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Oxford's Women on the Move

Tracie Russell has been working at North East Mississippi Electric Power Association since 1987. She also has volunteered and participated in an array of community activities that benefit Oxford. HottyToddy.com’s Steve Vassallo had a chance to sit down with Russell and ask about her story.

Vassallo: Tracie, tell us about your youth and where you were raised.
Russell: I was raised here in Oxford. Graduated Oxford High School in the Class of 1984. Growing up here was the best. Skateland USA was a favorite spot along with the Square Arcade. In high school, we would “Square Squat” in front of Neilson’s (Department Store) on Friday and Saturday nights. We would ride from the Square down to Big Star (now Larson’s Cash Saver) and back to the Square. We would also have contests to see who could drive around the Square the most times. If I remember correctly, I think Bubba Mize holds the record for well over 100 times around continuously.
Vassallo: Your son’s future looks very bright. Were you a major influence in the selection of his profession?
Russell: I would love to think so. He’s been around North East Power since birth. He loves coming and talking to all the linemen about their jobs. I have to brag on him. He graduates lineman school in a month and is the top student in his class. I’m a very proud mom.
Vassallo: You fell in love with the power company at a very young age and were so taken aback, you never left.
Russell: Yes. When you find a good thing, you hang on to it. North East is my second family, and I love everyone there. From our CEO, Keith Hayward, and down, there isn’t a more caring group of people anywhere. They truly strive to provide the best service to our members and are always there for our personal struggles. Great group of coworkers.
Vassallo: Before we begin discussing your responsibilities with NE Power, your second love (Ole Miss football) also has an interesting history. When did it all start?
Russell: I would say the early ‘80’s, the Billy Brewer era. I grew up watching the NFL every Sunday with my dad and that’s where my love of football began. Then, to live in a town with a great college football program is awesome.
Vassallo: Your role as billing manager is anything but routine as you handle 26,000 accounts located in the counties of Lafayette, Marshall, Pontotoc, Union and Benton. We had no idea the company and its area was so large.
Russell: Yes. Most people don’t realize our service area is as large as it is. As you stated, we serve parts of five counties with about 2,000 miles of power lines.
Vassallo: Do you recall (way back when) what the customer base was in 1987 and even five years ago?
Russell: When I started in 1987, we had 10,250 members. Five years ago we had 21,600 and today we have 25,680. That’s about a 6 percent increase in five years, which is huge. North East Power is one of the top three fastest growing co-ops in the seven-state Tennessee Valley (Authority) area. Plus, we are one of the fastest growing in the Southeast. Oh, and to add, we are in the top 36 in the country for most growth.
Vassallo: Electricity is no longer inexpensive especially for heating and cooling homes. How have NE’s rates increased through your tenure?
Russell: Let’s start with a couple of comparisons. A gallon of gas in 1987 was 90 cents. Now the average is $2.73. A postage stamp in 1987 was 22 cents. Now it’s 50 cents, (which I didn’t know until last week… Now, back in 1988, a kilowatt hour of power was .05582 cents, or basically 5 ½ cents. Today it is .10140 or a little over 10 cents per kilowatt-hour. What is a kilowatt hour? Um, I’ll get with our engineers and get back to you on that. Our average residential kilowatt-hour usage is 1,300 per month. So, an average electric bill across our area runs about $153.00 per month which is less than what some people pay for home technology. Now, this winter was brutal with the extended periods of subzero temps. The electric bills were definitely not in our average range because of the weather. But brighter days are ahead..
Vassallo: Please share how it came about and your role in planning this year’s (Annual Chamber Red Carpet) Gala.
Russell: Funny thing. I had my Gala dress at my office because our accountant, Margaret Callahan, is the best seamstress I know, and I needed a couple of alterations. When you came by my office, I had to explain why I had a formal gown hanging there. … One of the committees I serve on is the Gala Planning Committee. This is a fundraiser for our Chamber and also an appreciation event for the members. We will be having the 4th Annual Gala May 17 at Castle Hill. Tickets are on sale now. It’s the best party of the year. Great food, music and dancing all night.
Vassallo: You are involved in so many community activities including being a Chamber ambassador. Please mention your other associations. (In 2017, Tracie was presented the Oxford-Lafayette County Chamber of Commerce Outstanding Service Award.)
Russell: In association with the Chamber, I’m on the Junior Leadership Steering Committee. This is a Leadership program for sophomores at both Oxford and Lafayette High Schools. I also serve on the LEFE (Lafayette Endowment Fund for Education) Board. One of my favorite positions is being an advisor for North East Power’s Youth Leadership Program. I’ve held that position for 27 years and absolutely love working with students from our area and across the state. This program is a leadership program for high school juniors whose parents have service with us.
Vassallo: We discovered your passion for music and in particular Heavy Metal Rock and the “Hair
Bands” of the 1980’s.
Russell: Ha, yeah. That may be surprising but I do love the hair band ‘80s music. Def Leppard being my favorite with Poison a close second. By the way, I’ll be seeing Poison in July in St. Louis. Can. Not. Wait.
Vassallo: Your love of music and concerts started at the old age of six. Which artists did you initially see and where?
Russell: Oh my goodness, it was Sonny and Cher in the Midsouth Coliseum in Memphis. The opening act was Steve Martin. I still have vivid memories of my dad holding me up so I could see.
Vassallo: You have been attending Ole Miss football games since 1983. ( Tracie is a  proud season ticket holder, Section S, Row 35, Seats 1-2). During those 34 seasons, who are your most favorite Rebels?
Russell: I have to say Wesley Walls was about my favorite. Also loved Bradley Sowell, Matt Luke, Dexter McCluster, and Eli. I attend the Ladies Football Forum every year and love getting to interact with the players. Great group of young guys every year. I’ll go ahead and tell you my favorite game I attended was our 2014 win over Alabama.
Vassallo: Your love and lengthy relationship with Oxford has you certainly well-grounded in this community. What places that you haven’t been are still on your radar?
Russell: First and foremost, I would love to see the Grand Canyon, They say pictures just don’t do it justice. Another place I would love to go is Italy. Would like to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Vassallo: Tracie, in closing, what truly motivates you?
Russell: Absolutely, my son. He’s my life and is growing into the most amazing person. After that, I truly love helping people and doing anything to promote North East Power, Oxford and Lafayette County. I love what Ryan Miller, past Chamber Board president, says about Oxford: “We get to live here.”

Steve VassalloSteve Vassallo is a HottyToddy.com contributor. Steve writes on Ole Miss athletics, Oxford business, politics and other subjects. He is an Ole Miss grad and former radio announcer for the basketball team. Currently, Steve is a highly successful leader in the real estate business who lives in Oxford with his wife Rosie. You can contact Steve at sovassallo@gmail.com or call him at 985-852-7745.

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