Lamar County Electric Cooperative Association received its charter as a Rural Electric Distribution Cooperative in June of 1938 and immediately became active in the development of an electric system to serve the rural populations of Lamar, Red River and Delta Counties. Lamar Electric Cooperative is owned by its members who elect directors to govern their cooperative. This direct control by local citizens ensures that the cooperative is dedicated to the welfare of the area and the members it serves.
Co-op systems were first organized across America to provide a necessary service in areas that for-profit electric utilities declined to serve. By the 1930’s, electricity was enjoyed by 90 percent of urban dwellers as opposed to a mere ten percent of rural dwellers. Private utility companies, who supplied electric power to most of the nation’s consumers, argued that it was too expensive to string electric lines to isolated rural farmsteads and that most farmers were too poor to be able to afford electricity.
It was simply not profitable for private power companies to provide service to sparsely populated rural areas, so farmers and ranchers were left to their icehouses, hand pumps and oil lamps. Farmers and ranchers wanted and needed power, and decided to do something about it. They organized into local cooperatives and petitioned the U.S. government to provide the financing necessary to electrify their communities.
Franklin D. Roosevelt initiated the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) in 1935 as a lending agency for building electric systems in rural areas not served by private companies. Sam Rayburn, Former Speaker of the House who lived in Bonham, was a co-sponsor of the Rural Electrification Act of 1935.
The first REA loan for Lamar County Electric Cooperative was secured in early 1939 for extension of electric service to some 600 members, most of which were located in Lamar County. The first of these lines was energized on September 22, 1939.
Mark Kennedy, T.L. Hollinsworth, M.E. Boaz, Harrison Wooldridge, and J.R. Emmons were the original incorporators and directors of the cooperative. V.A. Rodgers became manager in December 1939. Mr. Rodgers made numerous trips to Washington and headed up important committees, becoming known throughout the Southwest as a key man in the electrical cooperative field.
Mr. Rodgers indicated in a 1988 interview that he wrapped notices around corn cobs and threw the messages out to rural homes to notify them of meetings about getting electricity in their homes. There had to be an average of three homes per mile of line to be able to get money from REA to build the lines.
Before their homes could be energized, families had to pay a $5.00 membership fee and have their house wired. In those days, many people feared electricity, but once neighboring homes began receiving it, others quickly followed. One of the first items rural families purchased once they had electricity in their homes was an iron, followed closely by a refrigerator.
In the 1930’s and 40’s, when most people didn’t have telephones, if a rural customer lost power, they would send a letter to the co-op requesting that when a serviceman happened to be out their way to please get their electricity back on. Electricity was not as critical then as it is today. Most of the residential electric bills back in those days averaged about $2.25 a month.
A. B. “Buzz” Corder, one of Lamar County Electric Cooperative’s first linemen who later became General Manager, retold a story from the early days of a case of trouble on the line. The linemen were out for four days and nights working on the line from Blakney to Kiamichi, in an area that was not accessible by truck. There were few paved roads, especially in the rural areas, and they had to go in on horseback. A member of the cooperative loaned them their horses.
In 2009, Lamar County Electric Cooperative included approximately 9,000 members, 31 employees and 11,643 meters connected. LEC averaged approximately 2,198 miles of energized line, including 3 miles of transmission line and 49 miles of underground line. The average number of meters per mile of line is 5. Cooperative members are 93% residential, 5% small commercial, 1% large commercial and 1% other.