Between 1936 and 1940, the early leaders of your cooperative canvassed the countryside, telling their friends and neighbors about the opportunity for central-station electric power, and eventually trying to sign up members. Often these progressive thinkers were met with arguments against the idea. Some folks thought it was a great idea but would never be accepted. Others were skeptical about the expense or afraid of the liability.
The initial intent of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order of May 1935 had been to stimulate existing utilities into extending lines into the rural areas. When, by early 1936 it became evident that this would not happen quickly, the local opinion leaders began talking about forming a cooperative.
Meetings were held, members were signed up, and skeleton cooperatives were created. During 1936, meetings were held in Winneshiek, Chickasaw and Howard counties, and a Howard County Electric Cooperative was formed. Farmers from Winneshiek County investigated joining a Minnesota cooperative then being formed to the north, but soon found out that such an interstate organization was not practical. Soon there were plans underway to merge these areas and those in Chickasaw County into the Howard County organization under the new name of Hawkeye Tri-County Electric Cooperative.
These infant organizations could only be fleshed out by a massive sign-up campaign and that was those early leaders were trying to accomplish. At the time, it seemed that the sign-up progress was slow, but in retrospect the fact that the entire three county organization had received its first approved loan by the end of 1938 is amazing. This loan was for construction of lines to serve the original Howard County area. Sign-up in the Winneshiek and Chickasaw county areas continued and a loan application for this region was made in October 1939.
Approval did not follow as quickly for this loan and while awaiting approval, plans were being made for hiring a permanent manager and staff, construction of an office building, and securing long-term power contracts with a new organization then emerging called Tri-State Power Cooperative.Tri-State was being organized to provide wholesale electric power to cooperatives in the region. M.R. Ringoen, then serving as president of what was still being called Howard County Electric Cooperative, attended meetings in La Crosse to participate in discussions on possible construction of a steam plant at Genoa, Wisconsin.
After hearing about the Tri-State proposal, your cooperative chose to join the organization to assure the long-term availability of electric power for our needs. Tri-State later merged with Wisconsin Power Cooperative to form Dairyland Power Cooperative which is still our power supplier today.
With the issue of long-term power supply stabilized, the attention of the directors of the cooperative returned to local questions of getting lines built and service started, as well as affecting the transition from an all volunteer organization to an operating business.
In 1940 the first member’s farm, M.R. Ringoen, was energized and hundreds of others followed in quick succession. Meanwhile the Winneshiek-Chickasaw construction was finally approved and the first pole was set in September 1940. For the first months, power to the cooperative was supplied by Interstate Power Company, but in mid-1940, the Tri-State Plant went into operation and began supplying our needs.
Another important event of 1940 was the beginning of construction of the cooperative’s office building near Cresco. This facility has remained the cooperative headquarters ever since.
According to a history of the cooperative by E.J. Weigle in the Decorah Journal, from 1942 onward, there was less need for the cooperative’s directors and staff to promote membership because by that time the benefits of farm and home electrification had become obvious. Weigle notes that during the war years member sign-ups were slowed because of shortage of manpower and materials. After the war, work continued on the backlogged applications for service.
The first Hawkeye Tri-County REA building, built in 1941.
Directors and Guests at the 1942 Hawkeye Tri-County R.E.A. meeting at Cresco are, front row from left, Helmer J. Hovden, Ridgeway; Ed Blazek, Lawler; Stewart Baker, Decorah; J.E. Bigalk, Cresco; and A.J. Kuhn, Calmar. Others pictured are Hawkeye Tri-County President M.R. Ringoen, upper right; C.E. Christensen, manager, second row, far left; Sen. Edward Vrba, third from the left in the second row; Leo Herold, Fort Atkinson, picture fourth from left in the second row; Leo Birdsell, vice president, Frankville, first on the right in second row; and E.J.Weigle, the County Extension Director at that time, pictured in the center, fourth row.
“Do You Remember When” – a 96-page hardcover book was published in 2011 to celebrate Hawkeye REC’s 75th Anniversary.