Summary of Nomination:
Bowar Power: How One South Dakota Manager Sustains the Small Community He Grew Up In!
In May of 1976, at the age of 14, Rod began working part-time for Lloyd and Delores Johnstone, the owners of Kennebec Telephone Company. Even as a part-time employee, the teenage Bowar demonstrated a willingness to work seven days a week and perform any job that needed to be done. The young employee’s work ethic did not go unnoticed. Years later, Lloyd Johnstone struck a deal with Rod that he would pay for his vocational tech education if, upon graduation, Rod was willing to come back and work for Kennebec Telephone Company. Rod seized the opportunity to continue his education time, Rod Company. Shortly after Rod began his studies, Mr. Johnstone passed away suddenly and Rod returned to Kennebec to assume the position of Plant Manager at Kennebec Telephone Company.
During the years that he served as Kennebec Telephone Company’s Plant Manager, Rod worked closely with Mrs. Johnstone to continually upgrade technology, products and service offering to Kennebec Telephone Company customers. In 1982, Rod was instrumental in forming the Kennebec CATV Company to bring cable television to the town of Kennebec. Kennebec CATV Company would later serve cable television customers in all of Lyman and Tripp Counties. Under Rod’s management, Kennebec Telephone Company began burying optic cable in 1989 and installed its first digital switch in 1990. In an effort to provide the rural residents in the Kennebec area with the most advanced telecommunications services possible, Kennebec Telephone Company continued to upgrade its network by investing in Advanced Fiber Communications systems. In June of 1996, Kennebec Telephone Company acquired the Presho exchange which brought an additional 500 access lines to the company. Anticipating the likelihood of further technological advancement, Rod and his crew installed a Northern Telecom remote switch which would enable the Presho and Kennebec communities to benefit from any future upgrades.
When Mrs. Johnstone prepared to retire in October 1998, Rod, a long with his wife and children, purchased Kennebec Telephone Company. At that time, Rod not only took on the role of company owner, but also the assumed the roles of Kennebec Telephone Company CEO, President and General Manager and the multitude of responsibilities that come with those positions. Under Rod’s astute and progressive leadership, Kennebec Telephone Company a member of the South Dakota Network which provides state-of-the-art and consolidated telecommunications centralized equal access services to South Dakota’s rural telecommunications companies. Kennebec Telephone Company also joined forces with other rural local exchange carriers in South Dakota to develop and install a SONET ring between the carrier’s exchanges in order to offer redundant and uninterrupted service telecommunications customers in the case of fiber cut. In 2001, Kennebec Telephone Company acquired Kennebec CATV Company and also began offering its customers a high speed Internet product (ADSL) called DataNet in the Kennebec and Presho exchanges. In 2008, Kennebec Telephone Company celebrated its 100 year anniversary of offering telephone service to the Kennebec community.
Recognizing that businesses and job opportunities are the critical lifeblood to the survival of rural communities, Rod has maximized opportunities through Kennebec Telephone Company in order to retain essential services in and for the Kennebec and Presho communities. For example, when the local electrician announced he was retiring, Rod purchased the electrician’s business and incorporated it as a unit of Kennebec Telephone Company. This business unit now employs four employees and offers electrical services in surrounding rural communities. Likewise, Rod has added a digging and excavating operation to Kennebec Telephone Company in order to meet the community needs for basement excavations and other digging work. In order to keep other services local and available to residents, Kennebec Telephone Company now also offers welding services and tire and oil change services. Fittingly, Rod’s thirty-two employees account for more than ten percent of Kennebec’s population. It is after all, Rod’s community-centric, forward-thinking resourcefulness that has kept many vital services and jobs on Kennebec’s Main Street.