and district director; district chairman; district secretary; secretary of finance; and an active committee member with Associated Milk Producers Incorporated. Ron has also been a board member, president, and vice president of the Sparta Cooperative Oil and Gas Company.

"Ron Tenner has played a vitally important role in a number of agricultural cooperatives in Western Wisconsin," said Cooperative Network's Oemichen. "He has been an asset to the cooperative community and to the dairy industry." Tenner is a 33-year charter member of the Bangor Lions Club and a 40-year member of the La Crosse County Holstein Breeders and the La Crosse/Monroe County Pork Producers.

He's been an active committee member with the La Crosse Chamber of Commerce, a charter member of the Bangor FFA, a director of agriculture broadcasting for La Crosse radio station WKTY, an active member of his church council, and a director of his local bank.

Also honored was Lee Uldbjerg of Hutchinson, Minn. Uldbjerg has been immersed in the cooperative movement from the moment of his birth at Moose Lake, Minnesota, in 1948. His mother was a director of a co-op grocery and hardware store and his father was general manager of the Finlayson Oil Co-op. Lee grew up on a farm, graduated from Finlayson High School, and attended the University of Minnesota at Crookston for a year before joining the U.S. Air Force in 1968. He served as a staff sergeant, with responsibility for flight-line supply and aircraft parts, in Illinois, Japan, and Korea. His 38 years of service to co-ops began with Midland Cooperatives' general manager training program in 1973. Beginning that same year he managed local cooperatives, including Fox River Co-op in Montello, Wisconsin, and Minnesota's Cooperative Oil Association in Blackduck and Le Seuer Cooperative Oil Company. He became Midland's petroleum and automotive sales representative for a region overlapping parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin and then a two-district director of regional services, also with responsibilities in both states. In 1982 Lee became a regional financial and business consultant for Land O'Lakes. He served 21 years as a state and area manager of CHS–Land O'Lakes member services and now directs CEO and general manager searches for Land O'Lakes Business Development Services.

"The cooperative model has inspired Lee throughout his life," said Oemichen. "Lee's dedication to cooperatives will be felt by co-ops for years to come."

Cooperative Network award winners

Cooperative Network bestowed its Cooperative Builder Award on three cooperators at its annual meeting Nov. 15 in Rochester, Minn. Dennis Hunwardsen, Ron Tenner, and Lee Uldbjerg received the award in the 36th year of its presentation. Pictured left to right: Cooperative Network President and CEO Bill Oemichen, Uldbjerg, Tenner, Hunwardsen, and Cooperative Network Board Chairman Sam Skemp.

Cooperative Builder Awards were given by the Wisconsin Federation of Cooperatives from 1976 to 2008, while recognitions on behalf of the Minnesota Association of Cooperatives, called Cooperative Leadership Awards, were presented beginning in 2000. In 2009, Cooperative Network started presenting annual Cooperative Builder Awards to honor individuals' distinguished services irrespective of state affiliation.

Cooperative Network is a leading Wisconsin business association. It serves more than 600 member-cooperatives, owned by more than 6.1 million Minnesota and Wisconsin residents, by providing government relations, education, marketing, and technical services for a wide variety of cooperatives including farm supply, health, dairy marketing, consumer, financial, livestock marketing, telecommunications, electric, housing, insurance, worker-owned cooperatives, and more. For more information about Cooperative Network, visit