Ozark Electric Cooperative History
Mt. Vernon, Missouri
As members/owners of Ozark Electric Cooperative, your electrical needs have always been our top priority. For the past 70+ years, we have seen many changes with the advent of first electricity, and then technology into our lives. NOW with the flip of a switch we have electrical power in our homes and businesses. THEN (that is over 70 years ago) this was not the case. Let's take a look back at the history of Ozark Electric Cooperative.
REA established 1935. President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) May 11, 1935, with signing of Executive Order 7037. It was estimated at the time that over 5,000,000 farms were entirely without electric service. Private and municipal utilities were given the first opportunity to serve the rural areas. However, due to the fact that power was generated from central stations, usually a considerable distance from the farming areas, these utilities were reluctant to venture out into the rural areas due to cost. REA was created as a means of solving this problem. Beginning in 1936, farmers were allowed to form their own electric cooperatives through loans obtained from REA. That same year, farmers in this area began working on creating their own cooperative. These early pioneers worked many hours without compensation to get electricity to the rural areas. Many farmers and their wives were worried about what they thought would be the equivalent of bringing lightning into their homes. Also, some did not want to give up the $5 membership fee to join REA on something as mysterious and perhaps dangerous as electricity.
Ozark Electric Cooperative established 1937. Local interested farmers, with the aid of C. C. Keller, then the county agent of Greene County; and John W. Woodward, the county agent of Lawrence County, held many community meetings in school-houses, homes, etc., to promote the REA program. After over a year of selling the idea of electricity to the area farmers, their hard work paid off when on October 21, 1937, twelve Lawrence, Greene, Dade, and Polk County farmers met in the Lawrence County Courthouse at Mt. Vernon and formed Ozark Electric Cooperative, Inc. (OEC).
Ozark Electric was among the first cooperatives to be formed in Missouri, and for many years was the state's largest electric cooperative. Along with other Missouri cooperatives, OEC enjoyed rapid growth. In 1936, only 6% of the farmers of Missouri were receiving central station electric service. By 1960, that percentage had risen to 97%. Ozark Electric grew as the word got out about the convenience of electricity. An Ozark Electric Cooperative newsletter dated September 20, 1942, reported that the number of consumers billed that year was 2,260. Currently, Ozark Electric Cooperative is billing 30,000+ meters.
The convenience of electricity. Before electricity washing, ironing, cooking, sewing, preserving food, taking baths, reading, milking, and other farming chores, were all backbreaking tasks. As more and more farms received electricity, more people saw the value of the electric motor. In 1942, the Ozark Electric Cooperative newsletter reported the electric refrigerator is a scarce product at this time. Other comments in the newsletter included: Fred Hardy of Chesapeake installed a new electric meat case for his store, and several members had purchased new automatic electric water pumps. The article went on to name the half dozen new owners. Also, due to a shortage in farm labor, most likely because of WWII, several of the rural members with large herds of dairy cattle have installed new milking machines. Roy Pearce of Clever reported that he had purchased an electric range. Paul McReynolds and then board member Van Anderson of Morrisville purchased a small electric feed grinder which they planned to use together to grind homemade flour, corn meal, chicken fee, etc. It was the testimonies of these early users of electricity that convinced others that electricity was a necessity not a novelty. Below are a few of the actual letters written to Ozark Electric by our early members:
Dear Sirs. . .We have recently installed a water system and milking machine which adds to our appliances, such as a new Kelvinator refrigerator, radio, iron, and washing machine. For all of these, we are very grateful to REA. Mrs. Hugh Barnard, Fordland, Mo.
Ozark Electric Cooperative. . .You will note that our electric bill has increased some over the previous months. We have installed a refrigerator, and now we are wondering why we did without one so long. Best wishes to all. Mrs. A. J. Kahler, Crane, Mo.
Dear Sirs. . .We have had a Surge miler about eighteen months, but we ran it with an engine. Last month we got a motor so we could use electricity. We are very pleased as our bill is not one-half as much as the gas and oil had been per month. Yours for more electricity. Irvin H. Cook, Republic, Mo.
Dear Sirs. . .I take this way to thank the REA and those that made it possible for farmers to have electricity, and aiding in the wiring of their homes. Yours truly. Ed Toynton, Billings, Mo.
From electric well pumps, ranges, refrigerators, water heaters, furnaces, air conditioners, telephones, computers and newer electronic devices, Ozark Electric Cooperative has provided power for our members' homes, farms, and businesses for over 65 years. We feel a loyalty to our members because they created us and truly are our owners. As Ozark Electric Cooperative continues to strive to bring reliable power to our members, it is our hope that they never forget the sense of awe and wonderment that was experienced by the early rural families, perhaps their ancestors, with the advent of electricity.
*The Next Greatest Thing - an ending thought. . .What the sign and the coming of electricity meant to rural families was captured in the recollections of a land buyer for the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Traveling a country road at dusk in the early 1940s, the land buyer came upon a farmer sitting on a little knoll overlooking his newly electrified farm. As the farmer gazed down at his house, barn, and smokehouse ablaze with light, he had a special look of wonder on his face. About a week later the TVA man attended the church to which this farmer belonged. During the service, the farmer got up to give witness:
Brothers and sisters, I want to tell you this. The greatest thing on earth is to have the love of God in your heart, and the next greatest thing is to have electricity in your house.