The Cooperative Built By Farmers
C. A. Maedgen knew the value of electricity in 1938. He already had it at his farm in Bell County. His home in Mathis, on the other hand, was still in the dark.
So, he went to the local power company to see about getting lights at home. The power company explained that he was too far from the nearest lines and it would be cost prohibitive to bring electric service to him.
Maedgen wasn’t content with their response and took matters into his own hands. He contacted the County Agent, Dick Gibbs, to discuss a new government program, REA, which was helping rural Americans get electricity.
Together, they gathered a group of men known to be influential in the community and formed a cooperative. These original incorporators were Maedgen (who was elected as the first president), J. E. Baucom of West Portland, Lloyd Neumann of Sinton, R. A. Adams of West Sinton, H. F. Myers of Tynan, Dewey Whatley of Taft, Rudolph Svadlenak (who moved to Austin and resigned before energization), M. F. Stinnett of Odem and W. T. West of Sodville.
Each of the nine original incorporators had to pay a $5 membership fee to join the cooperative. This fee gave the new group $45 in capital to get started. With that, they hired a secretary, bought office equipment and retained an engineer.
Their first step in providing electricity was to get a charter from the State of Texas. Judge Moss of Sinton drew up the papers and on November 5, 1938, San Patricio Electric Cooperative was authorized to do business. Next, they applied for a low-interest loan from REA, which would fund the construction of the first power lines.
The nine founding members then traveled around San Patricio, Bee and Live Oak Counties searching for other residents who were interested in receiving electric service. Most of the farmers approached were eager to get lights, and were willing to risk $5 on the chance that it would happen. They all wanted power but hadn’t been able to get it.
In addition to the $5 membership fee, each had to agree to purchase power from the co-op after the lines were built. Everyone that signed up knew there would be a minimum bill of $2.50 each month. That’s about $44 today, adjusted for inflation.
After much correspondence, REA approved a loan to the cooperative on February 18, 1939. The loan provided SPEC with $195,000 to build 254 miles of line, which would serve 381 signed members.
The loan funds prompted fast development. The engineer staked lines and construction began right away. By December 24, 1939, SPEC provided light to 480 members.
The progress wasn’t long lasting, however. During World War II many linemen went to war, effectively stopping the new co-op. By the time the war was over, there were more applicants for service than there were materials to build lines. However, SPEC eventually got to everyone who was anxiously awaiting electricity.
Today, we have around 7,500 members and maintain approximately 3,150 miles of energized line. Our service territory has also expanded and we now serve parts of nine counties. In addition to the original three (Bee, San Patricio and Live Oak), we also provide service in Aransas, Goliad, Jim Wells, McMullen Nueces and Refugio counties.
Our cooperative may have grown over the years, but our members are still at the heart of what we do. As we celebrate 80 years of service, we can’t help but be grateful for the farmers who fought to improve the quality of life in rural America.