An Unforgettable Career

Jeff Davis, Wasco Electric’s general manager, retires after 40 years

Story and photos by Drew Myron

After decades working for Wasco Electric—and 18 months growing out his hair—Jeff Davis is ready to retire, relax and reflect.

Jeff Davis is letting his hair down.

At the end of a career that has spanned 40 years—all of his adult life—the buttoned-up general manager of Wasco Electric Cooperative has traded his close-cut for shoulder-length waves as he works his way to retirement this month.

Jeff joined Wasco Electric Cooperative in 1981 when he was 20 years old and looking to earn some cash between high school and college.

“I think my job title was ‘extra help’” he jokes. “What began as an opportunity to do some pickup work turned into an unforgettable career.”

Initially, Jeff helped outside crews with odd jobs and reading meters. He quickly worked his way through the ranks to manage the cooperative’s conservation programs and special projects for more than a decade. In 1998, he became member services manager, a position that put him in direct contact with customers.

“In the early days, people really engaged with the co-op,” Jeff says. “I’d talk to members who were around when there were no lights, and they’d remember receiving electricity for the first time. Times have changed, and we’ve grown to expect service. So much of our daily lives are tied to electricity now.”

In 2007, Jeff was named general manager, a formidable role that oversees power supply to 4,600 accounts across 5,000 square miles, with 1,612 miles of power lines and 10 substations stretching five counties: Wasco, Sherman, Jefferson, Gilliam, and Wheeler.

Even with his recently relaxed look, success has never been about appearances for Jeff, a confident but humble leader with a long list of accomplishments. A person is measured by action, he believes, and his desk is peppered with quotes affirming this outlook, such as this line from rags-to-riches industrialist Andrew Carnegie: “As I grow older, I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do.”

While acknowledging the many challenges ahead—such as regulatory issues, removal of dams, and wildfire mitigation—Jeff prefers to view Wasco Electric’s accomplishments.

He is especially proud of the cooperative’s conservation programs that have created the ability to serve more people with fewer resources.

We sell less energy today than in 1982,” he says. “We have more members who use less energy.”

Employee satisfaction is often measured by staff turnover, and WEC rarely has a job opening. The cooperative operates with a crew of 18 employees. Low turnover means Jeff has worked with just 60 employees during his 40 years.

One of those longtime employees is Dan Funkhouser, a WEC lineman for 35 years.

“Jeff ’s a good guy,” Dan says. “He started at the bottom and worked his way to the top, which is exceptional these days when it seems like everyone wants to start at the top and stay there.”

Jeff deflects the compliment, saying, “We’ve got a good staff dedicated to serving members well and keeping the lights on.”

The same longevity applies to the WEC Board of Directors. The board is comprised of 9 directors, and Jeff has worked with 35.

Jeff as staff assistant in 1993.

“I have been blessed with the board,” he says. “One thing I’ve truly appreciated over the years is that the board of directors in 2007 trusted and put their confidence in me to be the general manager. I will truly miss the people in this industry.”

Jeff’s open and honest style resonates with customers and the community.

“Jeff is very accessible to members, businesses, and community groups,” says Frank Kay, former mayor of Maupin, who has known Jeff for 30 years. “He’s receptive to ideas and suggestions, and he’s a good listener.”

Civic leaders have long relied on the electric cooperative for routine service, but a partnership with Wasco Electric Cooperative created a unique service: a high-density fiber-optic broadband network that provides every home and business in Maupin with the fastest internet access in the state.

“It was a major undertaking,” Frank says of the project completed in 2019. “The utility poles were designed and built for electricity, and this was the first time they allowed for another use. Jeff listened and understood what we needed, and now we have higher speed than Seattle and Portland, and at half the price.”

Jeff recalls a memorable time early in his career when the Rajneesh settled in Wasco County in 1981. WEC provided electric service to the sprawling commune 90 miles south of The Dalles.

Led by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and Ma Anand Sheela, the commune grew into a community with thousands of followers, and electricity needs boomed. The infrastructure included a new substation and 40 miles of distribution line. The Rajneesh property quickly became Wasco Electric’s largest commercial account.

As a line-staking tech, Jeff worked on the property every day for many months and often shared lunch with Ma Anand Sheela. Initially, the Rajneesh were held in high esteem, Jeff says, recounting the group’s ability to build a small city with hundreds of homes, an airport, dam, restaurants, and more.

“It was amazing what they accomplished until it turned so bad,” Jeff says, referring to when the group spread salmonella bacteria to numerous restaurants in The Dalles.

The potentially deadly plot is considered the largest bioterrorist attack in the nation.

The commune dissolved in 1985, owing millions to various creditors, but not to Wasco Electric, which required prepayment for all work.

Born in Bend, Jeff lived briefly in Pendleton and was raised in The Dalles. A 1980 graduate of The Dalles High School, Jeff and his teenage sweetheart, Julie Copper, have been married 38 years. The couple has 3 adult children and 6 grandchildren. All live in The Dalles, and Jeff is eager to spend more time with them.

When Jeff’s father died 5 years ago, he says a fresh awareness took hold.

“No one in my family has lived past 80, and I realized life’s too short,” Jeff says. “I’m ready to retire.”

He is ready to spend time getting lost in the backyard garden that fills two city lots, eager to experiment with new recipes in the kitchen, and ready to explore Oregon on road trips with his wife.

This is the new Jeff: relaxed and reflective, turning inward to appreciate a successful career but also, just as importantly, a happy family.

“You start to think about what’s important,” Jeff says, “and how much time you have.”

Caught in a pensive moment, he suddenly stops short.

“I don’t like to talk about myself,” he says with a smile. “I’m a sneak-out-the-back-door kind of guy.”