Dakota Datebook

Let There Be Light

Thursday, August 1, 2013


In northeast North Dakota, in the tiny town of Olga, a life-changing event happened to the Monette family. For the first time in 31 years, they had electricity. According to an August 1973 article in the Benson County Press, the Monette’s are bowing to the progress of electricity—not out of want, but out of need.

Return to 1973. Ernie Monette, who is 72 years of age, and his wife Agnes, who is 58, live a simple and unhurried existence—the scent of Agnes’ homemade soup bubbling on the cook stove, the kitchen aglow with kerosene lamps, the 80 year old grandfather clock chiming in the background. The scene harkens back to Colonial times. But for Ernie and Agnes, it was a life of bliss. The Monettes raised six children in their unspoiled home with no telephone, no TV, no washing machine, and no electricity. Their only link to the outside world was a small transistor radio. Their 28-year-old son still lived at home, working at one of the local missile silos.

Agnes washed the family’s clothes in an old wooden barrel of a washing machine. Hand operated levers are pushed and pulled to agitate the clothes. Agnes wrung the freshly washed clothes using an old fashioned hand wringer. The water source was their local well, water that Agnes hauled to fill the washer. Will having electricity change the way Agnes does the family’s laundry? According to Mrs. Monette, the answer was “No” She felt the old wooden washing machine had worked fine all those years, and there was no need to change things now that they had electricity. Agnes didn’t mind “one bit” doing things the old fashioned way.

Ernie recalled when REA came to Cavalier county years ago.”I was the only guy who didn’t take it. I just figured it cost too much. Besides, with a pack radio, good wood and kerosene, who needed it?” But times had changed. In 1973, with the energy crisis in full swing, Ernie had a difficult time finding kerosene. In his soft spoken voice, he simply said, “Hell, I don’t need it—but I have to light the place and all that is left is electricity”


Dakota Datebook written by Jill Whitcomb




This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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