Three outstanding cooperative leaders will receive the cooperative community’s highest honor on May 4, 2016 when they are inducted into the Cooperative Hall of Fame.
The inductees are Dennis Bolling, outgoing president and CEO of United Producers, Inc.; Dennis A. Johnson, former president and CEO of the St. Paul Bank for Cooperatives; and Dr. Jessica Gordon Nembhard, author of “Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice.”
These cooperative leaders will be recognized at the annual Cooperative Hall of Fame dinner and induction ceremony at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on the evening of May 4, 2016. In conjunction with the ceremony, a public forum on cooperative development and leadership will be held in the afternoon.
“Induction into the Cooperative Hall of Fame is reserved for those who have made genuinely heroic contributions to the cooperative community. The 2016 inductees join a host of extraordinary Hall of Fame members who have contributed significantly to the advancement of the cooperative movement,” said Gasper Kovach, Jr., board chair of the Cooperative Development Foundation, which administers the Hall of Fame.
Dennis Bolling, outgoing president and CEO, United Producers, Inc. (UPI)
A champion of the co-op business model and visionary cooperative educator, Dennis Bolling has spent close to four decades serving the cooperative sector. He brings a legacy of service to and advocacy for farmer cooperatives to the 2016 Cooperative Hall of Fame.
Bolling’s cooperative career began in 1980, when he began working at the Louisville Bank of Cooperatives, a predecessor institution to CoBank. There, one of his accounts was Producers Livestock Association, the organization that later became United Producers, Inc. (UPI), an Ohio-based livestock marketing, finance and member services cooperative serving farmers in the Midwest.
When he joined the organization in 1989, Bolling helped then Producers Livestock Association emerge from the economic downturn that plagued the agriculture sector throughout much of the 80s. In 1999, he oversaw a series of mergers that doubled the co-op’s size and expanded its services to producers in ten states. In late 2001, Bolling steered UPI through a complex, eight-year legal and financial labyrinth in the wake of a Ponzi scheme that left it bankrupt and $80 million in debt. Under his leadership, UPI not only survived what was widely seen as a crippling setback, but its members emerged protected and its operations undamaged. Today, UPI is the largest livestock marketing cooperative in the U.S., serving 45,000 members, marketing 3 million head of livestock and recording annual sales of $1.2 billion last year.
Once UPI was stabilized, Bolling turned his attention to his lifelong passion—cooperative education and development. An advocate of strong board governance, he developed a board certification program and used the Farm Credit Services’ leadership modules to provide advanced governance training to co-op boards. At a time when the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives’ (NCFC) education program was on the brink of disappearing, Bolling helped reinvent it and ensure its broad support. To build a more engaged and efficient workforce, he created UPI University, which includes company orientation, sales and management training courses. At CoBank, Bolling led the committee that developed its director education program, writing and presenting much of it himself.
Bolling was instrumental in creating numerous cooperative education organizations, including the game-changing Center for Cooperatives, Business and Community Education and Development at Ohio State University and the Mid America Cooperative Council. Bolling serves on the Executive Committee and as chair of the Education Committee at NCFC, where his goal is to help cooperative directors understand the scope and complexity of their role, acquire the skills they need to apply around the board table, learn to conduct business with accountability and transparency and make informed decisions as part of a diverse group. Bolling also chairs the board of the NCFC Foundation, where he has set fundraising strategies and expanded the organization’s scope of work.
Bolling recently completed a term as chair of the LEAD Program, a two-year leadership program affiliated with Ohio State. In July, he received the Reginald J. Cressman Award from the Association of Cooperative Educators in recognition of his mentorship and profound impact on the development of cooperative leaders.
Dennis Johnson, former president & CEO of the St. Paul Bank for Cooperatives
An early investor behind a new generation of Midwestern co-ops in the 80s and 90s and a key figure in the development of senior housing co-ops, Dennis Johnson holds a pivotal place in cross-sector cooperative history.
His legendary career at the St. Paul Bank for Cooperatives saw him advance from credit analyst in 1973 to president and CEO in 1989, a position he held until the St. Paul Bank merged with CoBank in 1999. Early on, Johnson recognized the integral role the cooperative business model could play in improving life in rural America and, under his leadership, the St. Paul Bank became a leader in supporting new venture co-op formation and finance. He also oversaw the bank’s most significant change during its 55-year history when, in 1989, it transitioned from a lender with a four-state charter to one with a national charter under the Agriculture Credit Act of 1987. The expansion placed the St. Paul Bank in a unique position to influence, support and encourage the application of the co-op business model to spur rural economic development.
Working alongside Rod Nilsestuen in the mid-80s, Johnson was an early supporter of a new entity—a cooperative development center that would provide needed technical assistance to both existing co-ops and startups. He and the St. Paul Bank were a reliable source of funding for what is today known as Cooperative Development Services.
Starting with the Homestead Housing Cooperative program in the 1990s, Johnson has long played a leading role in the senior co-op housing sector. After retiring from the St. Paul Bank in 1999, Johnson devoted the next 15 years to finding a new approach to developing and financing senior housing co-ops. In 2002, he helped organize the Senior Cooperative Foundation. In 2006, Johnson joined Cooperative Housing Resources (CHR) as executive vice president, strengthening the organization as the nation’s only lender focused solely on financing senior housing co-ops. Johnson was the lead organizer of the annual Senior Cooperative Housing Conference, for which he continues to shape content. Recognizing the need for members to understand the cooperative model, Johnson created the Senior Co-op Housing Education Program, which has benefited more than 6,000 member-owners. In 2009, he incorporated a purchasing co-op to leverage the buying power of senior housing co-ops that procure flooring, phone/Internet/TV, appliances and other items. In 2013, he was a key part of the group that launched a successful grassroots network to convince the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development not to shutter its Minneapolis office. Instead, staff grew from 11 to 50 people, most of whom continue to provide services and resources to senior housing cooperatives both regionally and nationally.
During his years as board member and chair of the Cooperative Development Foundation, Johnson served as finance chair of the National Rural Development Task Force. In that role, he helped secure the congressional authorization and appropriations for the USDA Rural Cooperative Development Grant (RCDG) program. Today, this program remains the primary source of federal funding for cooperative development.
Dr. Jessica Gordon Nembhard, author of “Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice” (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2014)
A cooperative ambassador, economist and community economic development expert, Dr. Jessica Gordon Nembhard is author of the recently published book, “Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice” (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2014). The result of 15 years of careful research, the book solidifies Gordon Nembhard as a historian of cooperative empowerment and transformation within low-income and minority communities. Her book argues that co-ops not only should be, but have historically been a social justice tool within African American communities.
Gordon Nembhard is Professor of Community Justice and Social Economic Development in the Department of Africana Studies at John Jay College, of the City University of New York (CUNY). In the early 2000s she was an Assistant Professor in the African American Studies Department at the University of Maryland, College Park and a co-founder of the Democracy Collaborative at U MCP. She was also a founding board member of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. In 2008-09 she was a visiting scholar at the Centre for the Study of Co-operatives at the University of Saskatchewan (Canada) and continues to be an affiliate scholar with that center. Since 2007, Nembhard has served on the Association of Cooperative Educators (ACE) Board of Directors, where she contributes to research and education programs.
Gordon Nembhard’s groundbreaking research has profoundly impacted the worker co-op sector. Her vision and principled leadership have positioned worker co-ops as tools for economic and racial justice in the 21st century. She is an active participant in and advisor to both leading cooperative organizations and grassroots cooperative development. Gordon Nembhard co-founded the U.S. Federation of Worker Co-ops and helped that organization build lasting ties with prominent civil rights and cooperative organizations. She is also an active member of the Grassroots Economic Organizing newsletter collective and recently joined the board of directors of Green Worker Cooperatives. In 2001, she received the Cooperative Advocacy and Research Award from the Eastern Conference for Workplace Democracy.
An integral supporter of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, Gordon Nembhard has provided critical historical information, training and staff mentorships to the organization. She is currently working with a committee of the Federation to draft a pilot co-op curriculum for Tuskegee University that the team hopes will prompt other universities to recognize the value of adding co-ops to their business curriculum. Gordon Nembhard also worked with the Coalition for a Prosperous Mississippi and is a member of the Southern Grassroots Economies Project (SGEP), a regional network dedicated to building a robust co-op economy in the U.S. South among marginalized communities. She is also instrumental in planning CoopEcon, an annual conference hosted by SGEP and held at the Federation’s Rural Training and Research Center in Epes, Alabama. In addition, Gordon Nembhard was a panelist at the 2014 Jackson Rising conference.
Gordon Nembhard is also a widely published author, and is president of the board of directors/shared leadership team of Organizing Neighborhood Equity (ONE) D.C. Her induction to the 2016 Cooperative Hall of Fame validates the ongoing work of cooperative leaders to reverse economic inequality within the U.S.
About the Cooperative Hall of Fame
The Cooperative Hall of Fame is housed in the offices of the National Cooperative Business Association in Washington, DC, where a permanent collection of commemorative plaques explains the contributions made by each inductee. The Cooperative Development Foundation administers the Cooperative Hall of Fame. Nominations are received annually and reviewed by a screenings and selection committee, each composed of current leaders from the various sectors of the U.S. cooperative movement.
The Cooperative Development Foundation promotes self-help and mutual aid in community, economic and social development through cooperative enterprise. CDF administers a family of funds that provide grants to promote cooperative development and innovation. The foundation also engages in educational programming that both enables networking among cooperative development practitioners and raises awareness about cooperatives in the public policy arena.