“With no electricity, life was a sunrise to sunset proposition.”
With memories shared by her father just before his death and information gleaned from her 31-year career at East Central Energy (ECE), Teresa Hasbrook described life before electricity and what rural electrification meant to local communities.
Hasbrook spoke Sunday, July 14 at the Pine City Area History Association’s Annual Meeting. About 20 history lovers attended the presentation at the Pine City Library.
“In the 1930s, nine out of 10 rural homes were without electricity,” Hasbrook said.
“Farmers watered and milked cows by hand. Women cooked over a hot wood range in the house, or when it was really hot, in the summer kitchen in the back yard.”
Hasbrook grew up on a farm in Grass Lake Township northwest of Braham. Her dad, Elkie Weidenaar, bought the farm in 1946.
“It came with machinery, cattle, and a team of horses but no electricity,” she said. “He was anxious to get it.”
“Electricity changed our communities, our ability to attract industries and keep young people with the jobs they brought,” she said. “Life became easier for the farmers. My dad talked about buying a barn cleaner. What a time saver.”
When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) signed the executive order creating the Rural Electrification Administration in May 1935, the grassroots effort to bring electricity to rural homes and farms began.
“It was technically possible to bring electricity from the cities out to the farms, but the companies that were serving the towns back then wouldn’t do it,” Hasbrook said. “They couldn’t see a profit in it. If you lived on the fringes of the cities, you could get electricity if you could pay $2,000 to $3,000 a mile and 40 cents a kilowatt hour.”
“FDR was Dad’s hero,” Hasbrook exclaimed.
She and many of the audience members remembered Beauford Johnson, who spearheaded the formation of PICK Electric Cooperative and was its first general manager. PICK, which stands for Pine, Isanti, Chisago and Kanabec counties, was officially incorporated with the Minnesota Secretary of State on Jan. 13, 1936. The co-op changed its name to East Central Electric Association in 1946 and to East Central Energy in 1999.
Hasbrook’s career at ECE began in 1982 when she was hired in customer service at the Rush City office. In 1997, she became member services supervisor at the co-op’s Braham headquarters. She was manager of member services when she retired in 2013.
Through her work and her rural upbringing, Hasbrook developed an appreciation for cooperatives. “You are an owner, and you have a voice,” she said.
Citing ECE programs like Operation Round Up, Project GreenTouch, and the pollinator project that is getting underway, she discussed the seven principles that guide co-ops, emphasizing concern for community.
Hasbrook’s presentation included photographs provided to her by ECE. Many of them are featured in the book, “Building on the Legacy,” compiled for the co-op’s 75th anniversary in 2011.
“I learned from talking to my dad how much electricity meant to him and how it changed their lives. He shared that when he was little, all the kids had to be busy working. One of their chores was carrying water by hand. He knew how tough they had it, but still he looked back with fondness on his childhood.
“I think it’s a good thing to remember how it all began,” she said. “Electricity just wasn’t handed to us. The farmers and the business people back then worked really hard to get it. Because they did, our small towns have businesses and industries, and Americans have a choice about where and how to live.”
The Pine City Area History Association meets Thursdays at 1 p.m. in the meeting room at the Pine City Public Library. The meetings are free and open to the public. They are casual meetings with no set agenda. Participants often bring items of historical interest to share. For more information, visit PineCityHistory.com.