Electric Co-op Roots Run Deep
The rural quality of life shines on for the Tenhouse family

Art Tenhouse
Vice President, Government Relations
Illinois CPA Society

“We sat on that hill in the dark for eight years, while our next-door neighbors on the next hill had electricity.” Those were the words of my great-grandfather Tenhouse as he spoke of the days before Adams Electric Cooperative. The investor-owned utility wanted $1,500 in 1929 to extend their lines less than one-quarter mile to the Tenhouse family home. It might as well have been $15 million. They couldn’t begin to pay that much. It was a different world, so close, but unattainable.

Then, local farmers began to hear about the REA and their support of cooperatives organized to electrify rural America. A neighbor asked for a $5 membership application to join the fledgling Adams Electric Cooperative. My great-grandfather eagerly joined and gave line easements on the entire farm. Some neighbors were skeptical and reluctant to give easements.

As the Adams Electric Cooperative began to actually build lines, the investor-owned utility started to drop the cost to provide service to the farm, first $500, then $300, and finally they offered to extend their line to our family’s home for free. My family told them to stick their poles in a place that would be anatomically impossible. My great-grandfather said, “We have waited this long, we’ll wait for the REA!”

When the line was energized and the lights came on, their lives moved into the 20th century. My mom told of her family coming home from a 4‑H meeting and seeing the family home bathed in electric light. The house had been wired weeks before, every switch (probably not too many) turned on, and the power had surged through the lines while they were gone. She spoke of the event as a highlight of her life up until her death last year.

The drudgery of work was lessened both on the farm and in the home. The first electric pump to water livestock and the first electric washing machine were both sources of stories that mom and dad used to regale anyone within earshot. One of my late dad’s first jobs was helping a local contractor wire neighbors’ homes. He told of the joy of their anticipation of this life-changing experience.

The lesson to remember is this. We must not forget how the cooperative movement helped make rural Americans’ quality of life equal to their city cousins. We must continue to salute the efforts of the dwindling number of people who banded together to accomplish what they couldn’t have done alone—light up all of Illinois!

Fast forward several decades when I was selected to attend the 1967 Youth to Washington Tour by the co-op. It really piqued my curiosity in politics. Later, as a member of the board of directors of Adams Electric Cooperative, I participated in their grassroots lobbying in Springfield and Washington, D.C. In 1989, I had the honor of beginning my service in the Illinois House of Representatives.

I was always impressed by the professionalism of the electric cooperative leadership. When co‑op activists and staff came to the Capitol, I always knew that they would be well versed on the issues and forceful advocates for local member-owners.

In July 2006, I resigned from the Illinois House after 17 years to accept the position of Vice-President, Government Relations, of the Illinois CPA Society.

In my new role, I am amazed at the number of my fellow Certified Public Accountants who are electric co-op members. They may not all be farmers, but they enjoy the rural lifestyle and quality of life. Because of the cooperative movement, they are able to access electricity, telephone, Internet and water service.

Today, my wife, Sharon, our son Adam (our youngest), and I live in the same Tenhouse family home. The Sorrill (mom’s family) and Tenhouse Centennial farms are part of our family farm. Sharon and I met at a cooperative month banquet in Springfield. She was representing 4-H as the National Leadership winner and I was the state FFA President. Adam attended the Youth to Washington Tour last year. We are still proud members of Adams Electric Cooperative!


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Art Tenhouse is a farmer, CPA, former Illinois State Representative and electric co-op board member. He currently serves as Vice President, Government Relations for the Illinois CPA Society.