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Rural Missouri Magazine

Yes Herb, REA is still OK

by Barry Hart

by Barry Hart

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.

Herb’s passing 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.

Over the years, Herb and Elmo witnessed many innovations, including the tractor. But to them, the single most important advancement was the coming of electricity.

Electricity lightened 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 was.

Platte-Clay Electric 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 being set.

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.

Whenever 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.

E-mail Barry Hart

 

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Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives

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573-659-3423

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