History Of The Coop
On May 11, 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Executive Order that created the Rural Electrification Administration in a time that the nation’s farms needed electric power, and the nation’s workers needed work desperately. This program, born during the Great Depression, brought electric lights and power to millions of Americans who were literally living in the dark – only a half-century ago. In 1935, electric power was confined to the town and city areas because the power companies thought it would cost too much to bring electric power to the country. Power companies said it was impractical and unprofitable to extend electric lines to the people living in the rural areas. They believed that rural people could not afford the costs involved in getting electricity to them. When REA was born, barely 11 percent of the farmers in America had central station electricity.
In 1935, Congress passed the Rural Electrification Act, setting up a long-term loan program, which made it possible for rural people to work together to serve themselves with electricity.As a result of these circumstances, a few far-sighted, dedicated and hard working rural people of West Central Missouri began working together for the purpose of providing electricity for themselves. The work fell to a handful of persons who saw the potential, and they carried their message from farm to farm to “get lights” on a cooperative basis.
Once the word got out that a REA Cooperative was being formed in the area, group meetings were held in area school houses to explain the program and get these people to sign up for a $5 fee. During this time, $5 was a sum not to be taken lightly and there were some who were not sure that electricity was worth the expense.
The next step was to get out the county road maps and begin to plot the homes of the people who had signed up and draw in the general idea of the path of the proposed electric lines. The County Agent’s office in the basement of the Bates County Courthouse was the center for this activity.
The campaign then began to ask the landowners along the proposed way of the electric lines to give the Cooperative an easement for these electric lines. The organizers had to obtain these easements without being able to pay for the easements because the program was to be based on “free rights-of-way” over these lands.
On August 9, 1938, Osage Valley Electric Cooperative Association was incorporated. The original incorporators were:
- Helen Murphy-Butler
- C.K. Hendrickson-Butler
- Jas. W. Maxey-Butler
- Chas. A. Keirsey-Butler
- Byron Pipes-Butler
- J.D. Beatty-Butler
- W.E. Blayney-Butler
- John Mayer-Harrisonville
- H.W. Houston-Horton
- Ed Sheehy-Hume
- J. Kenny Franks-Rich Hill
- George C. Newell-Rockville
- Oscar Fix-Rockville
- Ervin R. Ewing-Urich
The original incorporators selected George Newell, C.K. Hendrickson, Helen Murphy and Byron Pipes to represent Bates County; John Mayer and W.E. Blayney to represent Cass County; and H.W. Houston and Ed Sheehy to represent Vernon County on the Cooperative’s first Board of Directors.
During the early months of the organization, the Board of Directors met on almost a weekly basis in the Circuit Court Room in the Bates County Courthouse in Butler. Most of the Directors’ time was spent organizing and planning for the new Rural Electric Cooperative.James DeArmond was selected as the Cooperative’s first legal counsel, and he played a major role in helping to form the organization during the early stages of the Cooperative’s development.
When a sufficient number of membership applications were received, Black and Veatch, consulting engineers, from Kansas City were appointed to perform the engineering duties. They began with the “A” Project, which was to construct electric distribution lines to serve rural members in Bates, Cass and Henry Counties.
The Cooperative’s first loan application to the Rural Electrification Administration was approved in February 1939, and Earl Westhoff was hired as the project superintendent.A construction contract was let and approved in August 1939 to build approximately 352 miles of rural distribution line on the “A” Project. Construction on the “A” Project was completed in May 1940 with about 177 members receiving electricity for the first time. A few weeks later, the “B” Project was completed and additional members were added. The end of 1940 hooked up 779 members. With the coming of World War II in 1941, virtually all construction of new electric distribution lines was stopped because of the lack of sufficient line materials. During the war years, about 500 new members were added to the Cooperative’s lines, which now numbered about 524 miles.
In 1939, the Cooperative moved into office space in the Anderson Building on the east side of the square in Butler. In addition to the project superintendent, a bookkeeper-stenographer was hired, and the Cooperative now had two employees. In 1944, the Cooperative moved into new office space in the Hinshaw Building on North Main Street in Butler. In the fall of 1948, another move was made into new offices at the corner of Ft. Scott and Highway 71 in Butler. This office served as the Cooperative’s headquarters until early in 1961 when the Cooperative occupied their new office and warehouse facilities on Highway 71 in Butler. By this time, thirty-eight employees were working for Osage Valley. In 1989, the Cooperative’s office at Butler was completely renovated. A new addition added 1,240 square feet of office space to the front of the old office and the front office of the old building was remodeled extensively. The outside of the new remodeled building was covered with synthetic stucco material giving the headquarters building a more current look. The address of the Cooperative’s headquarters is now 1321 North Orange Street. Because the Cooperative’s service area was growing rapidly in Henry County, it was necessary to establish an area office in Clinton, Missouri. In 1950, office facilities were purchased at 1005 South Main in Clinton. This facility was the area office until 1978 when the Cooperative’s Clinton office was moved into a new office-warehouse building just north of Highway 7 in the northwest part of Clinton.
Osage Valley Electric Cooperative had to purchase electric power to furnish its members. Originally, wholesale power was purchased from the City of Butler, the City of Harrisonville, and the Missouri Public Service Co. In 1948, Osage Valley entered into a contract to purchase all of its wholesale power from KAMO Electric Cooperative, headquartered in Vinita, Oklahoma. KAMO still supplies the wholesale power for the Cooperative.
Earl Westhoff served as the project superintendent until his resignation in March 1941. Al Dickman, who had been with the B&M CONSTRUCTION CO., was then appointed as the temporary project manager, and he served in this capacity until he resigned in July 1942. J.F. Lauderback was appointed the new project superintendent in October 1942. In September, 1943, Mr. Lauderback’s title was changed to manager, and he continued as manager until September, 1956. Maurice S. Solomon was then hired as manager, and he was employed as the manager for 18 years, retiring in November, 1973. James D. Hacker was then selected as manager in March, 1974, and Jim served as the manager until his retirement in May, 1985. The Board of Directors then hired Darold Wulfekoetter as the new manager, and he served the Cooperative in this capacity until his retirement in May, 1999. Jon McClure was hired to serve as General Manager in June 1999 with Daryl Veatch taking the position in 2011.
During the years, the following members served the Cooperative as a member of the Cooperative’s Board of Directors: From Bates County: George Newell, Byron Pipes, Carl Hendrickson, Helen Murphy, Ervin Ewing, Grady Swart, W.G. Harper, George Golloday, George E. Hill, Carl Bartz, Marvin Durst, Philip Lampkin, Oscar Fix, Kenneth Wheatley, and Freeman StanfillFrom Cass County: John Mayer, W.E. Blayney, A.B. Cook, Terry Wilburn, Clyde Blaco, F.M. Cockrell and Fred CochranFrom Henry County: Lester Hudson, Hobart Harrison, Raymond Lasswell, Owen Shoemaker, and O.N. RossFrom St. Clair County: C.C. Huffman, Vest Garrison, and Howard BauerFrom Vernon County: H.W. Houston, Ed Sheehy, Noel Ellledge, and Lee Morrison.
Today, Osage Valley Electric Cooperative serves over 15,000 members on over 3,800 miles of rural distribution lines. The Cooperative has fifty employees dedicated to serving the Cooperative’s members with the most economical and reliable electric power possible.
In the 1960’s the rural electric program’s needs for loan funds exceeded the amount of funds that Congress was willing to provide through the traditional REA loan program. There was a need to develop a supplemental financing program to ensure that adequate funds were available to meet the growing needs for new loan funds. In 1969, a cooperative self-help financing organization was established. That organization was the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation (CFC). Osage Valley was one of the founding members of CFC and made its first concurrent loan with CFC in 1973.
In 1994, the U.S. Department of Agriculture was reorganized and the traditional REA was eliminated and made part of the new Rural Utilities Service (RUS). RUS is now responsible for the U.S. Government’s rural electric loan program. To construct the electric lines necessary to serve their members all throughout, Osage Valley Electric has borrowed over 28 million dollars from the REA/RUS and CFC. The Cooperative has repaid almost half of the total amount borrowed. Osage Valley Electric Cooperative, along with more than nine hundred electric cooperatives in this country, has made the REA/RUS program one of the best investments the U.S. Government has ever made. It is the best example of people working together and people working with their government to provide a service that probably would not have been provided without this cooperation.
Because of electricity, the service area of Osage Valley is a much better place to live. Because of electricity, the standard of living for families living in the rural area of West Central Missouri was raised dramatically. Because of electricity, the farmer has increased his productivity that allows him to help feed the world. Because of electricity, industries and businesses have located in the rural areas providing many jobs for rural people. Because of electricity, citizens of West Central Missouri have a real choice of living in the urban areas or in the rural areas. Because of electricity, the rural areas served by Osage Valley Electric Cooperative are a place where services and opportunities are now a reality, not just a dream.