By Steve Dubb
October is Co-op Month. In the United States, it also marks the time that Cooperative Development Foundation hosts its annual co-op hall of fame induction ceremony. This year’s class included Allan Gallant, Paul Hazen, Gary Oakland, and Dan Waddle, as well as the posthumous induction of civil rights leader Ella Josephine (“Ella Jo”) Baker.
Gallant was recognized for his participation over more than 40 years in the food co-op movement; in particular, Gallant, from his post at the Blooming Prairie Foundation, became a primary funder of the Food Co-op Initiative, which has helped 150 food co-ops across the United States open their doors since 2006.
Oakland was recognized for his leadership role in what is today BECU and was originally the Boeing Employees’ Credit Union; when he retired a decade ago, the credit union had grown well beyond its Boeing foundations to have 700,000 members and $10 billion in assets, making it the fourth largest credit union in the United States.
Waddle was recognized for his three decades of work helping support electrics co-op across the world through NRECA International, the international solidarity arm of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.
Hazen, who spent 25 years at the National Cooperative Business Association and the last decade as executive director of the U.S. Overseas Cooperative Development Council, was recognized for his work at both of those groups, as well as his support for the Community Purchasing Alliance co-op of Washington DC, which has become a model for how local institutions can leverage buying power to support small businesses owned by people of color.
Baker was posthumously recognized for 45 years of cooperative organizing, including being a cofounder and national director of the Young Negroes’ Co-operative League, a national cooperative organization, in the 1930s. At a panel held before the induction ceremony, Ajowa Nzinga Ifateyo, a co-editor with the worker co-op publication Grassroots Economic Organizing, discussed the research she did, which was used to support the application for Baker’s posthumous induction. Baker, Ifateyo noted, saw during the Great Depression “a lot of hunger and pain on the streets. She happened to meet George Schuyler, a newspaper publisher, and he had the idea of cooperatives. She and Schuyler put out a call for young black people who wanted to make a difference in their lives. They put out this call and got 600 people to come to a conference to talk about ways to pool resources to do consumer cooperative work.”
Ifateyo added that Baker “is very much a person we can look to today to handle problems for themselves and be committed. And do creative things. She represents a great model.”
To visit the U.S Cooperative Hall of Fame, follow this link https://www.heroes.coop/.