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Tale of Early Electrification Still a Winner


Photo of 1930s truck and people looking at electric meter


Decades apart, students win Youth Tour trip
by humanizing co-op history

By Chris Burrows | June 1, 2016


The 78-foot-tall bronze statue depicting six servicemen struggling to plant an American flag at Iwo Jima is a powerful sight for any Washington, D.C., visitor.

When Laura (Arnold) Mullin saw the Marine Corps War Memorial during her Government-in-Action Youth Tour trip in 1972, the effect was particularly poignant. “To stand there and look at that … and picture it coming alive, it had such an impact on me,” she said.

The monument brought American history to life for Mullin, and it was that fascination with the past that took her to Washington in the first place. When she heard Swisher Electric Cooperatives’ call for speeches about electricity to earn a Youth Tour trip, Mullin, who grew up in Silverton, turned to history and someone who lived through the effort to get rural power.

“When you speak about an event in history, you have to first speak about the people,” she said. “It’s they who caused the event.”

Mullin’s father, the late Fred Arnold, was a teenager in the 1940s when the local co-op strung a power line out to his family’s farm. As with so many families of the era, the arrival of electricity changed their way of life dramatically. As they discussed his experience, Mullin was struck by what her father experienced in life without electricity, which was difficult for her to imagine.

“It was exciting for them, but it was also a costly venture,” Mullin said. “They’re thinking, ‘All of a sudden, we have to spend money on electricity.’ It changed the way they did a lot of things.”

Her speech on the topic put a human face to the trials that farmers and communities endured before electricity improved their quality of life. The theme resonated with the contest’s judges, who selected her for the trip.

“Other kids were talking about numbers and statistics and how electricity works,” she said. “I was showing the change from his perspective. I asked him, ‘You didn’t have a refrigerator? What did you have?’ ”

Arnold’s perspective was no less striking 41 years later when high school junior Cody Daugherty sat down with him in 2013 to research his Swisher EC Youth Tour speech, which earned him the trip to D.C.

“He had so many stories,” Daugherty said, explaining how Arnold invited him in and offered him a sandwich. “I could have stayed there all day.

He said they had some sort of windmill that would generate their power before they had electricity, and they would use that to power an icebox. He said it was one of the neatest things.”

Just as sculptor Felix W. de Weldon’s bronze statue illustrates the struggle of American history for Mullin and millions of other Washington visitors, stories like Arnold’s continue to bring the history of co-ops to life for Mullin, Daugherty and other Youth Tour attendees.

“To me,” Mullin said, “everything was all about making something in history come alive.”



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