AECI honors Austin, Farnen and Weimer with prestigious Excel awards
Three employees at the Thomas Hill Energy Center were among those honored by Associated Electric Cooperative at its 21st annual recognition awards ceremony March 24 at the Springfield headquarters.
Associated Electric Cooperative owns and operates Thomas Hill Energy Center, an important resource for generating affordable, reliable electricity for electric cooperative members in three states.
Associated’s prestigious Excel award recipients are nominated by their peers and co-workers.
Michelle L. Austin of Excello, control room operator with training, is the recipient of the 2014 Excel Employee of the Year in an Operational Field award. She joined Associated in 2000 as an auxiliary operator first period and by 2006 was one of the control room operators managing a generating unit.
Her nominator praised her operation of the unit, saying: “As a control room operator she maintains a tight ship. She follows the processes and procedures as intended and handles all issues that come up on Unit 3 with professionalism. Her assistant control room and auxiliary operators respect her knowledge and direction.”
She was also recognized for her devotion to training others to be better operators: "Michelle spends hours upon hours training her shift to make every employee a better operator and to increase their knowledge of the power plant. She is relentless on the amount of time and training she spends each and every day. In the 30 years that I have worked at the power plant, I have never seen anyone put as much time and effort in training employees that she does."
Austin responded by saying, "People have helped me out, and this is how I pay it forward." She identifies with new employees who may be overwhelmed with the environment of a power plant and what there is to learn. "I tell them, you will like this job, stick with it, don't think you've stepped into more than you can handle," she said.
She said she finds satisfaction in "seeing people get more confident in their jobs" and in experiencing "that a-ha moment when it sinks in" and things finally start making sense. In particular, she stresses the power at the fingertips of an operator: 2,600 pounds of pressure and 1,000 degrees temperature. "They need to be absolutely sure when they push a button what to expect," she cautioned.
Lynn M. Farnen of Salisbury, manager of human resources at the plant, received the 2014 Excel Distinguished Service Award, which recognizes a career of achievements and continuing contributions to the cooperative. It is the cooperative’s most prestigious award.
Farnen joined the power plant nearly 36 years ago as a receptionist during construction of Unit 3 and helped with payroll and benefits. As the power plant grew, she specialized in human resources and eventually spent five years at Associated's headquarters in Springfield to learn more there. During that time, she also spent several months at New Madrid Power Plant in southeastern Missouri.
She returned to Thomas Hill as a human resources coordinator and later became manager. Though Farnen missed out on going to college, college came to her. She earned a bachelor's degree in business from William Woods University during the years it offered classes at Thomas Hill Energy Center. Later she earned a master's degree in human resources management from Webster University. Today, Farnen's responsibilities include labor relations, staffing, payroll, benefits, compliance, budgeting and forecasting, workforce planning, supervisory training and succession planning.
Farnen's nominators particularly praised her for her role in replacing more than 40 long-term employees – many who also started in the 1980s when Unit 3 was being constructed -- who retired in late 2013 and 2014 due to beneficial timing on their retirement benefits.
One nominator said, "I personally witnessed Lynn working long hours at work and then taking more work home to speed up the hiring process. This was not a one-day event but many weeks of double duty. Without the dedication and perseverance from Lynn, this entire re-staffing process would not have been possible, and Thomas Hill would not have been able to keep the lights on for our members."
Farnen was instrumental in implementing a pre-employment testing program to speed up the selection process and a leased worker program to fill the gaps. She also developed interim, short-term and long-term plans to address employment issues.
Because Farnen has more than 35 years of experience with the cooperative, her perspective is highly valued. A nominator wrote, "She works with her employees and willingly explains the circumstances involving how and why things got to be the way they are in an effort to ensure this generation of employees, and those to come, have the knowledge necessary to continue operating in a seamless manner."
Randall L. Weimer of Salisbury, a chemical lab technician at the plant, was named 2014 Excel Community Advocate award, which recognizes the importance of Associated Electric’s employees’ contributions in their communities.
"Randy Weimer is inspiring. That's not simply flattery, it's fact. Many wish to lead a life of service to others but time, effort ... fatigue get in the way. 'There's always tomorrow.' But those obstacles do not exist for Randy. He lives a life of giving," said his nominator.
Weimer joined Associated in 2006 to work in the plant's chemistry lab, which tests coal, water and fly ash to ensure quality. He and his wife, Ann, and their five children, ages 23 to 11, have made service a family affair and have earned a reputation for good works. In their home town of Salisbury and the surrounding area, they mow lawns, trim hedges, rake leaves, clean gutters, shovel snow, haul hay and pick up trash along county roads. While some of their labor is for hire, they do a lot for others in need at a reduced cost. Weimer and family also volunteer for St. Joseph's Catholic Church and the Salisbury schools.
Asked about his motivation for giving, Weimer pointed to his parents, who he described as "good about helping people out."
"I want to set an example for my own kids," he said. "Ann and I know how lucky we are, how many blessings we have. We both have good jobs, our kids are healthy, there's so much to be thankful for. Why wouldn't we want to help others? ... A lot of people have bigger problems than I do. When things are going good, why not take the opportunity to help out, to give back?"
Associated Electric Cooperative Inc. is owned by and provides wholesale power to six regional and 51 local electric cooperative systems in Missouri, southeast Iowa and northeast Oklahoma that serve more than 875,000 customers. Associated’s mission is to provide an economical and reliable power supply and support services to its members, including the “Take Control & Save” energy efficiency program, www.TakeControlAndSave.coop. Associated is a Touchstone Energy Cooperative.
An Equal Opportunity Employer -- AA/Minorities/Females/Disabled/Veterans