Those who remember when electric cooperatives in Arkansas extended lines to serve their homes and farms are sharing memories to explain how those same co-ops can harness rural broadband to forge better futures for their members.
“My parents lived in hard times, and [electricity] has made me a better person,” said Marylyn Cox, a member of Corning, Arkansas-based Clay County Electric Cooperative. “At first there was just one light hanging from the ceiling, but it was just so wonderful to have a light.”
Cox was one of several members of Arkansas’ cooperative family featured in a video titled Empowering Rural Arkansas.
“For rural Arkansans in the early-to-mid 20th century, electrification changed their lives and transformed their communities,” said Duane Highley, president and CEO of the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas. “Our heritage of service is a testament to our pledge to continue our mission.”
Graduate students from the University of Arkansas’ Clinton School of Public Service combined historic film footage with contemporary interviews to show the potential electric co-ops can have in bridging the internet divide.
“We work diligently to improve the quality of life for the present and future generations of electric cooperative consumers, just like the electric cooperative pioneers,” said Highley.
A team of graduate researchers conducted about 50 interviews across the state as research for the project. The materials are now part of an educational resource focused on technology development and public-private partnerships, including electric co-ops that help strengthen the state’s economy.
“This fits quite well with ongoing cooperative efforts to connect the state’s co-ops to high-speed broadband,” said Rob Roedel, director of corporate communications for the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas. “By showing audiences how we worked together to bring power and lights to rural communities, the possibilities become easier to see.”
Interviews featured in the 17-minute video are interspersed with clips from Power and the Land, an informational film produced in 1940 for the Rural Electrification Administration to help promote electric cooperative organizing.
“The results of this project will educate generations to come about the importance of cooperatives and electrification,” said Lori L. Burrows, the statewide association’s vice president and general counsel, who led the project. “Capturing this oral history in a video format ensures that this important part of our state’s history is preserved in a meaningful and accessible manner.”
“Co-ops have always meant power to the members,” said Roedel. “This is another way of using our past to tell the story of what we can do in the future to help make their lives better and build a stronger future for our state.”
Watch the Empowering Rural Arkansas video: