At the unusual hour of 2:00 A.M. in 1939, five men anxiously leaned against their parked cars on Hargett Street in Richlands to plan one of the most important meetings in the history of Jones and Onslow counties. The men were Albert Venters, E. C. Marshburn, Henry Cavenaugh, Rex Hill and William Hill. The meeting would be held at three o’clock the following afternoon in Jacksonville and at least 300 people had to be present to make it a success. Those attending, and future generations, would reap untold benefits. It may not seem like much of a task today, but this was in 1939 and the only people in Onslow County who knew about the meeting were these five men. How could they spread the word and assemble 300 people in just a short amount of time? The importance of the meeting was pale in comparison to the formidable job of informing hundreds needed to make the meeting a success. The meeting could not be advertised, as there were no local newspaper and no local radio station. There were only a handful of telephones and vehicular traffic was slow because only a few paved roads existed in the county. When neighbors help neighbors, however, even the impossible can become reality. The five men battled the odds and the following afternoon, a crowd of more than 300 overflowed the agriculture building on Old Bridge Street in Jacksonville. It turned out to be the hastily called organizational meeting of the Jones-Onslow Rural Electrification Authority, now called Jones-Onslow Electric Membership Corporation.
Jones-Onslow received its charter on June 22, 1939. The first Board of Directors President was E. B. Smith. The remainders of the Board of Directors were John L. Sasser of Kinston, Vice President; W. Guy Hargett of Richlands, Secretary-Treasurer; E. M. Philyaw of Comfort; H. Manley Mallard and B.C. Gray, both of Trenton; T. M. Rawls of Verona; A. B. Ervin of Richlands; and Albert Venters of Jacksonville. The cooperative’s attorney was J. K. Warren of Trenton.
The first loan from the Rural Electrification Authority was in the amount of $284,000 to build 227 miles of line in Jones, Onslow, Duplin and Lenoir counties for the purpose of providing electricity to approximately 1,288 consumers. Horace P. Cotton was appointed as Project Superintendent in October 1939, and the first office was rented in Richlands at $400 per year. Free office space became available in Jacksonville a few months later, and the office was moved. The first office in Jacksonville was above the Bank of Onslow at the corner of Court and Old Bridge streets. The first lineman employed was T. B. Jones, and Miss Addie Mallard was hired as the first stenographer/bookkeeper.
The original membership fee was $5.00. The Board of Directors was advised that since Tidewater Power Co. (formerly Carolina Power & Light, Progress Energy, and present-day Duke Energy) refused to sell power to the cooperative, the Jones-Onslow REA would be forced to build its own generating plant. The plant was constructed near the main gate of Camp Lejeune and was later sold to the United States government. The first Annual Meeting was held in Comfort on the 21st of June in 1940. By that time, the young cooperative had 706 accounts. In 1944, the cooperative rented office space in a cottage in the Overbrook section of Jacksonville, 205 N. Marine Boulevard. At this time, there were 1,105 consumers and 300 miles of line. Mr. Fred Harmon, Jr. was the General Manager. The cooperative moved to a new office and warehouse complex on Highway 17 South in 1954. By June of that year, Jones-Onslow had 6,195 consumers on 1,004 miles of line.
In 1961, E. B. Smith passed away and was replaced by Mr. Albert N. Venters as President; Mr. Archie Horne was elected President in 1969. The cooperative’s second General Manager, Fred Harmon, Jr. passed away suddenly in 1955, and Alvin C. Morton was named as his replacement. Mr. Morton served as General Manager until his retirement in July 1988. In July 1988, the Board of Directors named J. Ronald McElheney as the cooperative’s fourth General Manager and later Chief Executive Officer. Mr. McElheney had previously served as Assistant to the General Manager.
In 1974, the cooperative’s general office and warehouse facilities were moved to their present location on Western Boulevard in Jacksonville. The cooperative at that time had grown to 20,424 members being served through 1,573 miles of line. In 1989, the cooperative constructed a new district office in Sneads Ferry to meet the needs of a growing membership in that area. In 1996, Mr. Archie Horne retired, and Mr. Clifton D. Taylor was elected Chairman of the Board of Directors. In 2002, Mr. Hugh Batts was elected Chairman of the Board and served in that position until March 2013. Mr. John L. Pierce was elected Chairman of the Board of Directors and serves in that position today. Directors serving at this time are Mr. John L, Pierce, Chairman of the Board; Mr. Thomas Waller, Vice Chairman; Mr. Cecil Hargett, Secretary/Treasurer; Mr. Nelson Burgess, Mr. Robert Daughety, Mr. Brandon Howard, Mrs. Iris Horne, Mr. Michael Chad Meadows, Mr. Douglas Parker, and Mr. Dale Powell.
On January 1, 2016, Jeffery (Jeff) T. Clark, the cooperative’s Chief Financial Officer since 2002, assumed the position of JOEMC’s Chief Executive Officer. Mr. Clark, with over 40 years of experience working in the electric cooperative industry, succeeded J. Ronald McElheney, who led the company as CEO since 1988.
With many changes facing the industry, Jones-Onslow EMC is still serving its consumers with the neighbor helping neighbor concept, through the cooperative way of business. With over 2,400 miles of line serving close to 75,000 customers, Jones-Onslow EMC is one of the fastest growing and most innovative cooperatives in the United States.