Natchez Trace History Book

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Norma Kilgore General Manager

I was just a little girl when my dad, an electrician, would bring me to Natchez Trace Electric Power Association’s headquarters in Houston to pick up electric meter bases for his customers. Walking into the office, we always spoke to Mr. R.V. Taylor, who was the third manager of the electric cooperative. I had no idea I would be hired by the same man years later, after I turned 19. This is where I have spent my career, having enjoyed it from my first day as a cashier in 1966.

ommunity leaders in Calhoun, Chickasaw and Webster counties formed Natchez Trace Electric Power Association in 1939 to bring affordable TVA electricity into the area. They, and the people who eagerly joined the new electric cooperative to become member-owners, knew that reliable, affordable electric service was their ticket out of the Great Depression to better, more prosperous lives. In the early 1930s, less than one percent of the rural homes and farms in Mississippi had electric power. Mississippi, along with the rest of the United States, was trying to recover from years of economic depression. Cities and towns were aided in their recovery in a large part by access to electric power and the many conveniences it brings. But the lives of rural residents had changed little since the 19th century; without electricity, they still pumped water by hand, cooked on wood-burning stoves, and suffered from poor sanitation and lack of refrigeration. Back then, electric power was available only in densely populated urban areas. Investor-owned utility companies weren’t interested in financing electric delivery systems for rural areas where profit could not be realized. Fortunately, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as part of his New Deal program, believed the rural areas of our country needed to be electrified. On May 11, 1935, he created the Rural Electrification Administration to loan money at low interest rates for rural electric power distribution systems. This led to the formation of Natchez Trace Electric Power Association in 1939 — 75 years ago. Today, NTEPA is an innovative electric power distribution company serving more than 15,800 accounts in seven north Mississippi counties. Besides keeping the lights on, we help support our communities by serving in numerous civic organizations, coaching youth sports, volunteering as firefighters, presenting safety classes in our schools and working to support many community functions. We dedicate this commemorative book to NTEPA’s founders and to those who have devoted their careers to achieving its core mission: to provide electric energy to our member-owners at the lowest cost possible and in the safest, most efficient manner.


Lighting the Way Since 1939 2014 marks Natchez Trace Electric Power Association’s 75th year of service to members. As our founders intended, we have accomplished much through the years to improve the quality of life for the members we serve. It hasn’t always been easy. But our task of delivering reliable, affordable electric service remains vital to the well-being of our members and the communities we serve. Our community of members — representing seven counties in north Mississippi — deserves the best we can provide. That is our mission at NTEPA. Whether providing jobs, enabling sanitation and water supply, assisting volunteer fire departments and schools, or helping improve health care, we empower our members to enjoy a high quality of life. Our members’ future was not so bright 75 years ago. They were struggling to survive a devastating and prolonged economic depression — without the benefit of electricity. Hope for a better tomorrow was hard to imagine. Yet a group of forward-thinking local residents joined together and dared, rather courageously, to embrace a part of the New Deal, fashioned under the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The concept of a cooperatively owned electric system was a new way of people uniting in an effort to help themselves. Their imagination stirred, they envisioned electricity as the means to lift themselves from lives of hard manual labor and poor sanitation. But could they dare hope? Roosevelt often visited his

home in Warm Springs, Ga. He realized during one of his visits that rural America suffered from the lack of affordable electric service. So, in 1935 he signed an executive order to create the Rural Electrification Administration (REA). The order not only provided for rural electrification, but also provided jobs for Americans who desperately needed them during the Great Depression. In 1936 Roosevelt signed an executive order that made REA (now RUS) a permanent federal agency, allowing REA to offer low-interest loans to rural Americans who wanted electric service. These rural people — none of whom had any electric utility experience — used REA loans and technical guidance to form member-owned electric cooperatives to electrify their homes, farms and businesses.

Ashton Toomer First President Houston

Our story begins in 1939 when a determined group of people in Calhoun, Chickasaw and Webster counties work together to form Natchez Trace Electric Power Association to obtain affordable, dependable electric power from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Congess established TVA in 1933, in part to deliver low-cost electricity to a service territory that included north Mississippi.

n TVA advises local officials to merge with Pontotoc Electric Power Association. Ashton Toomer, then mayor of Houston, asks to form a separate electric power association for Houston, Houlka and surrounding rural areas. Since the area is large enough for the association to be self-supporting, he argues, it should be entitled to a municipal contract. This is denied by TVA and REA. n Organizers file a certificate of incorporation for Natchez Trace Electric Power Association with the State of Mississippi on Oct. 27, 1939. n REA grants NTEPA a loan for purchase of Mississippi Power Co. properties in parts of Chickasaw, Calhoun and Webster counties. Included are 1,442 consumer accounts and 56 miles of line serving larger towns. n NTEPA opens for business Dec. 18, 1939, with five employees, four of whom are former Mississippi Power employees: general manager

“Our founders were well respected in the communities that make up NTEPA’s service area, and people would listen to their ideas.” –Joe F. Boehms retired NTEPA general manager

Edward R. Creekmore Board Member Calhoun City

W.B. Funderburk, J.G. McIntosh, W.O. Murrah, J.A. Peeler, plus new employee Orin Ford. n Towns and communities served by NTEPA are Eupora, Walthall, Bellefontaine, Calhoun City, Slate Springs, Derma, Vardaman, Houston and Houlka. n Toomer, a leading force in the creation of NTEPA, begins a long tenure as president of the cooperative’s member-elected board of directors. n The new electric cooperative starts out with only one used truck, no line-construction materials and little oďŹƒce equipment. But employees are fortified by faith in their mission and the will to work hard to give service. n By December 1939, 25 member-owned electric power associations are operating in Mississippi. n A nationwide REA study in 1939 shows one farm production record after another W.B. (Bill) Funderburk being broken, and with less 1939-1950 manpower, as a result of rural electrification. Seventy-five percent of electric cooperative members now own electric radios, 70 percent electric irons, 34 percent electric refrigerators, 7 percent electric water pumps and 5 percent electric washing machines. J.R. McCord Board Member Vardaman

L.W. Harpole Board Member First Vice President Eupora

W.B. (Bill) Funderburk First General Manager Houston

Dr. J.M. (Jim) Hood Board Member Houlka

George C. Mabry Board Member Derma

Joe T. Patterson First Secretary and Attorney Calhoun City

NTEPA’s growth spurs local economic activity as members’ homes and farms are wired for electricity for the first time in their lives. Electrical contractors, appliance and equipment dealers, water well drillers and others are busy serving new customers anticipating the arrival of electricity. The expanding family economy means an expanding community and state economy. n On Jan. 1, 1940, NTEPA serves about 1,450 members; within the year, membership will grow to nearly 1,900, with new members joining daily. n In 1940 NTEPA extends lines to serve more rural areas: Spring Hill and Cadaretta in Webster County; Dentontown, Sabougla, Pleasant Hill community, Hardintown and Big Creek in Calhoun County; Thelma in Chickasaw County; and Beckham in Pontotoc County. n Rural electrification progress stalls nationwide during the early World War II years when the War Production Board restricts supplies of copper conductor and other necessary construction materials. By 1943, the board eases restrictions to help farmers who can show that electricity would mean an increase in production or decrease in labor. n In June 1944, NTEPA supports the war effort by buying $14,107 in war bonds to fund the replacement of worn-out and obsolete property, and for expansion and upgrades to be made after the war. n The cooperative supplies electric energy to such essential wartime enterprises as Grade A dairy barns, ice plants, cheese plants, a cold storage and frozen food plant, water departments, street lighting systems, a hospital, a war production plant, cotton gins and farm motors used in production, processing and preservation of food and feed.

n An 8-year-old boy suffering from an incurable case of rheumatic fever wishes for a lighted Christmas tree above all else, although power line construction has not yet reached his road in rural Calhoun County. Hearing of his wish, NTEPA crew members decide to build the line to the boy’s house the next day. Working in the mud, they set 11 poles by hand, string wire and energize the line before nightfall to fulfill his wish.

For many years throughout rural Mississippi, events were timed before or after “the lights were turned on.” Many people remember not only the day but the hour they first saw electricity in their homes. – Winnie Phillips from her book “Rural Electrification in Mississippi”

NTEPA continues its vigorous post-war growth and expands services to include teaching consumers safe, efficient ways to use electricity in the home and on the farm. TVA becomes the nation’s largest electricity supplier. n W.B. Funderburk, NTEPA general manager since 1939, dies May 24, 1950. In an early history of the cooperative, he is praised for working unceasingly to give prompt and excellent service, to maintain good will and to extend service to rural areas. n NTEPA’s electrical system faces its first major test in the ice storm of 1951. Heavy ice accumulations bring down hundreds of miles of line, and thousands of members lose power. Natchez Trace crews work 18- to 20-hour days to rebuild lines and restore service. n In 1955 NTEPA builds a new branch office in Calhoun City to better serve local members. n In 1959 the cooperative hires T.G. Hurt as a power use advisor. He works closely with farmers to electrify their farms, ease their work load and increase production. n Laura Kealhofer joins the cooperative in the late 1950s as a home economist to demonstrate the use of electric appliances to homemakers.

The family of Paul Moore Jr., now NTEPA’s attorney, had just built a new all-electric home when an ice storm cripples the area in 1951. The family moves into his grandmother’s house, where they cook meals on a wood-burning stove and rely on a fireplace for heat.

n TVA stages traveling shows to demonstrate the wonders of electricity. Under a huge oblong tent, audiences learn about light fixtures, how refrigerators and freezers keep food fresh, and ways to use automatic water pumps. n NTEPA serves the widest range of industrial users in the TVA service area, according to TVA. These include manufacturers of gloves, pants, men’s shorts, cheese, handles, brooms, chairs, saddles and harness, and electric hotbeds for potato plants. Others are planing and saw mills, potato dehydrating and curing plants, a hospital, four clinics, gins and ice plants, and a large number of dairies.

James McIntosh 1950-1952

NTEPA reaches a milestone in growth when it presents Mr. and Mrs. James W. Simmons a prize of $25 for becoming the cooperative’s 10,000th member. With growth comes growing pains, though, and General Manager R.V. Taylor declares more time and attention will be given to keeping the electricity flowing. “We believe we can handle it,” he says in the cooperative’s member publication, Electro-Lines. n In 1962 NTEPA enters the Gold Medallion R.V. Taylor 1952-1968 Home program, which promotes all-electric living and electrical standards that include wiring, lighting, heating and cooling. Homeowners who meet all Gold Medallion standards are awarded cast medal medallions for mounting on their home. n Vardaman, served by NTEPA, boasts of being the “Sweet Potato Capital of the World.” With annual production of more than 1 million bushels, it seems a justifiable claim. n In 1966 NTEPA hires Norma Kilgore to be a cashier in the Houston office. Her salary is $1.40 per hour. Forty years later, the

“Compared to the national average, you used almost twice the amount of electricity and paid even less than the national average bill.” – T.G. Hurt power use advisor, in Electro-Lines, NTEPA’s member publication (February 1966)

cooperative’s board will promote her from office manager to general manager. n By 1968 NTEPA serves 10,000 members using an average of 8,500 kilowatt-hours annually—more than eight times the average electrical use of 1,500 members in 1940. At the annual membership meeting, members learn their cooperative’s demand for electricity is doubling every seven to 10 years; cost is about one-half the national average. n The nation’s downward trend in electric service costs is due in large part to technological advances in the generation and transmission of power. n Expecting continued growth in electric power needs, TVA begins building nuclear plants as a new source of economical power. n In May 1968 the cooperative holds an open house at its new office in Eupora.

An international oil embargo in 1973, followed by soaring fuel costs and general inflation, gives rise to an energy crisis that dampens the nation’s economy. The average cost of electricity in the Tennessee Valley increases fivefold from the early 1970s to the early 1980s. Electric power associations urge members to use energy wisely. n The average U.S. farm consumes 1,002 kilowatt-hours per month in 1972, a gain of 44 kilowatt-hours over 1971’s 985 kilowatt-hours monthly, according to USDA. n NTEPA joins other electric power associations in promoting energy efficiency to help members control their energy costs. n Sen. John Stennis, speaking in 1974, urges all electric power association members to better understand the true cost of providing electricity by becoming “even more informed about the operation of your association. You don’t have to be an engineer or executive to participate.” n An ice storm sweeps north and central Mississippi in January 1973, knocking out power to some

50,000 members of electric power associations, including NTEPA. O.M. Mangum 1969-1978 Electric power associations in the state unaffected by the storm send crews to assist in power restoration. n Inflation causes huge increases in the cost of line-construction materials by 1974. Copper wire cost is up 400 percent, aluminum wire 112 percent, poles 119 percent, crossarms 59 percent and gasoline 66 percent, according to the Mississippi EPA News.

“Along with Skylab, we need an energy lab here on Earth to spearhead the technological breakthrough to development of abundant sources of clean energy at prices that consumers can afford to pay.” – Robert D. Partridge general manager of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, speaking in 1973

NTEPA creates new services and tackles system upgrades to meet the growing electrical needs of members. The cooperative focuses on more efficient operation, electrical safety and promotion of energy-saving measures for members. n NTEPA energizes its new Houston substation at 12 KV in 1983. Upon completion of a line upgrade from 7200 KV to 14.4 KV, the cooperative boosts the substation to 25 KV in 1988. n The cooperative initiates new services of immediate benefit to members: an improved and expanded bank draft program, new answering machines for after-hours assistance, new-member education, the Sunscreen Financing program and Energy Saver Homes program. n The cooperative’s new right-of-way crew improves service reliability through a regular program of right-of-way maintenance. n Management updates office procedures to cut John Echols costs in several areas, including bill collections, 1978-1985

banking, inventory, service contracts and office equipment. n Employees begin a program of identifying and correcting hazardous wiring and electric apparatus in yards and near electric meters. n REA celebrates its 50th anniversary in 1985. n NTEPA joins the Electric Power Associations of Mississippi Youth Leadership program, which offers local rising high school juniors opportunities for leadership training and a tour of Washington, D.C.

Richard Dearman 1986-1990

“The story of the electrification of rural Mississippi and America is one of the most amazing chapters in the nation’s history, but one which may be summed up with one word—cooperation.” – Doyle Davis Electro-Lines editor, 1983

Severe weather, including a devastating Christmas Eve ice storm, tests NTEPA’s ability to restore power in the worst of conditions. But with help from other electric power associations across the state and beyond, our crews get the job done as quickly and safely as possible. n A tornado in November 1992 hits hard in the Clarkson community, Houlka and other areas. NTEPA crews work into the night to repair lines within hours of the first outage reports. n In April 1992 NTEPA linemen use their bucket truck to rescue an Air Force pilot from the top of an oak tree. The pilot, along with three others, parachuted safely after a mid-air collision involving their two T-37 jet training planes. The incident occurred in the Van Vleet area of Chickasaw County. John Hall n In January 1993 NTEPA purchases a building 1990-2000 near its existing office in Houston for conversion into a Customer Service Center. Renovations will include construction of the cooperative’s first drive-through service window. n The February 1994 ice storm crushes thousands of miles of power lines in north Mississippi, causing 150,000 outages for 13 electric power associations in the area. Of the 14,400 meters served by NTEPA, 8,000 are left without power at the peak of the storm. Two other electric power associations send line-construction crews and heavy equipment to help NTEPA rebuild lines. After restoring power at home, NTEPA New Customer Service Center crews leave to help restore power for in Houston begins offering drive-through service.

Employees confer at the new Houston office.

members of Alcorn County Electric Power Association and Coahoma Electric Power Association. n A member of Alcorn County Electric Power Association writes a letter of appreciation for NTEPA’s service during the ice storm: “Numerous friends and neighbors remarked how diligently, organized and cheerfully your employees worked.... [We] are deeply grateful for whatever inconvenience and sacrifice was made for them to come up here.” n TVA’s energy right new homes program offers NTEPA members financial incentives to install electric heat pumps and other energyTree limbs sag under the weight of ice efficient features in their but a cleared right-of-way keeps them homes. from touching the lines. n The ice storm of Christmas 1998 becomes the worst natural disaster in NTEPA’s history. At the peak of the storm, about 13,000 of NTEPA’s roughly 15,225 members lose electric service.

“During my long tenure with TVA in Tupelo, I recognized that when Mississippi electric cooperatives joined forces, the result was a powerful partnership.” – John Hall retired NTEPA general manager

Of Mississippi’s 25 electric power associations, 21 suffer outages. The total emergency work force involves crews from electric co-ops in Mississippi and three other states. NTEPA crews begin rebuilding lines on Christmas Eve, their families waiting on Santa through the holiday until power is restored to members. Right-of-way foreman Robert Wiggs’ daughter Red Hills power project Angie tells NTEPA she has never spent Christmas Day without wishing her father a merry Christmas. Angie is led to the cooperative’s radio, where she speaks into the microphone: “Daddy, I just wanted to say merry Christmas!” Her gesture brings tears to many eyes. n In 1998 the Red Hills power project near Ackerman kicks off with a groundbreaking ceremony. NTEPA’s partnership with and commitment to TVA was a factor in landing the plant in Mississippi. n NTEPA celebrates its 60th anniversary in 1999.

By 2001 NTEPA employees have a total of 746 years of electric utility experience. The new millenium, however, presents them with new challenges, from a historic hurricane that leaves most of the state in the dark to a transition to automated meter reading. n NTEPA has worked extensively to ensure the readiness of its computer systems, including substation equipment, for the “Y2K challenge.” As 1999 turns to 2000, there is the potential for computer clocks nationwide to roll back to 1900 rather than forward to 2000, possibly causing shutdowns and other havoc. But New Year’s Day Joe Boehms 2000 comes and goes without a glitch for NTEPA, 2000-2006 TVA and most everyone else. n John Hall retires in 2000 after 10 years of service as NTEPA’s general manager. Hall remains active in community service in Houston; his dedication to scouting is recognized when he receives the Boy Scouts of America Silver Beaver Award. n NTEPA crews help Pontotoc Electric Power Association restore power after a tornado devastates its service area Feb. 24, 2001. n Joe Boehms is named general manager. He came to NTEPA in 1999 to serve as interim general manager after retiring from TVA, but decided within a few months to stay on as manager. n In 2002 Today in Mississippi, the member publication of the Electric Power Associations of Mississippi, welcomes NTEPA to the ranks of 18 electric power associations who subscribe to the publication on behalf of

“Cooperation in a crisis is one of our strengths as electric cooperatives, and it is fundamental to our operations.” – Hobson Waits retired CEO of the Electric Power Associations of Mississippi

Bronze Star recipient Sgt. Ricky Browning, an NTEPA lineman, is welcomed home by his coworkers after active duty in Iraq.

their members. Its circulation of more than 411,000 is the largest of any periodical in the state. Today in Mississippi began publishing in January 1948 as Mississippi Rural Light & Power. n Sgt. Ricky Browning, an NTEPA lineman, is one of three soldiers in B Company 223rd Engineer Battalion Calhoun City who in 2005 receive the Bronze Star for meritorious service while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. n Hurricane Katrina barrels up north Mississippi after slamming the Mississippi Coast on Aug. 29, 2005. About 62 percent of NTEPA’s 15,785 meters lose power, and some TVA transmission lines are knocked out of service. Pontotoc, Tombigbee and Prentiss electric power associations help NTEPA restore power after making repairs in their own service areas. All of Mississippi’s 25 consumer-owned electric power associations work together in a massive emergency power restoration effort statewide. The cooperative work force comprises more than 12,000 employees from electric cooperatives in Mississippi and 22 other states. Crews replace more than 50,000 utility poles and thousands of miles of power line to restore service to more than 502,000 electric power association meters. Many of the Mississippi crews remain on duty despite substantial personal loses of their own.

n NTEPA replaces some 8,000 manually-read meters from Houston and surrounding areas with “Turtles,” or Automated Meter Reading (AMR) devices. The Turtles are expected to significantly lower the cost of monthly meter reading by enabling reading directly from the office. In addition to providing more accurate readings, the meters have the capability to connect and disconnect service from the office and help the cooperative identify trouble on the lines faster and easier. The Turtles cost three times more than traditional meters, but the cooperative expects to recoup the difference in about five years. n Joe Boehms retires in 2006 after serving seven years as general manager of NTEPA. Boehms’ achievements include the implementation of the cooperative’s AMR system.

New technology continues to improve NTEPA’s service reliability, but the cooperative’s greatest asset is its employees. They are local folks who care deeply about the well-being of the communities they serve every day — on the job and off. n NTEPA employees not only keep members’ Norma Kilgore lights on but also serve their communities after 2006-Present working hours. They set poles and hang lights for school ball fields, participate in Relay For Life activities, act as coaches and officials for youth sports, and serve as volunteer firefighters. On the job, they serve as mentors for the many high school and college co-op students who have worked part-time at NTEPA. n NTEPA becomes the only electric power association to sponsor two consecutive winners of the competition to become the Mississippi’s representative to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association Youth Leadership Council. The winners are Adrian Guess in 2010 and Daulton Newman in 2011. Daulton Newman Adrian Guess n NTEPA energizes its fourth substation, located at north Vardaman, in April 2011. The substation was built to ease the electrical load on the cooperative’s Houston substation. n NTEPA’s electrical system suffers extensive damage from two tornadoes tearing across its service territory on Wednesday, April 27, starting in Eupora around 2:30 a.m. These tornadoes, part of the massive

“Through my tenure here at Natchez Trace EPA, I have seen many changes. Electricity is still the most reliable, efficient and safe energy source available.” – Norma Kilgore NTEPA general manager

21-state tornado outbreak of April 25-28, continue through the day with homes and lives lost. n Work begins in 2013 on a new GPS-based map of NTEPA’s entire service Pam Bynum,customer territory. The ongoing effort will pinpoint service Houston office the location of every utility pole and substation in a seven-county area. n NTEPA observes its 75th anniversary in 2014. Organized to bring low-cost electricity to rural residents, NTEPA has grown through the years to become an important, stable employer; a powerful force for economic vitality; and a significant contributor to the quality of life in north Mississippi.


Seated, from left: Dorothy Hardin, Earline Wilson, General Manager Norma Kilgore, President Terry Wills and Attorney Paul Moore Jr. Standing, from left: Secretary Jim Gordon, Vice President Jimmy Ball, Joe Hays, Mike Wade, Kenneth Linton and Robert Harrington.

NATCHEZ TRACE ELECTRIC POWER ASSOCIATION P.O. Box 609 • 555 E. Madison Street Houston, MS 38851 662-456-3037 • Fax: 662-456-2086 • email: PONTOTOC COUNTY





Calhoun City





STATISTICAL INFORMATION Incorporated 1939 Total Miles of Lines 2,121 Total Meters Served 15,841 Residential: 12,458 Commercial: 3,281 Others: 102 Meters Per Mile of Line 7.47 Number of Full-Time Employees 58 DISTRICT OFFICES


Natchez Trace