One of the most important dates in rural America’s history is May 21, 1936.
On this date, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Rural Electrification Act that spurred the organization of rural electric cooperatives nationwide. These cooperatives were able to borrow funds from the newly formed Rural Electrification Administration (REA) which is known today as the Rural Utility Service (RUS). The funds borrowed enabled the construction of electric distribution lines that brought electricity to rural Americans who wanted electricity just like their urban friends.
L. Weeks Anderson was named the first manager of Roanoke Electric Cooperative on March 21, 1939, after the cooperative was chartered on September 30, 1938. There were 317 member-owners when Roanoke Electric first energized its original 56 miles of line on May 29, 1939. Since that time the system has expanded to over 2,000 miles of line serving more than 14,500 member-owners in Bertie, Halifax, Hertford, Northampton, Gates, Perquimans and Chowan Counties.
The cooperative has had three other general managers since it was first formed. Vernon Taylor set the first pole in late 1938 and was later named general manager of Roanoke Electric on March 20, 1944. Taylor remained general manager until his retirement on February 27, 1981.
Eugene W. Brown Jr. who began service for the cooperative on August 17, 1970, as the director of Member Services was then named as general manager of Roanoke Electric Cooperative on March 1, 1981. On October 15, 1997, Brown relinquished his duties as general manager and retired.
On October 13, 1997, Curtis Wynn began his administration as the leader of Roanoke EC. Wynn is the first African American in the nation to serve as the top executive of an electric cooperative. Under his leadership, many awards have been given to the Roanoke EC, i.e., the 2000 and 2005 National Rural Electric Cooperative Community Service Network Award making REC one of the most progressive co-ops today.
In January 2022, the board of directors appointed former COO, Marshall Cherry, as President and CEO. Cherry continues to expand on the cooperative principles: voluntary and open membership, democratic member control, member economic participation, autonomy and independence, education, training and information, and concern for community. He is currently leading a robust corporate strategy, Vision 2025, which will deliver on many high-impact initiatives for the cooperative’s member-owners.
The first office was one room in the Farm Security Administration office building in Halifax, NC. The headquarters moved to Rich Square in 1941, then moved to a different location in the town until 1952, when it moved to what is now known as 409 N. Main Street. In 2004, this facility also became the home of The Roanoke Center, a multipurpose facility designed to serve as the catalyst for economic development in the cooperative’s service area. In November 2009, Roanoke Electric moved its core operation to just outside the city limits of Ahoskie, North Carolina to 518 NC 561 W, Aulander, North Carolina. The Roanoke Center still remains in Rich Square.
Though originally organized to provide light and power to farms, REC has kept pace with changing times and now serves a wide variety of industrial, recreational, educational, community and other interests in addition to farms. In 2016, the cooperative started a telecom business, Roanoke Connect Holdings, to deliver broadband connectivity to its membership. As of December 2021, nearly 2,000 subscribers reap the benefits of having high-speed Internet access in their homes and businesses.