Alfalfa Electric is losing another long-term employee at the end of this month. Terry Ryel, Manager of Marketing and Public Relations and Manager of AEC Services, is retiring. AEC General Manager and CEO commented on this retirement, “Terry has served in different capacities over his 36 plus years. One of his greatest attributes is his ability to adapt to whatever he needed to do to get the job done.”
Terry was born in the Masonic Hospital in Cherokee, OK, sharing the nursery with his future wife, Sandra. When he was five years old, his parents Joe and Laura Ryel moved to Burlington, where he graduated. Terry married his high school sweetheart, and they had two girls. Their oldest daughter, Shelby, married Jared Bates, and they have four boys – Adler, Hazen, Kelton, and Truett. Daughter Sadie and her husband Stephen Cockrum have a son, Stanten, and a daughter, Sawyer. These six grandchildren kept Terry busy when he was not working for AEC.
At the age of 24, Terry found himself looking for a secure job for his family. His father-in-law, Jim White, gave him some good advice that has undoubtedly paid off. Jim told Terry more than once that he should go work for AEC if he ever got the chance.
In 1985, Terry Ryel began working for Alfalfa Electric Cooperative as a groundman and later made his way to a foreman position. In 2001, Terry became the Manager of Marketing & Public Relations. He later added the title of Manager of AEC Services. Terry has described his workplace as “one big, happy family.”
So, what exactly did Terry Ryel do here at AEC? Max Ott was manager when he was hired, and Ron Shafer was the Line Superintendent. Terry started on the line crew as a groundman and was on Boyce Elmore’s crew. It rained his first ten days at AEC, so Terry swept the warehouse and cleaned trucks for a week! He worked his way up in his crew for almost ten years before being promoted to foreman. He was there for six years.
Terry was in the mix if there was a chance to move up the ladder. “I would do extra work or study information if I thought it was going to help. There was not an in-house lineman school when I started. So, my foreman, Boyce Elmore, let the line superintendent know when he thought I was ready to be promoted.
In 2001, Max promoted him to Director of Marketing. Terry remembers those days well. “I was like a fish out of water!” He had many mentors at AEC, and things could not have worked out any better.
Terry became the manager of AEC Services (heat and A/C) in 2007. The AEC service area was in dire need of this service. Services now has six employees. Terry has grown very close to this group. “I start each morning with this group. They are a great bunch of hard-working people that amaze me every day.”
Also, in 2007, the Mississippi Lime oil play became a huge event in our service territory. Alfalfa Electric Cooperative was in the middle of a vast oil field. Our co-op had three large oil companies that wanted electric lines from AEC. SandRidge Energy, Chesapeake Energy, and Midstates Petroleum were the three most significant loads that AEC served. I met with these companies monthly, sometimes weekly, and spoke on the phone daily. “My job was to help our oil and gas members work through the obstacles that came up. I formed great relationships with many people that will be my friends for the rest of my life.”
In 2014, Terry became the supervisor of the communications department and youth programs. That is when Colin Whitley, former CEO and General Manager, hired me (Robyn Turney) to be AEC’s Communications Specialist.
Terry has many unforgettable moments from his days at AEC. While working on the line crew, he stashed away many memories. He laughed when I asked about any for this article. “We did some crazy things back in the days on the line.” When I asked some of the guys he worked with for some quotes, they, too, laughed and assured me they had nothing available for print. So, I guess what happens on the line crews stays with the line crews.
Greg Goetz was willing to share one experience with Terry. “While working in town one night, we were told to open some switches. Terry used an extendo stick, an insulated tool to work on energized lines. He pulled the first of three switches open, which drew an arc and cross-phased to a second phase. This created an arc that looked like the sun rising in the morning. Terry abruptly ran the fastest 50 yards of his life! I was backing him up and cheering him on as I operated the radio a safe distance away.” Terry’s advice to linemen is “work safely so you can go home to your family.” Best advice ever.
Terry also reflected on memories of being a chaperone for the Youth Tour program. “This program changes young people’s lives forever. My trip to Washington, D.C., is the best trip that I have ever taken.”
Terry did talk about the numerous things that have changed in the cooperative industry. “When I started, AEC did not have a vehicle with an air conditioner in it. We only had one bucket truck – that’s right – one truck with a bucket!” He is so impressed with the improvements AEC has now. The electronic meters and the outage system stand out. “The outage system in AEC’s control room has a 9 x 16 ft screen that shows our service area. Our service trucks have GPS systems, so the trucks show up on the grid also. These things help the co-op provide more reliable electricity and shorten outage times. AEC has continued to grow with the electric industry. The state-of-the-art outage systems provide better service for our members. There have been many changes – all for the better, I might add.”
Are there any regrets? No regrets. Terry would like to thank AEC members for the privilege to work for them for over 36 years. “You are in good hands at Alfalfa Electric Cooperative. Your co-op is the best electric cooperative in the state.”
There was no hesitation when we talked about what he would miss about working at AEC. “It is, without a doubt, the people here. I have grown up with most of them right here at AEC. It is the employees that make this the best job in the world.” With that said, he would recommend working at AEC to anyone willing to work hard. He added, “Some 8-hour days will turn into 24-hour days or even longer, but it is still the best place to work.”
I interviewed Terry for a spotlight in the Hotlines a few years ago. He told me then that he was looking forward to hitting the road in his travel trailer, and now, he can do it. Terry and Sandra will undoubtedly travel more, fish more, golf more, and relax more. However, they have 6 grandkids under the age of 11, and they will be busy spending time with them and attending their activities.
So, Boss, I know that you will enjoy spending more time with Sandra, the kids, and the grandkids. You have talked about retirement for many months now, and I know you have great plans. As my boss, and more importantly, my friend, I want to thank you for your assistance when I needed it, for your trust in me and my decisions, and for your constant encouragement. Thanks, too, for keeping my grammar skills sharp while proofing your work! I wish you the BEST. One thing for sure, ‘ole Jim is certainly smiling down on you and your retirement. You have made him proud.