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‘Just flip a switch’: Remembering when the lights came on

“A lot of things have happened in my lifetime,” says 94-year-old Leroy Lamar. “About every one of them wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t had electricity first.” 

Leroy, a consumer-member of Kenergy Corp., recalls getting electricity in Hawesville and especially to his home: “It was the greatest thing that had ever happened.” 

Leroy joined the U.S. Army right after high school. When he came home, electric poles had been set and his electric cooperative was running power wires into homes. He says it was around July 1948 when the electricity was turned on. Before this, the only light was from kerosene oil lamps. 

“With the flip of a switch we were immediately able to have electric lights, cooling fan for hot July nights, refrigeration, irons, washing machines, radio, indoor plumbing, electric blankets, central heat and lots more,” he says. “No more oil lamps, no more coal buckets, no more hand pumping for water; all of this was changed by electricity.” 

Among the family’s first post-electricity purchases were a refrigerator, deep freezer and an electric range for cooking. “Now Mom could cook faster, and the temperature was a lot cooler,” Leroy says. “The deep freezer enabled us to have home-grown meat during the summer.” 

But Leroy, a retired insurance agency owner and charter pilot, says the biggest change was light. 

“We had light in every room now; just flip a switch. At first, we kept reminding each other to turn out the lights, but soon we took electricity for granted.  

“We rarely have an electric outage now, but when we do we find out how important electricity is in our lives. Kenergy is our electric co-op. They are really good. Many times they work night and day in extreme weather conditions to keep us in electricity.” 

Leroy says there are still technological needs in the area—more fiber optic cable, for example. He adds with a laugh: “We wouldn’t have imagined laptop computers or the internet, but now I read newspapers on my laptop.” 

DEBRA GIBSON ISAACS writes about how co-op members and staff contribute to their communities. 

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