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L-R: Andy Fiene, Curt Eischens and Dr. Ann Hoyt

Cooperative Network members, directors, family and friends gathered in Minneapolis, Minnesota on November 19 and 20 for the organization’s 2019 annual meeting. The conference theme, ‘Co-ops: By the Community, For the Community - Celebrating community advocacy and engagement for more than a decade,’ was exemplified throughout the two-day event. From updates on policies and legislative agendas, to insight on purpose-driven cooperative cultures and a focus on hiring and retaining highly-skilled employees, co-ops and their communities were top of mind for all.

Cooperators were welcomed by Governor Tim Walz (DFL-Minnesota), who kicked off the annual meeting with a message of support for the cooperative business model.

“[The cooperative business model] is a governance model that works – by the community, for the community. It’s one that’s responsive to our needs across industry and a model that is simply as reflective of Midwest values as you can find,” Governor Walz expressed.

The governor concluded by challenging attendees to invite and encourage other community members to get involved in the cooperative movement, while strengthening their own networks.

Three individuals who have done just that were recognized during a pinnacle of the meeting on Tuesday evening, November 19, when Curt Eischens (CHS), Andy Fiene (Premier Co-op) and Dr. Ann Hoyt (Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin) were bestowed the 2019 Cooperative Builder Award, the association’s highest honor. The award is presented to individuals who have made outstanding contributions at the local, state, or national level to advance cooperative philosophy and ideals. Eischens, Fiene and Hoyt are true cooperative builders in the fields of agriculture, research, education and beyond. They have served as mentors and coaches, always leading by example and keenly aware of their responsibility to build up the next generation of community leaders.

New community leaders were selected as the conference wrapped up on Wednesday morning, with the seating of the 2019-2020 Cooperative Network Board of Directors under the leadership of Board Chairman Bill Zuhlke (United Cooperative). The Board welcomed three new members: Roger Hildebrandt (Foremost Farms USA); Audrey Hjelle (Great River Energy) and Bea Zingsheim (Riverland Energy Cooperative).

Cooperative Network is committed to protecting and promoting Minnesota’s and Wisconsin’s cooperative businesses and their shared cooperative principles by providing advocacy, learning and development and public awareness for a diverse variety of cooperatives. For more information about Cooperative Network, visit