Herb, REA is still OK
Missouri lost a treasure
this winter when Herbert Hubbard died after 98 years on this Earth.
Herb was my wife’s grandfather, and he
taught me much about life.
is sad not only because a well-loved member of my extended family is
gone, but because his stories reminded those who knew him what is really
important in life.
From a man who could
remember life without electricity, I learned how electric cooperatives
brought hope to the people who used their service, and the responsibility
that comes with being a co-op member.
He was one of the
last Missourians who could remember traveling by covered wagon. He
liked to tell about crossing the Missouri River near Lexington by ferry
because the Highway 13 bridge hadn’t been built. He had family
who lived adjacent to the Frank and Jesse James farm near Kearney.
They told him they remembered hearing, “You didn’t see
us” as they rode by on horses.
His family moved
from Ozark County in southern Missouri and settled in a town few remember,
Converse. Here he met his future wife, Elmo. They had their first date
when she was either 13 or 14, depending on who was telling the story.
Both, however, agreed it was love at first sight.
The Hubbards settled
on a farm that had been in Elmo’s family since 1858.
She was born in the old farmhouse in 1911. Herb farmed with horses
and sold chickens to buy his first car, a used Chevrolet.
years, Herb and Elmo witnessed many innovations, including the
tractor. But to them, the single most important advancement was the
coming of electricity.
the workload inside and outside. For them, it was wonderful to finally
have modern conveniences such as indoor toilets and running water.
Herbert often talked about what a wonderful luxury the refrigerator
Cooperative brought power to the couple’s
home in 1952. But like a lot of rural families in that era, they
had the old farmhouse wired well in advance of the REA-financed poles
One story Herb liked
to relate was about cousin Martha from Wichita, who came to visit.
She brought with her a slide projector, intending to show slides of
her vacation. Herb let her set up her equipment before telling her
the outlet she plugged the projector into carried no current because
the co-op’s electricity
wasn’t to Converse yet.
Of all the wonderful
memories and words of wisdom he shared, what made the greatest impression
on me was his love for his electric co-op, which he affectionately
called the “REA.”
The Rural Electrification
Administration, or REA, was the government agency that loaned money
used to wire the countryside. While REA provided start-up capital,
it was the end users who made it happen. Those who lived
without electricity never forgot the hard work that made
it possible or the $5 membership fee they had to come up
with, which was a lot of money right after the Depression.
I called on Herb his first question was, “How are things at
the REA? Is REA still OK?” His interest was genuine.
Herb rarely missed an annual meeting. He understood membership
in the co-op carried responsibilities, such as voting
for the board, keeping up with the issues and, of course, paying
his bill on time.
My association with
Herb helped me appreciate what a wonderful idea the cooperative movement
was and how much REA changed rural life. He would ask me, “Is
REA going to give me a capital credit check at the
annual meeting?” From
this I saw first hand how important his cooperative
membership was to him. He knew he was not just a consumer but an owner
of the business and proud to be one. I personally took a lot of pride
in knowing he was glad I worked for the “REA.”
As we lose
more and more members of his generation, those of us who remain need
to pass along those stories of the days when the lights came on.
Many hurdles will face your cooperative in the future and your employees
will be challenged to continue to keep the lights on. I am confident
if Herb was able to continue asking me “Is the REA OK?,” I
would be able to say “You bet!”
Hart is executive vice president of the Association
of Missouri Electric Cooperatives.