See where we’ve been and where we’re headed.
The Venture Communication Cooperative has deep roots in rural South Dakota. What all started as an effort to get basic telephone service to farms and ranches in central and northeast South Dakota, has grown into a constantly evolving Digital Cable TV, Home Phone, Mobile Phone, and Internet company.
In 1952, when the company was founded, other telephone companies couldn’t get phone lines to many of the areas we serve today. So rural residents and business owners took action, forming a committee that spurred the organization of a cooperative.
Venture Communication continues to deliver innovative communication technology solutions to under served rural communities today.
Get an in-depth look at our early history.
Nearly a century ago, the first telephones appeared in Highmore. They were brought in by A. N. Van Camp, an attorney, in early 1883. He installed one telephone in his law office and another in his home, which was located three miles south of Highmore. The idea of having a telephone began to spread and both town and rural residents started installing them. At one time, all of the rural telephones were part of the Van Camp telephone system except for two small systems.
Some time later, Van Camp sold his telephone interests to the Central West Company, owned by the Insull Company, and later on, they in turn sold their interests to the Missouri Valley Telephone Company, owned by L. J. Ollig of Waverly, Minnesota.
Time to Change
When the trading centers converted to automatic dial telephones, and the rural people started getting electric power, the old single-wire telephones just wouldn't work well enough to do much good. Most farms didn't have telephone service at all or if they did, it was just between close neighbors.
When the Rural Telephone Program was enacted into law in Oct., 1949, as an amendment to the Rural Electrification Act of 1936, with their objective being to provide telephone service "to the widest practicable number of rural users," area residents started proceedings to form a cooperative.
The first organizational meetings to form a cooperative were held in Sully County in 1951. Those who became affiliated with Sully Buttes Telephone Cooperative and attended those meetings were Harold Courier and Glenn Hughes, both of Onida, and Randal Mercer, of Blunt.
The severe winters of 1951-52 hastened the Hyde County organizers to "get the ball rolling" to get telephone service in the area. Those severe winters, with the many blizzards and deep snow, left many people with no way of communicating with anyone for long periods of time. In times of emergency, rural residents would build a large fire to attract the attention of airplanes that were kept in the air for that purpose.
In late 1952, many interested in reliable telephone service attended a state-wide telephone meeting held in Huron by REA representatives and officials. Those attending from Hyde County were advised to attend a meeting that was going to be held in Onida. Three rural Hyde County residents, Lawrence Stoley, Wayne Wade, and Dick Raske, realizing the importance of obtaining telephone service for the rural areas, attended the organizational meeting held in Onida and found that Sully, Hughes, and Hand County farmers had no better telephone service than Hyde County farmers did, and all of them had held some organizing meetings and signed up some members. The other counties seemed to be a little further along than Hyde County was. They also found that all of them had many things in common and the problems were much the same, such as the towns were all served by telephone companies that either could not or would not build modern telephone lines to the farms and ranches in these counties.
The REA Field Representative, Mauritz Erkkila, suggested that the group organize a telephone cooperative that would include all or parts of Hyde, Hughes, Sully, Hand, and Beadle counties. The farmers in attendance at that meeting were a very determined group and the recommendation was adopted by the unit.
The key holding company in these areas was the Missouri Valley Telephone Company, owned by L. J. Ollig of Waverly, Minnesota. A five man committee representing the five counties, was appointed and organized to contact Ollig to see if he would sell the exchanges of Blunt, Highmore, and Wessington to make an REA loan feasible. Members of this committee were Emil Martens, Wessington; Glenn Hughes, Onida; Randal Mercer, Blunt; Lawrence Stoley, Highmore; and Wayne Wade of Highmore, who was named coordinator. The Harrold exchange, owned by M. D. Vandarwarka, had already offered to sell. Under the guidelines of the REA representatives, members of the small farmer owned lines, which dotted the areas, were contacted and agreed to sell their holdings if a cooperative would be formed. The small companies which eventually became a part of Sully Buttes were Wessington Hills Telephone Company, Wessington; Turtle Creek Telephone Company, Wessington; Ree Heights Cooperative Telephone Company, Ree Heights; Sedgewick Telephone Company, Highmore; Holabird Telephone Company Holabird; Southern Hyde Telephone Company, Highmore; Stockmans Telephone Company, Highmore; Harrold Telephone Company, Harrold; Farmers Union Telephone Company, Harrold; Line 242, Blunt; Gas Belt Telephone Company, Onida; Farmers Mutual Telephone Company, Onida; and Eastern Sully Telephone Company, Onida.
The committee and the REA Field Representative, Erkkila, met with L. J. Ollig in Watertown. Ollig stated that he had no intention of selling any of his holdings but if the committee felt that they needed these three exchanges to make an REA loan feasible, he would sell them at his book value which he granted the committee permission to make an appraisal of the property in order to establish an REA equity valuation. The committee decided to contact the K. B. MacKichon & Associates engineering firm to seek their services as consulting engineers. The engineering firm made the appraisal and verified the feeling of the committee that the price Ollig was asking was too high.
In November of 1952, two more men were added to the committee. They were Harold Currier, Onida, and Joe Blaseg, Ree Heights. Paul Burke of Miller was hired as their attorney to draw up the necessary papers for incorporation.
On Dec. 13, 1952, the cooperative was organized and incorporated. A seven man Board of Directors was elected to represent the areas, with the five original committee members, being automatically included. The members of the original board were Glenn Hughes, president; Emil Martens, vice president; Wayne Wade, secretary and treasurer; and Lawrence Stoley, Randal Mercer, Harold Currier and Joe Blaseg. The newly elected directors named the new telephone cooperative Sully Buttes Telephone Cooperative, Inc. after a familiar landmark to the west of Onida, Sully Buttes.
Many meetings were held during 1953 at which time plans were implemented to secure pre-loan requirements requested by REA, such as securing options on many rural mutual aid switcher line telephone companies, acquiring county and town franchises, working out boundary agreements and toll settlements, approving feasibility studies by the engineers, obtaining certificates of convenience and necessity, and working out pole rental agreements with the various rural electrical cooperatives operating in the communities in which Sully Buttes was going to build telephone lines.
Negotiations continued with L. J. Ollig to purchase the exchanges of Blunt, Highmore, and Wessington. A loan was applied for through REA even though a purchase agreement had not been reached with the Missouri Valley Telephone Company.
About this same time, a committee was elected to contact the rural leaders in the Hitchcock and Tulare areas to see if they would be agreeable to become a part of the Sully Buttes Telephone Cooperative. At that time these two exchanges were holdings of Independent Telephone Incorporated, owned by W. L. Wermerskirchen of Aberdeen, South Dakota. The subscribers in those areas would not cooperate with that company by buying shares of stock. They indicated, however, that they would sign with Sully Buttes if their line would be built first. The Board indicated that Sully Buttes would not take these two exchanges unless they could be purchased from the loan that had been applied for.
Word was received in July of 1954 that Sully Buttes would receive a loan in the amount of $1,717,000. Sully Buttes had already secured an option to purchase the Hitchcock and Tulare exchanges from Independent Telephone Incorporated. This led to the negotiations for the purchase of the rest of the properties of this company which included the exchanges of Seneca, Onaka, Hoven, Tolstoy, Langford, and Rosholt. The new directors representing these areas were Willis Boyd, Tulare; Nels Olsen, Hitchcock; Dave Banik, Tolstoy; LeRoy Erickson, Langford; and Frank Hahn, Rosholt.
In early 1955, Attorney Burke was authorized and directed to meet with L. J. Ollig and negotiate a sales agreement for the telephone properties of the Missouri Valley Telephone Company at Wessington, Highmore, and Blunt at the best terms possible.
In 1955 the Board employed Dale Jacobson as the first manager and set up office in an old barber shop in Highmore.
In early 1955, the acquisition arrangements were made for the Hitchcock and Tulare exchanges and in May of that year the engineers started staking these two exchanges for the proposed telephone system. The manager, president of the board, and attorney made a plane trip to Washington to get the first release of funds to complete the acquisition of Mr. Ollig's property and on June 30, 1955, Secretary-Treasurer Lawrence Stoley delivered a check to Mr. Ollig as final settlement for his property and Sully Buttes took over the operation of the exchanges in Highmore, Wessington, and Blunt.
In August of 1955 the first contracts were let for construction of outside plant in the Highmore, Wessington, and Blunt areas. On June 29, 1956, the plans were finalized and Sully Buttes acquired the Independent Telephone Incorporated holdings in Seneca, Onaka, Tolstoy, Hoven, Hitchcock, Tulare, Langford, and Rosholt. With the acquisition of these exchanges Sully Buttes also hired combination-men that had been serving these areas for ITI. The three men and the years they worked for Sully Buttes were Byron Siegel (1956-1966), Harry Beck (1956-1970), and James Splettstoesser (1956-1980).
The next 10 years saw Sully Buttes continually growing and constructing new lines in all of the exchanges and adding new central office equipment.
As the company expanded, more employees were hired to handle the work load. In November of 1956 Dale Jacobson submitted his resignation effective December of 1956. Roy G. Price was appointed manager and assumed his duties in January of 1957.
Roy Price resigned in 1960 and James T. Olson assumed the position of manager and held that position until 1975 when he resigned and assumed the managerial position in Circle, Montana.
In 1965, plans were being made to start upgrading the rural areas to 4-party buried service rather than having the real 8-party facilities that were a constant source of trouble.
The worst ice storm in 30 years hit central and northern South Dakota on Dec. 10, 1965, knocking out telephone and power lines. At one time Sully Buttes had over 2,500 customers without long distance services.
Hardest hit were the Tolstoy, Onaka, Seneca, and Hoven exchanges with extensive damage in the Wessington exchange in the hills south of Vayland. Ice, up to three inches in diameter, formed on the wires breaking corner poles and allowing poles in line to go down like dominoes. Estimates as to the number of customers in all exchanges in the ice belt ran in excess of 600. Restoration was almost impossible as there were no signs of the ice falling off the wires and splices re-broke as fast as they were fixed. The storm damage was estimated at $50,000, but officials felt that if the wind started blowing in excess of 25 miles per hour, plant property in excess of $350,000, could be destroyed.
When the crews started restoring service to the Sully Buttes exchanges, over 300 poles had to be replaced and ice had to be stripped off the downed wires before the several hundred wire breaks could be repaired.
Extra crews were brought in from surrounding telephone cooperatives to help restore service. There were 40 men working in the various areas affected by the storm.
Tabulation of the ice covered facilities revealed that at one time over 1,500 miles of telephone plant had from 1 to 3 inches of ice on the wires. Lack of wind saved what did not go down.
Early March of 1966 again brought trouble for Sully Buttes telephone facilities. Large amounts of ice, coupled with high winds and heavy snow, contributed to lost communication services.
Crews were unable to move to restore service for some time and then only because so many people were using their phones, that the main circuit breaker kept blowing.
Many of the troubles in the rural areas of all exchanges were caused by the wrapping lines that had not been re-sagged after the December storm. The cooperative had over 1,500 miles of line in that condition and had been unable to get it fixed by the time of the spring storm.
Plans had been made the previous fall, before the ice storm, to start replacing the aerial wire facilities with buried service. Sully Buttes had planned to start with Hitchcock, Tulare, and Langford and upgrade to a maximum of four customers per line in the rural areas, and toll free service to the adjacent major town of each exchange.
The plan was to convert these three areas in 1966 and progress through the remaining 12 exchanges over the following four years. The ice storm changed the plan so that in addition to the three above named exchanges, four more would have to be upgraded by the use of underground cables in 1966. Because of the imminent rate increase brought on by repairs to fix the damage, the Board of Directors decided that in the best interests of the members and subscribers, the plan would be accelerated and that in 1967 the exchanges of Ree Heights, Highmore, Harrold, and Blunt would have to be converted.
A loan was applied for and received from REA in the amount of $968,000 to start the upgrading. Work plans for 1966 included the lowering of cable in the Hoven, Tolstoy, Seneca, and Onaka exchanges the first part of August. These were the exchanges hit hardest by the December ice storm.
A new headquarters building was constructed and moved into in 1966.
After the seven exchanges (Hoven, Tolstoy, Seneca, Onaka, Hitchcock, Tulare, and Langford) were upgraded to 4-party buried service, it was determined that the remaining exchanges might as well be upgraded to all buried 1-party service so plans were made to start this project, which began several years later, with Highmore being the first exchange to be cutover to 1-party service in 1972. The remaining fourteen exchanges were gradually upgraded to 1-party service with the last one being cutover in early 1977.
After Jim Olson resigned in 1975, the managerial position was assumed by James E. Nielson. Jim Nielson had previously worked for Sully Buttes from 1957 to 1970. In 1970, he moved to Park River, N.D., as assistant manager of military communications for Polar Communications Mutual Aid Corporation.
Capital Credits Retired
Sully Buttes, being a cooperative, operates on a non-profit basis for the mutual benefit of its patrons. Capital for conducting business is obtained by patronage by all subscribers.
When it is determined that the financial condition of the company is in accordance with the rules and regulations set forth by the REA, amounts in excess of operating costs and expenses are paid back to the subscribers as capital credits.
In 1977, Sully Buttes retired capital credits for patronage during the years 1961 through 1971 in the amount of $134,255.25. In 1978 capital credits were retried for the years of 1972 and 1973 in the amount of $101,861.36.
As we become more and more dependent upon the telephone, both for business and personal use, the need arose for mobile telephone service. Sully Buttes, once again, was asked to look into mobile service by residents of Sully County. In 1977, a system was established East of Onida.
After looking for a more cost effective way to bring mobile communications to our subscribers, we added smaller systems in Highmore and Hitchcock in 1985.
The latest in mobile communications is Cellular. This is a group of mobile systems that operate together to form a continuous network. Sully Buttes Telephone, in conjunction with Cellular Inc. of Englewood, Colorado, and other telephone companies in the state of South Dakota will be involved in the construction of cell sites in Aberdeen, Brookings, and Mitchell in 1990 and other sites in the future.
Upgrading, Remodeling, and New Building Construction
As telecommunications is a never ending upgrading process due to new technological advances, Sully Buttes upgraded the Highmore central office to the new electronic digital computerized switching equipment which was cut into service in 1980. Tolstoy, Onaka, and Ree Heights were upgraded and cutover to this service in 1981.
When it was decided that the Highmore exchange would be converted to the new switching equipment, building space was needed for the equipment. A remodeling project was undertaken to convert the storage and garage area in the headquarters building to a room for the new switching equipment and to add an office for the trouble dispatcher and a repair room for the central office equipment crew.
This project created a need for a storage area for telephone equipment and a garage to house the service vehicles.
The property purchased adjacent to the headquarters building had an old apartment complex on it. The old building was raised and a new garage and storage building was erected. It now houses ten service vehicles and provided facilities for storing the new telephones and related repair parts.
The 1980's proved to be a very busy time, as construction continued with the upgrading of many central offices to digital switches. In 1984, Hoven, Seneca, Harrold, and Blunt were completed. East Onida and West Onida went digital in 1985, followed by Wessington, Langford, and Rosholt in 1986, and Tulare and Hitchcock in 1987.
With rapidly changing technology, digital switching soon had many software and hardware changes. During 1989, Sully Buttes Telephone cooperative updated all 15 Northern Telecom digital switches to the latest 400 generic software. This also included adding HSO-SSO features to Highmore, which allowed 12 of the other offices to tie directly to Highmore for long distance, billing, and administrative purposes.
In 1989, a 150 mile fiber optic cable project was completed. Westcott Construction of Holabird buried fiber from Hitchcock to Highmore. This route carries toll traffic from Tulare, Hitchcock, Wessington, and Ree Heights to Highmore, as well as matches with US West fiber by Wolsey to take calls on to Sioux Falls. Two other routes were built, Seneca to Highmore, and East Onida to Highmore. This fiber network ties twelve exchanges into Highmore, where all long distance calls are recorded for billing and sent on to US West.
Cable television became a very hot item during the 1980's. Sully Buttes Telephone received permission to operate a cable tv system within the city limits of the towns in their service areas. These systems operate completely separate from the telephone operations.
The Highmore system was completed in 1982, followed by Hoven in 1983. During 1984, construction was completed in Tulare, Wessington, and Langford. Blunt received cable tv in 1985, followed in 1989 by Harrold, Hitchcock, Seneca, Ree Heights, Tolstoy, and Onaka.
Sully Buttes Telephone currently has about 1200 subscribers being served by the 12 cable systems
- Rural communities of Wessington Springs, Highmore, Harrold and the Western exchanges converted to Fiber to the Home.
- 60th Annual Meeting held in Highmore on 9-26-12.
- The Board allocated member patronage in the amount of $3,783,722 for the year 2011.
- The Board approved $900,000 general patronage retirement to be paid in 2012.
- The REDLG Loan/Grant Program is initiated.
- Rural Rosholt and Selby town are converted to Fiber to the Home.
- The Board allocated member patronage in the amount of $4,398,609 for the year 2012.
- The Board approved $900,000 general patronage retirement to be paid in 2013.
- Rural communities of Britton, Langford, Pierpont and Roslyn were all converted to Fiber to the Home.
- Venture to Venture calls are now free for customers due to changes in government regulations.
- Harry Thomas, President of the Board of Directors, is honored with the Director Life Achievement Award for 30 years of service.
- The Board allocated member patronage in the amount of $4,528,347 for the year 2013.
- The Board approved $900,000 general patronage retirement to be paid in 2014.
- Sisseton rural customers along with Agency Village customers are converted to Fiber to the Home.
- Town customers in the exchanges of Britton, Gettysburg, Highmore, Selby, Sisseton, Wessington Springs and Onida are converted to Fiber to the Home.
- General Manager Randy Houdek is elected chairman of the NRTC Board.
- The Board allocated member patronage in the amount of $5,506,746 for the year 2014.
- The Board approved $1,300,000 general patronage retirement to be paid in 2015.
- The Board approved roll out of our video product in Selby, Bowdle, Roscoe, Roslyn and Java with the actual roll out starting in 2016.
- A $5,000 donation was made to the South Dakota State Fair 4-H Exhibit hall.
- Approximately 800 Western customers are welcomed to the Venture Communications Cooperative family. The Western Telephone Company was purchased in June 2008 covering our Faulkton and Cresbard serving areas.
- Watch TV Everywhere is available FREE to Venture TV subscribers allowing TV customers to view TV services on mobile devices.
- Venture Communications is recognized by NTCA as a Certified Gig Capable Provider.
- Venture Communications donates $2,500 to the South Dakota State Fair FFA Building with that amount being matched by the SD FFA Foundation.
- The towns of Hoven, Langford and Pierpont are converted to Fiber to the Home.
- ATV Holdings LLC( Alliance Communications, TrioTel Communications and Venture Communications) finalize the purchase of Mitchell Telecom.
- Venture’s Jeans on Friday Fund has dispersed $10,200 to 68 individuals/families in the last 5 years by employees donating $1 each week and wearing jeans on Fridays.
- The Board allocated member patronage in the amount of $6,970,500 for the year 2015.
- The Board approved $2,000,000 general patronage retirement to be paid in 2016.
- Venture rolls out video product in Selby, Bowdle, Roscoe, Roslyn and java.
- The Board allocated member patronage in the amount of $6,240,233 for the year 2016.
Fiber to the Home construction is planned for the towns of Blunt, Harrold Wessington, Hitchcock, Tulare, Agar and Akaska.
- All customers receive High Definition channels in their regular digital TV channel line-up.
- ManageMyTVs is available FREE to Venture TV customers allowing them to turn their devices into a remote control.