By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director -
I was reminded of the efforts of those who came before us in the electric cooperative program when I recently spent some time in the Dave Hamil Building at the Overland Trail Museum in Sterling.
Each summer, the general managers of Colorado’s electric co-ops meet to hear presentations on important issues and to talk shop. This summer, the meeting was hosted by Highline Electric Association, K.C. Electric Association and Y-W Electric Association in Sterling. In addition to touring Tri- State Generation and Transmission’s Highlands Wind Farm, the co-op managers heard from speakers on the recently proposed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency greenhouse gas rules and the use of drone technology for line inspections. They were also reminded of our history as we met at the Overland Trail Museum.
The entire museum is first-rate, but the section devoted to Dave Hamil is a must-see for anyone who is involved in or wants to know more about the history of the Rural Electrification Administration program. The Hamil Building houses a terrific display of items related to the development of rural electrification in Colorado, and it includes an amazing display of memorabilia related to Dave Hamil’s work as the longest-serving administrator of the REA, now the Rural Utilities Service, or RUS.
Born into a ranching family in northeastern Colorado, Hamil graduated from Logan County Industrial Arts High School and in 1930 he earned degrees in English and philosophy from Hastings College in Hastings, Nebraska. After returning to Colorado to start his own ranching operation, Hamil discovered that Public Service Company of Colorado wanted $10,000 to provide electricity to his ranch when he had only paid $25,000 for the entire ranch, he figured there must be a better solution. He worked with a group of neighbors in 1939 to create a Logan County rural electric co-op to provide electric service at rates he and his neighbors could afford. The co-op became part of Highline Electric Association and he served on the co-op’s board for many years.
Hamil was also involved in politics and was elected to the Colorado House of Representatives in 1938. He served eight terms, eventually being elected Speaker of the House. Among his many accomplishments in the legislature, two in particular stand out: the relocation of the U.S. Air Force Academy to Colorado Springs, and the extension of Interstate 70 west through the Eisenhower Tunnel.
In May 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower tapped Hamil to become the administrator of the REA, a job that he held for a record 14 years under four presidents (1956-1961, 1969-1978). As the REA administrator, Hamil was instrumental in facilitating the creation of the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation as an additional funding source for electric co-ops, and he also was able to make the Federal Financing Bank the funding mechanism for REA-guaranteed loans. By the time he left the administrator’s position in 1978, Hamil had overseen 80 percent of all loans made by the REA since its inception. Hamil was inducted into the Colorado Agriculture Hall of Fame in 1989 and Cooperative Hall of Fame in 2001.
The Dave Hamil Building exists thanks to the efforts of many Colorado co-op supporters, particularly the members of the Colorado Women’s Task Force who raised the funds necessary for the museum addition. When you visit today, you will see the hundreds of awards, pictures, plaques and artifacts that Hamil accumulated during his lifetime. On one wall is a quote from Sen. George Norris of Nebraska, explaining why he chose to co-sponsor the law creating the REA in 1936:
“I could close my eyes and recall the innumerable scenes of the harvest and the unending punishing tasks performed by hundreds of thousands of women, growing old prematurely, dying before their time; conscious of the great gap between their lives and the lives of those whom the accident of birth or choice placed in the towns and cities, why shouldn’t I have been interested in the emancipation of hundreds of thousands of farm women?”
Hamil was equally interested in that emancipation. He was a true pioneer in the electric co-op program, and people all over rural America owe him a debt of gratitude for his contributions to the co-op program. We are fortunate to be able to call Dave Hamil a native son, and for Colorado to have such a fitting tribute to the electric co-op program in our state.