Originally published in 1999.
During the 1930s, people in rural America wanted the modern convenience of electricity at their homes and farms. At that time, barely over 10% of U.S. farms had electricity. In 1935, the United States Congress passed the Rural Electrification Administration Act, which provided funding at a low interest rate to establish electric utilities, generally known as cooperatives. In the state of Indiana, these cooperatives were to be called Rural Electric Membership Corporations, and the Indiana Farm Bureau took on the task of organizing these corporations across the state — including what became Tipmont.
Assisted by local farm bureau representatives, an organizational meeting took place on August 15, 1938, at the Romney School. About 40 people from the northern half of Montgomery County and the southern half of Tippecanoe County attended and were asked to sign as incorporators. Wilson Taylor of the Statewide REMC also attended and discussed organizing a local district corporation under the Indiana Rural Electric Membership Corporation Act. This group also elected the first Board of Directors — John H. Bone, Ray Fisher, John Frantz, Howard Newton, Earl Patterson, Roy Wells and Lewis J. Withrow.
Local meetings were called in each township to secure members and report back to an area meeting on August 26, 1938, at Linden School. By this time, more than 1,000 people had paid membership fees. At this meeting, John Cassida, John P. Foresman, Jesse P. Graves, Will A. Gray, John Kerkhoff and Clarence A. Sennett also were named to the Board of Directors.
A few months later, when residents in Fountain County and northern Tippecanoe County signed up for membership, Lawrence Layden and Guy Simpson, respectively, represented those areas. Reid Paddack took Fisher’s place on the board shortly thereafter, and incorporation papers were prepared.
The chosen name for the corporation was Tippecanoe and Montgomery Rural Electric Membership Corporation. In time, and on the advice of the Rural Electric Administration (REA), the name was shortened to Tipmont REMC. The REA designed our project as “Indiana 55 Tippecanoe.”
On May 10, 1939, Tipmont REMC was incorporated. At the first meeting of the Board of Directors, Bone was elected President, Newton was elected Vice President, and Wells was elected Secretary-Treasurer.
The Statewide REMC sent Verle Hiatt to prepare project maps. He became the project superintendent and, later, Tipmont REMC’s first general manager — serving in that capacity for about 18 months. Before lines could be staked, property owners had to sign right-of-way easements, areas had to be cleared of trees and brush, and the REA had to approve all construction projects.
Putman and Woolpert, an REA-approved engineering firm from Dayton, Ohio, was selected to stake the lines. The first stakes were set on August 1, 1939, and the first pole was set about October 1, 1939. Honold & LaPage, Inc., of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, built the first 180 miles of Tipmont lines.
Holes for poles were dug by hand, and linemen had to physically climb poles (wearing straps and safety belts) to attach wires. Paul Antle was hired for maintenance work and served as interim project manager. Tipmont’s growth as a cooperative created need for a line superintendent, and Antle served in that capacity until his death in 1962.
Mary E. Shanklin was Tipmont’s first bookkeeper and stenographer. As the project grew, more office employees were hired — including Susie Antle, Fred E. Baber, Lela Imler, Martha Montgomery, Margaret Phipps, La Vern Rickey and Claude Smith. During World War II, the cooperative lost several male employees who served their country.
Early maintenance and field employees included Kenneth Hartman, Wallace Hood, Andrew Johnson, Roy Meharry, Russell Payne, George Simmons, Buren C. Stewart, Ed Street, Roy Wells and James Wright. Some of them worked to obtain signed right-of-way easements so poles could be set and lines built while others performed wiring inspections and hooked up services to primary lines. Mary Ellen Meharry, Roy’s wife, remembers the times she and Susie Antle joined their husbands to hold flashlights so linemen could make repairs during nighttime outages.
As Tipmont grew, the Board of Directors faced many major decisions, such as acquiring sufficient office space, purchasing office equipment and vehicles, protecting legal documents, and determining the line materials, transformers and meters to use. Because they were manufactured in Lafayette, the board chose Duncan meters.
The Board of Directors also felt members needed a monthly update on what was happening at their cooperative, so they began a newsletter. In November 1940, they offered a prize of one free electric bill (not to exceed $5) to the consumer who submitted the best name for this newsletter. The winning entry came from Robert Berry of Hillsboro, who submitted “Tips of the Month.”
In 1943, the board purchased Battle Ground service lines from the Southeastern Power Company. The purchase price did not exceed the per-member cost of present, existing lines less the cost of rebuilding the lines to be purchased.
In fall 1947, a two-way radio system was installed between the office and the field trucks. Prior to that, linemen would visit the local telephone office and call the Linden office to see if there were any further outages in a particular area before they left.
Also in 1947, the board voted to purchase the stock of the Montgomery Light and Power Company, which included the towns of Linden, New Richmond and Wingate, as well as surrounding rural areas.
By the mid-1960s, the cooperative was growing rapidly in Tippecanoe County. At this time, the board addressed a need to dispatch service trucks more quickly from northern Tippecanoe County to lessen outage response times. They purchased land along County Road 600 North and built a garage / warehouse for trucks, material and equipment.
The end of the 1960s brought many changes to the electrical industry — namely the marketing of Total Electric Living homes, home electronics and all kinds of small electric appliances to consumers. To answer questions about these new appliances, and promote their use, Tipmont’s board added a home economist to the member service staff. This person visited area schools and attended community meetings to teach consumers about these new “gadgets” everyone wanted and offer advice and expertise on planning and building state-of-the-art homes in rural and suburban communities.
Until the late 1970s, designated community members took outage calls. Members would phone their area trouble call reporter, who would report information to Tipmont REMC and often return a call to the member with information regarding their outage. These reporters, who took outage calls at all times of the day and night, were not on Tipmont REMC’s payroll. They felt it was their civic duty to supply line crews with necessary information to quickly restore their neighbors’ electricity.
Today, Tipmont REMC is the 5th largest REMC in Indiana, serving over 29,000 meters and growing to more than 25,000 members.