By Wade Coggeshall
— When Ron Monts started working at Hendricks Power Cooperative 44 years ago, there were some people (not many) who still didn't have electricity in their homes.
Times have changed.
"I can remember years ago when people would send in postcards saying their lights weren't on," Monts said. "That would take several days. Now everything's automated. We know about outages pretty quick. People now expect us to be on 24/7. That's our goal."
Monts has seen most aspects of that evolution. But after 44 years, he's decided to retire. An open house is set for 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Jan. 30 at Prestwick Country Club, 5197 Fairway Drive, Avon.
A native of Rockville, Monts' father and grandfather both worked for co-ops.
"It's kind of in the family," he said while seated in his office recently.
After Monts' first job out of high school was moved to Tennessee, he inquired about working at the Parke County REMC, having always respected his elders' jobs. That's when Monts learned of an opening at Hendricks Power. He got an interview and then the job.
Ultimately a co-op's duty is "turning the lights on for people and making their lives easier," he said. Being members only, the co-op elects a representative for each of the 10 districts in its service territory for a board of directors. They in turn help guide the company.
"Our members are our bosses, basically," said Monts, whose last official day on the job is Feb. 1.
He started as a ground lineman, tasked with sending tools up to the regular linemen, among other duties. After about a five- to six-year on-the-job apprenticeship, Monts became a regular lineman and stayed in that position for about 20 years.
"I still enjoy that type of work," he said. "End of the day comes and you can look back and see what you did."
Eventually Monts moved indoors to become a member services representative.
"We'd go to people's houses and help them troubleshoot and figure out why their bill was high," he said. "Anything a customer needed, we're always willing to help with."
Monts later managed that department. When marketing and economic development became more important components of the operation, he offered his expertise. That included establishing a program to entice companies to move here.
Four years ago, Monts became director of operations. He always missed the hands-on work, which is reflective of what he does in his spare time. Unlike some, Monts enjoys yard work and has a wood shop where he likes to while away the hours.
"That always seems to be the thing that gives me the most joy," he said.
But he has also appreciated the opportunity to work in so many elements of Hendricks Power.
"Things never got boring," Monts said. "I was always transitioning to a new phase and getting new challenges. It's been a blessing to be involved in all aspects of the company."
When Monts started at Hendricks Power, the cooperative had about 6,000 to 7,000 members. It's now up to about 30,000.
"We're an urban co-op at this point," Monts said. "We're not serving farmers as much as we used to."
Donnis Mizelle, Hendricks Power CEO, says Monts has been a valuable member of the co-op's team throughout that growth.
"He has shown continuous dedication to making Hendricks Power a better company, and due to that dedication he has been a part of many significant improvements that we have made over the years," Mizelle said. "He is a respected member of this community and we will miss him as an employee, although we expect to continue to work with him in our community."
Monts' reasons for retiring are age and "I've got some things I'm looking forward to doing." Those include the aforementioned wood shop and yard work. He also likes to play golf and wants to collect as much Indiana-based art as he can find in antique shops around the state. His daughters also have some to-do lists waiting for him.
As for the next-generation Monts working in the co-op industry, "Nobody's followed Dad's lead." His son is a military veteran stationed in Hawaii who's done two tours in Afghanistan. One daughter is a chiropractor in Zionsville and the other teaches at North Salem Elementary School. The latter followed in Monts' wife's footsteps.
You can easily do worse than work for a co-op though, Monts said.
"It's a good stable business, pays a decent wage and benefits, and keeps you active in your community," he said.
For a business that also has less turnover than usual, it's a great way to make lifelong friends.
"It made it easy to get in 44 years, when you have people you like to work with and for," Monts said. "Really makes it a joy."