Missouri Rural Electric Cooperative celebrates its 80th anniversary in June.
There have been many changes since the cooperative was first formed, and change remains a constant factor in the business. Let’s take a step back in time and relive some of the history behind the cooperative.
On June 16, 1936, Missouri Rural Electric Cooperative’s original letter of incorporation was signed by the following 17 residents of Marion County: R.D. Pennewell, Jacob J. Lucke, John Bier, H.L. Foster, Emmett Schachtsiek, W.H. Gray, F.R. Cammack, Oscar Haydon, H.F. Wagner, John C. Hansbrough of Palmyra, Paul G. Lehenbauer, D.W. Rohrer, C.O. Turner of Hannibal, W.H. Wagner, Arthur Crook, John K. Exon of Philadelphia and Urban Chipman of Nelsonville. These men tried to get local power companies to extend their lines beyond the city limits to provide their homes, businesses and farms with electricity, but because there was no profit to be made, they were unsuccessful.
By 1935, when Franklin D. Roosevelt set up lower interest loans through a newly established Rural Electrification Administration (REA) program aimed to bring about rural electrification, nearby power companies still weren’t interested. In fact, if progressive rural people hadn’t pulled together to use those funds to bring about rural electrification, rural America might still be in the dark. Those pioneers worked many hours without compensation to get electricity to the rural areas.
In the case of the Missouri Rural Electric Cooperative, the first steps were taken during a preliminary meeting of a small group of area farmers in Fabius Township, during the winter of 1935. With the assistance of the University of Missouri Extension program and an REA representative or two, those in attendance went back to their neighbors to ask for $5 membership fees. This was in the depth of America’s Great Depression when $5 would have been a week’s wages for many. That $5 only guaranteed that a rural electric cooperative would be organized. For many who paid that fee, it would be years before they actually had electricity.
Politically, the cooperative is still organized as it was in the beginning, from the grassroots up. Each year in September, an annual meeting is held at the Palmyra High School Gym with all member-owners invited to hear reports of the cooperative’s financial standing, vote on Bylaw changes and elect Directors to the Board. The elected Board of Directors consists of nine co-op members from set districts in the service area. They hire the General Manager, who is responsible for the daily operations of the co-op. The following people have served the co-op as Manager during its existence: Paul Lehenbauer, Acting Manager from March 1937 to June 1938; Howard McAfee, 1938 to 1942; Frank Schmit, 1942 to 1961; Ansel Moore, 1962 for two months; Clifford Calvert 1962 to 1972; Harvey J. "Pete" Disselhorst, 1972 to 1980; Dan Nelson, 1980 to 2004; and Rich Donelson, 2004 to present.
The first loan of $330,000 was made Sept. 23, 1936, and construction on the first 155-mile section of line began in February 1937. It was energized on Aug. 6, 1937, with the Palmyra Municipal Power Plant supplying electricity to 271 connected members, at an average of 44 kilowatts per month. Currently, there are 4,159 members with 5,289 connected meters, with an average kilowatt usage of 1,100 kilowatt per month. The coo-op service territory covers approximately 1,100 miles of line in Marion, Monroe, Shelby, Ralls and Lewis counties.
The first office building located at 118 East Lafayette in Palmyra was leased June 1937, from a former creamery, and was later purchased in June 1941. In June 1996, coinciding with the co-op’s 60th birthday, ground was broken for the current office location at 975 West Ross Street in Palmyra, which was adjacent to the maintenance and warehouse buildings on Highway 168. On January 27, 1997, the cooperative officially opened at its present office, after 60 years in the original location.
Knowing that your power supplier was set up and owned by its members may help you understand why each birthday is so important. The conditions that led to the formation of Missouri Rural Electric Cooperative still exist today. Homes in the rural areas are few and far between — with an average of only five per mile of electric line — which increases the cost of erecting and maintaining the power lines, poles and substations. Despite this growing cost and changing world, the rate that members of Missouri Rural Electric pay for the use of electricity is still among the lowest in the nation.