Bruce Bjerke has retired after 15 years as Clearwater-Polk Electric Cooperative’s general manager.
Over his 22 years at Clearwater-Polk Electric Cooperative, Bruce Bjerke connected many things. He connected new members to new services as the head of member services, connected a network of electric meters through an AMR (automatic meter reading) system, and connected the co-op to large loads that ensured Clearwater-Polk’s vitality.
This general manager’s mental scrapbook holds a lot of career milestones and victories. But as he retired from Clearwater-Polk in March, he wasn’t focusing as much on the event snapshots glued to the pages – his mind was on the faces in the photos.
“The co-op family,” Bjerke responded without hesitation when asked what would be most difficult to leave in retirement. “It is just a great place to work. And I was able to work in the area where I grew up, where my parents were members of Clearwater-Polk, and where I’ve been a member since 1983.”
Bjerke’s early years were spent on a farm 22 miles northeast of Bagley, Minn., and later on a family resort on Clearwater Lake. After graduating from Clearbrook High School, he attended Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Moorhead, completing the construction electrician program. He worked for electrical contractors for four years, received his journeyman’s license and joined Minnesota Pipe Line, where he received his master electrician license and worked for 16 years.
In 1999, it was time to bring all of that experience to Clearwater-Polk. Bjerke was hired to the member services team, and as his connections to the membership grew stronger, so did the co-op’s belief that he was the person to be the department’s director.
In August 2005, Bjerke transitioned from member services director to the “big chair” of general manager. Bjerke continued to leverage co-op connections to enhance his leadership over the next 16 years. He points to not only his fellow employees, but also a smart and driven board of directors and helpful nearby co-ops.
“The staff and everybody at Minnkota Power Cooperative have been such a good resource for us. Being a small co-op, we can’t have everybody in house with that level of expertise,” he said. “And as a new general manager, many of our neighboring co-ops had managers who were so willing to help out.”
Bjerke’s best moments at Clearwater-Polk were when he was able to execute projects that moved the co-op forward. Just a few years ago, his in-house team finished off a major conversion to the new AMR system, which will provide advanced automatic meter reading and two-way communication. In his last two years, he guided the co-op through a positive transition to the National Information Solutions Cooperative (NISC) system. The software gives more capability to the accounting, billing, member service, operations and engineering departments, but also allows members to more easily manage their energy usage and payments.
He's proud of those innovative endeavors, but Bjerke also speaks of the pride he felt in his lineworkers and office staff as they restored power during three consecutive summers (2016-18) of damaging wind storms. “They all worked long hours, getting members back on,” he recalled, noting the valuable help his team received from neighboring co-op crews.
As he turns the scrapbook page into retirement, Bjerke is eager to start planning more trips with Debbie and maintaining hunting land near their Clearwater Lake home. But time spent with their grown sons Brandon and Jason, their daughters-in law Jessica and Jaime, and their four grandchildren (Regor, Emma, Rhett and Jepson) will be the true joy of retirement.
“We’ll get to see them more, because we’ll be able to babysit more and they can come spend more time at Papa and Grandma’s house,” Bjerke beamed. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Main image: Bruce Bjerke, a 15-year general manager of Clearwater-Polk Electric Cooperative, stands for a photo at his final co-op managers' meeting at Minnkota. (Minnkota/Michael Hoeft)