Most of us find it hard to imagine a life without computers, microwaves, dvds and flat screen TVs. We take for granted that every time we flip a switch, we’ll have instant power. But it wasn’t all that long ago that a lamp, a refrigerator or a pump out in the barn was only a dream for many living in our rural areas.
The birth of the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) on May 11, 1935, granted the Federal Government the power to “initiate, formulate, administer and supervise a program of approved projects with respect to the generation, transmission and distribution of electric energy in rural areas”.
In June, 1935, within a month of the national birth of the REA, Whitley County held its first organized meeting to begin forming a rural electric cooperative.
During this initial meeting, eight men formed a corporation known as the Whitley County Rural Electric Membership Corporation. The next day B.V. Widney, the county’s progressive farm extension agent, secured an additional seven signatures. The pioneer incorporators of the Whitley County REMC were Harper K. Waugh, Ira W. Pontzius, Frank L. Goodrich, Ralph D. Wrigley, Mark V. Mowrey, A.P. Collier, George M. Gerdes, Walter Beers, Asa J. White, Merl Gump, Howard Kelsey, Fred Hoppas, Homer Ummel, Sylvester Rouch and Allen C. Crawford.
By January 1, 1936, 150 volunteers had canvassed the area and had secured nearly 1,000 applications for membership to this new energy organization. The membership fee was $5 – a sizable investment for many households in the 1930’s.
Canvassing for members continued through the summer of 1936. On September 26, 1936, Whitley County REMC received its first loan approval from the REA. The loan amounted to $416,000 – enough money to fund 383 miles of rural power lines to serve 1,203 members.
Once the loan was approved, things happened quickly. By early October bids were opened for power line construction. By early November the first poles were staked and within two months 400 poles had been set.
Jefferson Center School became the first REMC – served consumer when its lines were energized on January 4, 1937.
But it was eight more months before electricity began flowing to regular consumer-members. On August 12, at 12:50 p.m., power lines began serving their intended purpose. Two months later, on October 22, the entire original system had electricity, with 1,203 consumers on 383 miles of line.
In January, 1939, a second REA loan for $115,000 was granted to the REMC. On Feb. 22, a construction contract was signed to set about 55 miles of line to serve some 158 customers in Northwest Allen County. The number of members in both Whitley and western Allen County continued to grow steadily over the years that followed.
In 1986, with nearly 13,000 members across 1,386 miles of line, Whitley County REMC changed its name to Northeastern REMC to more accurately reflect its expanding system in Allen County.
Northeastern REMC now provides electric services to more than 29,000 members, on 2,148 miles of line, in six northeast Indiana counties. As was the case in 1936, members can still expect their electric cooperative to do what ever is necessary to make electricity available where and when it is needed.