Lewis County Rural Electric Cooperative - Inducted in 2014
Burrell Smith began his cooperative involvement in 1936, upon graduation from high school. He has been an ardent supporter of the cooperative movement for more than 77 years. Burrell worked tirelessly to ensure his neighbors could enjoy the benefits of electricity. He is a living history of how rural electrification changed Northeast Missouri and improved lives.
Burrell remembers Lewis County Rural Electric in the 1930s in the years before rural citizens had electricity. In 1936 a group set up a temporary organization to explore establishing an electric cooperative. It was one of the first in Missouri. Burrell’s first job involved preliminary work conducting surveys of prospective REC customers and getting people to subscribe – three subscribers per mile were necessary. It could be a challenge for some people to pay the $5 fee.
After serving in WWII, Burrell started his career anew with Lewis County in 1945. At first he was building meter loops to measure the electricity used by the customer. After a few years, Burrell became a lineman. Linemen were on call 24/7 during the week and every other weekend. His personal phone number was printed in the paper. When people had an outage, they called and Burrell went.
In early days, when telephone operators were still in use, he was ahead of his time with call forwarding. He would tell the local operator where he was going. If someone called with a problem, the operator knew where to reach Burrell. He took pride in restoring the power quickly. His customer service was exceptional.
Burrell was a dedicated worker, spending long hours with primitive equipment to build and maintain lines for the first Missouri electric cooperative to energize a power line. He cleared rights of way with an ax and dug holes by hand, often blasting through solid rock with dynamite and then hoisting the poles into place by sheer strength. He serviced lines the hard way.
His career was spent fighting the elements, including waist deep snow, bitter cold, ice storms, floods and the darkness of many late-night outage calls. To ensure he never missed a call after hours, Burrell installed a bell outside his home so he could hear the phone ring while taking care of his chores.
He remembers the feeling of joy when a farm would get electricity for the first time, often one light, hanging down in the middle of the room – or a security light at the barn.
In addition to his work for Lewis County, Burrell served the community in countless roles, including several terms as mayor of Monticello, as a school board member and as a deacon in his church, which he still attends every Sunday, at age 95.
a pioneer lineman; exemplary work ethic; exceptional customer service; a light throughout his community