The Cooperative Story


East Central Oklahoma Electric Cooperative began as a dream for a handful of thoughtful citizens who were fed up with the status quo.

Thomas Edison patented the electric lightbulb in 1879, yet over 50 years later, America’s rural families were still reading by coal oil lamps.

The businessmen involved in bringing light and power to the major cities, could not foresee any profit in serving the sparsely populated areas of the countryside. So, a grassroots movement sprouted and took their place.

People thought, “What if, instead of being subject to the whims of private enterprise and government, we the people came together to build a system that works for all of us?”

The people did something about it, petitioning Congress for the creation of the Rural Electrification Act and Administration in 1935. Low interest loans were offered to existing power companies to encourage them to build out to America’s farms and ranches.

When the power companies still wouldn’t put rural American interests over profits, neighbors talked to neighbors, community meetings were held, and the people built cooperatives.

On November 15, 1938, the East Central Oklahoma Electric Cooperative was formed. That next year, the first substation was built near Bald Hill.

One ‘old-timer’ put it this way, “My father cried the night we got electric power on the homeplace. He didn’t want to go to bed. He sat at the kitchen table with his bible under that bulb and read for hours. We thought the light bulb was a miracle.”

The team who brought the organization into being: J.B. Berryman of Okemah; D.M. Bonner of Henryetta; Buster Brown of Bixby; D.W. Kinsey of Hoffman; Homer Penequin of Henryetta; George W. Sartin of Haskell; J. Harry Swan of Okmulgee; Donald A. Turnisky of Mounds; W.S. Warner of Muskogee; and Fred E. Wilson of Beggs.

In the 1930’s, only 10.9 percent of America’s farms were electrified. Today, 99 percent of the nation’s farms have received electrical service.

The East Central Co-op grew from one small substation to a 3,000 square mile service area, powered by an almost $207 million utility plant. We provide electricity to 34,419 meters across Creek, Lincoln, McIntosh, Muskogee, Okfuskee, Okmulgee, Seminole, Tulsa, and Wagoner counties.

Service crews are stationed in Bixby, Bristow, Checotah, Muskogee, Okemah, and Okmulgee to cover the 6,297 miles of power lines and 23 substations. Power is provided by wholesale sources KAMO Power in Vinita, and Western Farmers Electric in Anadarko.

In 2018, members of East Central Oklahoma Electric Cooperative had a similar realization to the one they had years prior. Internet access, much like electricity access, was not shared equally. Rural communities were being passed over for high-speed internet connection, because big companies could not make a profit. And so, ecoLINK was formed, and in early 2019, construction began to bring fiberoptic internet and phone services to rural homes and businesses.

East Central Electric is founded on the same 7 cooperative principles shared by the all 900 electric co-ops in the United States, and cooperative businesses of all kinds across the globe. Those principles are: voluntary and open membership; democratic member control; members’ economic participation; autonomy and independence; education, training and information; cooperation among cooperatives; and concern for community. You can read more about our principles here. 

The Cooperative’s policies are set by a seven-member Board of Trustees, elected for three-year terms by the member/owners. Each Trustee is a member of their district and represents the interests of their fellow district members. A Manager supervises the day-to-day operation of the Cooperative with the aid of six departments: Member Services, Office Services, Accounting, Human Resources, Operations & Engineering, and Broadband Services. More information about our Board of Trustees and staff can be found on our website.

The Cooperative is financed by loans from the National Rural utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation (CFC), Rural Utilities Service (RUS), CoBank and paid-in capital from member/owners.

75th Anniversary Video

Two former employees kneeling on a docking bay ledge.