JANESVILLE, Wis. — In 1936, a group of Rock County farmers decided that if they wanted to get electricity anytime soon, they would have to do it themselves.
They believed that electricity was a necessity for progressive farming and ultimately improving the lives of rural folks. In the mid-1930s, there was a vast difference between the prosperity of city dwellers and rural folks, largely because of the availability of electricity. More than 90 percent of people living in cities had electricity, but only 10 percent of rural areas had power.
The farmers had requested power from the local utility company but were turned down because it wasn’t considered economically feasible. Undiscouraged, they turned their thinking to a cooperative program. When the federal Rural Electrification Administration was initiated by an act of Congress in 1936, the group was prepared to launch a program to give rural areas electricity.
April 22, 1936, the group founded the Rock County Electric Cooperative Association, now known as Rock Energy Cooperative. Not only did these highly-motivated individuals start a cooperative, they also worked out a power supply agreement, signed up members, borrowed money, hired employees, put poles in the ground and strung wire. They were successful in bringing the promise of a better life to the countryside.
During 2011, Rock Energy Cooperative is honoring these forward-thinking men as it celebrates 75 years of illuminating people’s lives. The original incorporators were George Ballmer, Ed Mahlum, Michael Weis, Emmett Yale, C.J. Damerow, James A. Conway, J.O. Woodman, H.S. Anderson, William Florin, Clarence Knutson, Adam Lunowa, Grant Rice, H.A. Haried and J.B. Dybevik.
“It’s astounding when you consider the changes that have occurred in the co-op’s history,” said Shane Larson, the co-op’s chief executive officer. “Rock County Electric Cooperative started with a couple hundred meters. We have 27,000 today. The number of employees grew from four to more than 50 today. We have changed our name, expanded our service territory to include urban areas as well as the rural countryside, and now also deliver natural gas to our Illinois members.”
Energy cooperatives have a long history of working together toward a common goal. In 1936, farm families banded together to electrify rural America, and that spirit of cooperation is stronger than ever today, Larson said.
“For 75 years, Rock Energy Cooperative and its members have chosen to unite as a collective body to energize our homes and our businesses,” he said. “The decades have demonstrated that no matter what the challenge, the cooperative has remained focused on its mission to deliver safe and reliable energy at a competitive price.”
Established in 1936, Rock Energy Cooperative is a not-for-profit utility distributing safe and reliable electricity and natural gas to more than 27,000 meters across its eight-county service in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. With headquarters in Janesville, Wis., the cooperative also has an office in South Beloit, Ill. For more information, visit www.rock.coop.
From the Aug. 24-30, 2011, issue