Eighty years after its founding, Magic Valley Co-op has 96,002 member-owners, is the third largest electric co-op in Texas, and the twenty-second largest of the 900 in the nation. Much has changed, yet MVEC has stayed true to its roots and cooperative principles.
In 1937, Rio Grande Valley farmers were fed up with power companies’ refusal to run electric lines into rural areas. Without electricity, farm families hauled water from wells or irrigation canals for cooking and washing They couldn’t use labor and timesaving devices such as washing machines, electric lights, and refrigerators. They weren’t among the 25 million. Americans who tuned their radios to the news, FDR’s Fireside Chats, The Lone Ranger, and the National Farm and Home Hour. Around the United States, only 12 percent of farms had electricity.
But 125 Valley farm families, on Sept. 13, 1937, chartered a cooperative to supply dependable electric service at a low cost
— one of the first co-ops in Texas. They borrowed money from the Rural Electrification Administration, a new federal agency,
to install the power lines for what is now Magic Valley Electric Cooperative. On September 7, 1938, three months after the
first power poles were raised in a citrus orchard at Mile 5 West and Mile 12 1/2 North, the co-op’s first line was energized.
Not surprisingly, some co-op members had already purchased washing machines, radios, and water pumps.
Four MVEC board members have memories of life without electricity. Dr. Martin Garcia, board chairman, lived at El
Divisadero Ranch in Kenedy County until he started school, returning during summer vacations. The Raymondville
veterinarian recalls, “Dad had an old generator he would power up and run a few hours in the evenings. I remember
irons were heated on the stove before ironing clothes.” Men chopped wood for the kitchen stoves.
When power finally reached the ranch in the late 1940s, “It was a blessing. The line from the highway went through my
aunt’s ranch and my uncle’s ranch to us—a lot of miles of poles and lines.” He cherishes the good memories, too, of
sitting outside after supper, talking, and enjoying the breeze.
Ray Lopez, District 2 board member, grew up on the northwest side of Brownsville in a house that used kerosene lamps
until he was about eight years old. He remembers burning his forehead from bending too close to a hot lamp and his
winter chore of bringing a tub of hot charcoal inside to heat the house. Getting electricity meant a water heater and indoor
plumbing instead of an outhouse and an outside shower. “It was like heaven for us kids, especially at night. You take it for
granted now. When you talk to the grandkids about it, they don’t believe you.”
MVEC board member, Barbara S. Miller, recalls her aunts, Dolly, Derlie and Irene, born between 1915-25, telling her about
farm life north of Mercedes before the co-op brought electricity to District 4. “They felt left behind because most kids in
town had electricity and they didn’t.” What they did have were tougher chores, such as hauling buckets of water for their
mother to wash clothes.
Nila Wipf, District 3 board member, had no electricity growing up in Batangas, Philippines, where the soot from homemade
kerosene lamps blackened children’s faces. “With no refrigeration, everything had to be fried or dried. Women took scrub
boards and clothing to the river. You crammed as much as possible into the daylight hours.”
When President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Rural Electrification Act in 1936, he remarked that empowering rural
America would “democratize the American dream.” And he was right. In 1939, MVEC rocketed to 1,349 members.
In 1950, Magic Valley Electric Co-op became the first electric co-op in the nation to send members checks for patronage
refunds, now called capital credits. Capital credits reflect the margins generated by the Cooperative after expenses have
been covered. With the Co-op financially healthy, members received checks in proportion to their payments. Since then,
$54 million has been returned to MVEC members.
By 1951, most rural residents in the Valley had electricity, but MVEC continued to grow, supplying more power to members
who added new appliances and farm equipment. In 1953, new three-phase power lines, along with sturdier pole-top
hardware, reduced service interruptions and delivered more reliable power. MVEC became the first Texas co-op to install
two-way radio systems in service trucks and to send members bilingual publications.
Times, indeed, have changed. Farm productivity has soared, thanks in part to electric motors and equipment. People who
live in rural areas are assured of electric power. See the February issue for more on MVEC’s first –and second – 80 years.