By Carolyn Eselgroth
Partner at Barrett, Easterday, Cunningham and Eselgroth LLP & Former student of Dr. Ingraham
“Hi, Scoop!” I recognized the energetic voice on the phone with the Washington County twang, even though it was my first day on the job at The Ohio Farmer magazine. I had recently graduated from The OSU, but that didn’t stop Dr. Charles H. (Chuck) Ingraham, my co-op class professor, from calling and giving me a quiz about the front page of the Wall Street Journal.
Over time I discovered Chuck was in contact with many former students and acquaintances in the cooperative world. His area of expertise was ag marketing and cooperatives, and his extension outreach and teaching seemed to take him everywhere, even several years of work with farmers’ cooperatives in Hawaii after his retirement from Ohio State. Notes on his speeches, which he provided to his students for our “possibly useful file,” gave us some idea of his travels and national prominence.
For more than 30 years, until his death at age 89 in 2013, Chuck continued my co-op education, about their history in Ohio and elsewhere, about boards and governance, about how things work and why they don’t. He helped me decipher the notes in financial audits, showed me how bylaws were sometimes misused to abuse democratic processes, and gave me the context for information found in boxes of public securities filings. The 1980s provided many opportunities for learning!
We continued to talk about co-ops as I transitioned from journalism to law, including the updates to Ohio’s cooperative law. Instead of reporting on co-op trials and tribulations, I was advising co-op clients how to prevent those problems. While I couldn’t share client confidences, Chuck’s “possibly useful files” were indeed useful, and I found myself understanding in new ways the things Chuck had taught in class.
As time passed, our conversations became more reflective. Chuck realized he was teaching the same lessons and dealing with the same problems with each new generation of co-op members, directors, and employees. The basics didn’t change, but they were always new to those who hadn’t heard them before, and encouragement and reminders are needed. His words still ring true today: “Cooperatives are unique – they are people working together to obtain those goals they could not achieve individually. For a cooperative to ‘go and grow’ members must: need it, want it, understand it, use it, finance it, and work at it.” How much he says in so few words!
The time is now, Chuck would admonish, not “someday” when we get around to it. He would urge us to recognize the challenges and educate ourselves and the next generation continually. To remind us, he would hand out bright red, coin-shaped bits of plastic imprinted with the words “A ROUND TUIT”. (Chuck was rarely subtle!)
Yes, time is scarce, but co-op education pays dividends over and over. I hope Chuck’s speech given at the American Institute of Cooperation 50 years ago will inspire you to help your co-op “go and grow”! I am grateful to Hannah and her team at The OSU Center for Cooperatives for making it easier for co-op leaders today to get “a round tuit”!