By JESSE HELLING
After a contentious legislative session concluded in 2003, then-Iowa Sen. Mary Kramer was looking forward to a relaxing vacation at Hilton Head, S.C.
Upon departing the plane and turning her cell phone back on, Kramer discovered a message: "Call the office."
Ignoring it, Kramer and her husband Kay checked into their resort.
At the front desk, another message awaited: "Call the office."
Corn Belt Power Cooperative, headquartered in Humboldt, is a generation and transmission electric cooperative owned by its member systems. Corn Belt Power provides electricity to nine member distribution electric cooperatives and one municipal electric cooperative that serve farm members, rural residences, small towns and commercial and industrial members in 41 counties in northern Iowa. Corn Belt Power has approximately $340 million in total assets and has 95 employees.
According to information presented at the meeting, electric sales to member co-ops were steady in 2012 compared to 2011, with 1,851,303,322 kilowatt-hours sold.
Guilt and curiosity getting the better of her, Kramer made the call to a staffer, who relayed another message: "Call the White House."
Thus began Kramer's career as a diplomat.
Kramer, who had served in the Iowa Senate as a Republican since 1990, was nominated by President George W. Bush to be U.S. Ambassador to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean.
She related her experiences at Corn Belt Power Cooperative's annual meeting Wednesday.
"The truth is, we didn't even know where Barbados was," Kramer told attendees, who packed the ballroom at Best Western Starlite Village Inn & Suites.
Making a trip to a local bookstore, the Kramers sat down over a cup of coffee to research.
"We looked it over and thought 'How bad could it be?'" said Kramer, laughingly referring to Barbados' reputation as a sun-soaked tropical paradise.
Still, Kramer was reluctant, as she explained to a White House staffer.
"I was honored and humbled to be chosen, but I didn't want to uproot everything to become a ribbon-cutter," she said.
Then Bush picked up the line.
"He told me, 'We need some of that Midwest common sense down there. I'm not sending you for a walk on the beach,'" Kramer said.
She was convinced.
Following a seven-month confirmation process, Kramer was sworn in by then-Secretary of State Colin Powell.
As ambassador, Kramer was the official U.S. representative to seven island nations: Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, all former British colonies.
This allowed her to be an exemplar of American values in the region - which, Kramer said, is the most important duty of an ambassador.
"As Americans, we owe a great debt to our forbears for defending and protecting our values, which are the greatest gift we can pass on," she said.
Helping to maintain stable democracy is in the economic and security interests of the United States, she said.
"The best prize life offers us is the opportunity to do work worth doing," said Kramer, quoting President Theodore Roosevelt.
She urged attendees to do likewise, offering her views on what makes effective leaders.
"Develop responsible followers and focus on what is important," she said. "As a leader, model the behavior you want to see."