Kennebec Telephone Co., Inc. (KTCI) History 1908-2005
Kennebec became a town in 1905 and was without phones until 1908. At that time a group of eight or ten homesteaders south of town built a telephone line between their own group. Some of these included: W.R. Hanscom, Thor Olsen, John Kerwin, Mark Thompson, Harry Mills, Theodore Gerard and Albert Lind. In 1909, they built the line on into the town of Kennebec where a few local people installed a telephone.
In 1918, John F. Spotts built a large brick building on the east side of Main Street which housed a garage on the first floor, a generator for the town electricity in the basement and the telephone exchange on the second floor. He built telephone lines with the help of farmers to all homes north to the Missouri River and south to the White River.
In the mid 30's with dust storms, grasshoppers, and many people going broke, no telephone lines were were kept up and no phone bills were paid. The telephone company went broke. Then later in the mid 30's Spike Vogel in some way acquired the telephone company and moved it into a building 1/2 block east of Main Street. The rate at this time was .25 per month which was hard for many people to pay at the time. This paid the fuel bill and the telephone operator, Mrs. Mettie Potter. There was no long distance service at that time. Messages of death or weddings were received by telegram. As conditions improved, Vogel and the farmers repaired the farm lines and eight independent farm lines were built in town.
Mettie Potter acquired the company and she and her daughter "Toots" ran the company until a fire destroyed the town generator and in the early 1940's West Central Electric put in a new generator on the west side of Main Street and acquired the telephone company. The office was moved to the M.C. Hight building on the west side of main Street. Joe Fitzpatrick purchased the telephone company in the mid 1940's and moved his family in the rooms behind the office. Beginning in 1946, Kenneth Hauge, former owner of Hanson County Telephone Company, Harold Halverson, Howard Opp, individually owned the company for short periods of time with Joe Fitzpatrick once again acquiring it in 1950.
In 1952 Lloyd and Delores Johnstone sold their cattle (35)and purchased the KTCI from Joe Fitzpatrick. Lloyd had received training in communications while serving in the army and Delores had worked as a telephone operator for the past six years. There were eight farm lines and two long distance lines to Presho with a total of about 100 phones which included 40 residence and 30 business with no extensions. Service had increased to $2.00 per month for town and 50 cents per month for farm phone. The 1952 telephone directory shows advertising for businesses which are only a memory, such as Fred's Market, Be at Ease, Insure with Pease, Phillips 66, Gala Theatre, Williamson Funeral Home, and Anderson Bowling Alley.
The first winter, an ice storm took all lines down in town. This seemed a major catastrophe but with help from Bud Tobin, Plankinton; Kenneth Hauge, Alexandria; and Jake Armentrout of Armour, all independent telephone company owners, everyone was back in service in a couple days.
The switchboard and telephone operators with their personal service were replaced with a new building housing electronic equipment and in January of 1958, phone service was cut to dial and the Johnstone family moved to an acreage on the west side of town. The old telephone office building burned in the Main Street fire in April 1958.
Lloyd buried all the town lines and a big percentage of the farm lines. In May 1968, the farmer owned lines were purchased by the KTCI and the system was cut to direct dial.
In 1980 Lloyd completed another large construction job leaving a telephone plant completely underground, a new switchboard and phones with one party service to all.
In December of 1980, Lloyd Johnstone was killed in a pickup accident. His wife, Delores took over the management end of the company. With a great deal of help from Plant Manager, Rod Bowar, who has been with the company since 1977, along with some home grown people, they have continued to upgrade the company with new products and services. The company purchased the old drugstore building in 1988 and moved their office back to main street.
1982 Delores and Rod Bowar formed a partnership that built the Kennebec C.A.T.V. Company. The company supplied Cable TV to the town of Kennebec.
In 1989, seven miles of optic cable was buried to connect with U.S. West.
KTCI in March of 1990, installed its first digital switch to replace the X-Y switchboard. Since that time KTCI has had many upgrades to its Digital Switch.
In the year of 1992, Kennebec CATV bought the franchise for Direct TV (18 inch dish) in all of Lyman and Tripp Counties.
Also in 1992 Kennebec Telephone installed two Advanced Fiber Communications systems in the rural area to aid in the advancement of communication services. By 2005 KTCI had 16 AFC Cabinets.
With the purchase of the Presho Exchange in June 1996, which brought in 500 access lines, a Northern Telecom Remote switch was installed to work with the Kennebec switch enabling both communities to benefit from any future upgrades.
October 1998 Delores Johnstone retired and sold KTCI to Rod and Donna Bowar. Her comment was: "Now that I have reached retirement age and many of the goals I set when I took over the management of the company, I find under this business exterior, lies the heart of a beach bum!" She remembers when she began working at the switch in June 1946 saying "number please" and "thank you" several times a day plus answering any questions such as "have you seen my husband on Main Street?" or "what times does the train come in with the mail?" and carrying a death message to someone who had no telephone
September 1999 KTCI joined SDN and started routing all long distance traffic to them and participating in all the benefits SDN has available.
June 2000 KTCI and Golden West Telephone Cooperative installed a Sonet Protected ring between their exchanges. This provided protection in case of a fiber cut, enabling uninterrupted toll service
November 2000 KTCI acquired land on the east side of Main Street for a future office building, which included Kennebec's Post Office Building.
KTCI acquired the Kennebec CATV Company in January 2001, which not only provides cable TV to Kennebec residents, but also includes a digging service, which today is Kennebec Telephone Construction
February 2001 KTC rolled out their High Speed Internet Product (ADSL) called DataNet in the towns of Kennebec and Presho.
The year of 2002 KTCI started a division called PowerCom Electric and Communications, which supplies electric & communication wiring for homes, farms and commercial businesses.
In September of 2002, KTCI acquired the Presho Cable System from WCENET, which added 150 cable customers. By working with our good neighbor Golden West Telephone Cooperative we were able to consolidate Presho and Kennebec into one head-end. The head-end, located in Kennebec, sends signal to Golden West for both Kennebec and Presho.
January 2003 our new office building was completed and everyone was moved under one roof.
The KTCI has achieved much, since starting out with farmer owned lines.
In June of 2004, Rod Bowar was appointed by South Dakota Governor, Mike Rounds, to the South Dakota Legislative Research Council’s State and Local Government task force. Bowar, one of the 18 appointees, was the only representative from the Telecommunication Industry.
August 2005, the community of Kennebec and KTCI were selected for a personal visit from the FCC Commissioner JonathanAdelstein, and the South Dakota PUC Commissioners during their tour of SD. For this event KTCI hosted a Community picnic for the Commissions.
In December 2006, KTCI bought the Main Street Office Plaza from Gene Gerard and renovated it to fit eight office spaces for people to start their small businesses. This hasproved to be a success, as many of these are rented out today, giving businesses space to reside in Kennebec.
KTCI turned the old Mertens (car garage) building into Charley’s welding and Auto Repair in February 2009. KTCI remodeled some of the building to fit charley’s needs and soon after, had their grand opening for the community, providing a nice meal and giving away various prizes.
KTCI bought TCS from Santel in January 2010, and startedselling and installing security systems, home/business monitoring systems, and smart homes for their customers. TCS began in the city of Pierre/Ft. Pierre, but as business expanded to surrounding areas, TCS moved its central office to hometown Kennebec in February 2015.
In May 2013, Rod and Donna Bowar were nominated by Marcella Hurley from the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) for Small Business Persons of the year. They did not win; however, were congratulated by the U.S. Small Business Administration for their outstanding accomplishments and contributions as small business owners.
In March 2013, KTCI signed a purchase Agreement to buy the Chamberlain NAPA store from George Martin. In July of the same year, KTCI officially took over with George Martin staying until retiring in December. The other two current employees agreed to stay at the Napa Store under the new management. KTCI remodel the Chamberlain Napa Store in 2015, to better fit the needs of the customers and the expanding business.
Matt Collins acquired some ownership in Kennebec TelephoneCo. Inc. on January 1, 2015, joining Rod Bowar, Donna Bowar, Chaz Bowar, Tiarra Bowar, and Troy Christensen.
As of July 2016, Kennebec Telephone Co., Inc. has 32full-time employees and 14 part-time employees.