(This week The Columbian-Progress spotlights Pearl River Valley Electric Power Association Manager of Member Services Leif Munkel.)
Q: When and where were you born?
A: I was born in Big Fork, Minn., which is just south of the Canadian border, on June 25, 1978.
Q: Where did you attend school?
A: I attended Grand Rapids High School. It’s about 40 miles south of Big Fork. I lived out on the lake kind of in the middle of the woods between Big Fork and Grand Rapids. I went to Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., next to Fargo, N.D. I graduated with a degree in mass communications.
Q: Where do you work? Tell us about your job/company.
A: I’m manager of member services at Pearl River Valley Electric. I deal with all of the communications, marketing and member services with the cooperative. That can involve dealing with the media, sending press releases and letting them know what’s going on with Pearl River Valley Electric. I also work with some of our programs that provide outreach to our members.
Q: What led you to your profession?
A: I first started out in broadcast news, and that’s how I came to Mississippi actually. I worked at a TV station in Meridian and eventually at WDAM in Hattiesburg. I was there for about two years, and from there I made a decision that while I liked what I was doing in broadcast I wanted to do some different things with it that kind of parallel. I decided to go into public relations and ended up working for the Hattiesburg Convention Commission with Lake Terrace in Hattiesburg. I eventually ended up at Southern Pine Electric. I was given an opportunity to work in the communications department there before I came to work at Pearl River Valley.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your job?
A: I enjoy being able to meet with our members and talk to them about the electric cooperative. I like to help them with any issues they may have. I feel like that’s basically the main part of the job, to help them in any way that we can.
Q: What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
A: Our industry is driven by how the weather is. Being able to be prepared and anticipate what’s coming up — we get hurricanes, tornadoes and all sorts of bad weather in Mississippi — to help the cooperative during restoration activities. Also reaching out to the media to let them know about outages and things like that to keep the members in the loop, too.
Q: What is the most important lesson you have learned in your career?
A: The most important lesson I’ve ever learned I learned early on at a TV station in Fargo. I learned to listen. When I was starting out, I was assigned to go cover an opening of a skate park and I lost the information. My photographer and I did some research to find out where it was, and we ended up going to cover the wrong opening of a skate park. My boss had promised the other skate park we’d be there to cover it, and that made me realize to know what exactly you’re doing, keep backups of any information you have and just be prepared. That way if you do make a mistake, you’re at least able to go back and retrace your steps.
Q: What was your first job?
A: I worked as a lifeguard in Grand Rapids at a place called Blandin Beach.
Q: Who are the people who have been most influential in your life?
A: My parents, Robert and Mary Munkel, were both teachers and instilled in me a lifelong interest in learning. I believe if you go into television news that’s an important aspect of it, and it also is in public relations. You’re always having to learn about the electric power industry or learning to improve ourselves in our jobs.
Q: What is your spouse’s name?
A: Colleen Munkel. She works for Forrest General Hospital and is a director over there for Pine Grove.
Q: Do you have children?
A: We have a 4-year-old son, Sander.
Q: If you could have anything for your last meal on earth, what would it be?
A: I would definitely eat a pepperoni and extra cheese pizza from Sammy’s Pizza in Grand Rapids. They make the best pizza.
Q: If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
A: I would like to go to Norway. A good portion of my family is originally from Norway. Somewhere over there is a family farm — my grandma has actually visited — but I’d love to track it down and visit. That would be a dream trip.
Q: What hobbies do you like to do in your spare time?
A: One of the things my wife and I like to do is lap swim. Swimming has always been a big part of my life. Now that we have a 4-year-old we don’t get a whole lot of free time, but we like to go to movies and just spend time with our son.
Q: What do you enjoy about Columbia?
A: It’s only been about four weeks, but I definitely like the small-town atmosphere. Everyone I’ve met has been real welcoming, and I think that it’s indicative of the community here in Columbia and Marion County.
Q: If you could have lunch with anyone from your life or history, who would it be and why?
A: My grandfather, Earl Munkel, on my dad’s side. I never got to meet him. I’ve always heard stories about him from my dad and uncle. He died about a year before I was born, and growing up hearing all these stories it would be fun to talk with him and find out if all of it is true or not. I’d like to have seen him and experience what my dad and uncle experienced.
Q: What moment in your life has had the biggest impact on who you are today?
A: There’s two moments: Hurricane Katrina and the birth of my son. I hadn’t been in Mississippi very long when Katrina hit, and it really showcased a whole different side of everything to me. Having never been through a natural disaster before or the good or the bad that came with it was eye opening. The birth of my son changed my whole life. From going to school and finding a profession, you go through life putting yourself first. When you have a child, you realize how small a lot of those things are and what’s really important.
Q: Using one word for each, what are your top three morals?
A: Integrity, caring and selflessness.
Q: How would you like to be remembered?
A: I hope that I’ll be remembered as someone who not only was able to make a difference in the lives of the greater community but also individual lives. Hopefully in a positive way.