Work that brought power to rural S.D. will be celebrated

Work that brought power to rural S.D. will be celebrated
Less than a century ago, trains, planes and automobiles were becoming a part of much of the nation's day-to-day lifestyle.

But rural America was seeing little of that progress. Farmhouses were lit by candles; lanterns were a necessity in barns.

There was little in the form of labor-saving devices on the farms that dotted South Dakota's countryside. Farm wives burned wood, corn cobs and whatever else was handy to cook meals and heat water for laundry and other household cleaning.

Some farmers invested in steam-powered tractors. But horsepower � the four-legged kind � that was needed to get the day-to-day chores done.

That all changed with a stroke of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's pen in May 1933. He signed an executive order creating the Rural Electrification Association (REA).

At the time, nearly 90 percent of rural America was without electricity.

Rural electricity was introduced to South Dakota approximately two years later.

On Nov. 23, 1935, 17 farmers from Clay and Union counties held an historic meeting at the Manning/O'Connor store in Burbank.

Their purpose was to form a consumer-owned corporation which would allow the rural residents of this portion of southeastern South Dakota to provide themselves with central station electric service.

At that meeting, Clay Union Electric, the first rural electric cooperative in South Dakota, was formed.

That enough is reason to celebrate. Clay Union Electric, now headquartered in Vermillion, will be holding an open house from 2 to 4 p.m. Nov. 28 for all of its members. The open house will also give local people an opportunity to learn about one of the pioneers of rural electrification in South Dakota.

J. Evans Rasmussen was instrumental in promoting and organizing Clay Union Electric.

He sold memberships in several rural townships in Clay and Union counties and in 1938 was elected to the initial board of directors of the Clay Union Electric Corporation of Vermillion.

He served on the Clay Union board until 1939. He was elected again in 1944, and served as secretary until 1977.

Rasmussen also served on the board of directors of East River Electric Cooperative from 1954 until 1977 and was secretary for 18 years.

He was also a member of the board of Dakota Telecommunications, Inc. at Irene from 1965 until 1989 and was secretary of that cooperative.

Rasmussen's service to East River Electric was recognized when the cooperative power supplier's largest substation, located nine miles east of Vermillion, was designated as the J. Evans Rasmussen Substation.

He also appeared in the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) film The Quiet Generation.

An historic marker signifying the rural electric cooperative's beginnings near Burbank also talks about the hopes of the people who helped make it a reality.

"Obtaining that dream was not simple, but thanks to financial backing by REA, 99 percent of rural America is now electrified. One thousand RECs (rural electric cooperatives) serve over 200,000 people."

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