I have been blessed to cross paths with many great co-op people over the years. One of these people was Everett Kilmer who passed away on July 29, 2019. I met Everett for the first time when I interviewed for the General Manager position at Niobrara Electric Association in Lusk, Wyoming, on a hot August day in 1991.
I was a young man who had never led an organization of any kind. Everett was one of the nine men who gave me that opportunity. Everett made me feel at home. He always had a kind word, a smile on his face and a joke to tell. More importantly, he also made my wife and family feel welcome. He never failed to chat with Mary or ask about the kids. His friendship felt genuine and sincere because it was.
Everett was there to support me as I went through many career firsts. He was with me at my first Tri-State Generation and Transmission Cooperative board meeting, my first National Rural Electric Association (NRECA) annual meeting and my first legislative trip to Washington, D.C. Everett, a long-time member of the NRECA Resolutions Committee, was also the one to introduce me to this important process.
I will never forget walking into U.S. Senator Alan Simpson’s office with Everett (on more than one occasion). Senator Simpson truly disliked co-ops and told us so almost annually. Once I asked Everett why we were wasting our time on a senator who clearly wasn’t going to support any bill that benefited a co-op anywhere. His simple reply was, “The senator needs to know that we will never stop coming back.” When I tire of the legislative grind, I think of Everett. Then, I go back.
He also taught me not to judge anyone by their appearance. My friendship with Everett began after he turned 61 years of age. By then, he had added some weight like we all do and had the aches and pains from years of farming and ranching. He talked about riding horses and working cattle, but the young me never knew if this was real or just another one of his many stories. Well, one day, I found out.
He invited me to help him bring in some cattle on his ranch. I thought, “How hard can this be? If this old guy is going along, it must be just a couple hour ride.” Well, I about messed my pants when he pointed his horse off a plateau and down a steep deer trail into a canyon. With no urging from me, my horse followed along. I just prayed and hung onto the saddle horn for what seemed like forever.
As we found the cattle throughout the day, I watched him sit atop his horse with ease, with a smile, and with an eye out for my safety. My imagined easy two-hour ride was actually six or eight hours of real riding like I had never done before (or since). I feel fortunate to have known the man who could face down Senator Simpson in D.C., ride all day in rural Wyoming, and look equally comfortable doing both.
I last shook his hand, saw his smile and sat in his home in June 2018. Physically, he was struggling, but the spirit was still inside the failing heart. When I was elected secretary-treasurer of NRECA in March of 2019, with tears in my eyes, I made one single phone call that day. On one of the best days of my career, I just wanted to hear his smile one more time.
While the spirit passes over, the true tale of a life well-lived lies in those it touches along the way. Thank you for the lessons, the jokes and the smiles. R.I.P. – Everett Kilmer.