Rod Bowar receives NTCA Special Achievement Award in Tampa Florida

Summary of Nomination:  
Bowar Power:  How One South Dakota Manager Sustains the Small Community He Grew Up In! 

   In May of 1976, at the age of 14, Rod began working part-time for Lloyd and Delores Johnstone, the owners of Kennebec Telephone Company.  Even as a part-time employee, the teenage Bowar demonstrated a willingness to work seven days a week and perform any job that needed to be done.  The young employee’s work ethic did not go unnoticed.  Years later, Lloyd Johnstone struck a deal with Rod that he would pay for his vocational tech education if, upon graduation, Rod was willing to come back and work for Kennebec Telephone Company.  Rod seized the opportunity to continue his education time, Rod Company.  Shortly after Rod began his studies, Mr. Johnstone passed away suddenly and Rod returned to Kennebec to assume the position of Plant Manager at Kennebec Telephone Company.

     During the years that he served as Kennebec Telephone Company’s Plant Manager, Rod worked closely with Mrs. Johnstone to continually upgrade technology, products and service offering to Kennebec Telephone Company customers.  In 1982, Rod was instrumental in forming the Kennebec CATV Company to bring cable television to the town of Kennebec.  Kennebec CATV Company would later serve cable television customers in all of Lyman and Tripp Counties.  Under Rod’s management, Kennebec Telephone Company began burying optic cable in 1989 and installed its first digital switch in 1990.  In an effort to provide the rural residents in the Kennebec area with the most advanced telecommunications services possible, Kennebec Telephone Company continued to upgrade its network by investing in Advanced Fiber Communications systems.  In June of 1996, Kennebec Telephone Company acquired the Presho exchange which brought an additional 500 access lines to the company.  Anticipating the likelihood of further technological advancement, Rod and his crew installed a Northern Telecom remote switch which would enable the Presho and Kennebec communities to benefit from any future upgrades.

     When Mrs. Johnstone prepared to retire in October 1998, Rod, a long with his wife and children, purchased Kennebec Telephone Company.  At that time, Rod not only took on the role of company owner, but also the assumed the roles of Kennebec Telephone Company CEO, President and General Manager and the multitude of responsibilities that come with those positions.  Under Rod’s astute and progressive leadership, Kennebec Telephone Company a member of the South Dakota Network which provides state-of-the-art and consolidated telecommunications centralized equal access services to South Dakota’s rural telecommunications companies.   Kennebec Telephone Company also joined forces with other rural local exchange carriers in South Dakota to develop and install a SONET ring between the carrier’s exchanges in order to offer redundant and uninterrupted service telecommunications customers in the case of fiber cut.  In 2001, Kennebec Telephone Company acquired Kennebec CATV Company and also began offering its customers a high speed Internet product (ADSL) called DataNet in the Kennebec and Presho exchanges.  In 2008, Kennebec Telephone Company celebrated its 100 year anniversary of offering telephone service to the Kennebec community.

     Recognizing that businesses and job opportunities are the critical lifeblood to the survival of rural communities, Rod has maximized opportunities through Kennebec Telephone Company in order to retain essential services in and for the Kennebec and Presho communities.  For example, when the local electrician announced he was retiring, Rod purchased the electrician’s business and incorporated it as a unit of Kennebec Telephone Company.  This business unit now employs four employees and offers electrical services in surrounding rural communities.  Likewise, Rod has added a digging and excavating operation to Kennebec Telephone Company in order to meet the community needs for basement excavations and other digging work.  In order to keep other services local and available to residents, Kennebec Telephone Company now also offers welding services and tire and oil change services.  Fittingly, Rod’s thirty-two employees account for more than ten percent of Kennebec’s population.  It is after all, Rod’s community-centric, forward-thinking resourcefulness that has kept many vital services and jobs on Kennebec’s Main Street.

Special Achievements and Contributions to the Telecommunications Industry through National, State and Local Organizations

     With less than one-thousand access lines, Kennebec Telephone Company is one of the smallest local exchange carriers in the state of South Dakota.  However, due to Rod’s recognized leadership, Kennebec Telephone Company has been commended by the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, the South Dakota Governor and Federal Communications Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein as an example of a principal contributor to the local, state and national telecommunications industry.

     Rod currently serves as the President of the South Dakota Telecommunications Association (SDTA) Board of Directors.  SDTA provides regulatory and legal assistance to its member companies and representation before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the South Dakota Public Utilites Commission and various other government agencies.  Prior to his role as President, Rod served as the Vice-President of the SDTA Board of Directors.  As an actively involved SDTA officer, Rod travels to Washington D.C. to meet with federal elected officials and their staff, as well as FCC Commissioners and staffers to discuss issues impacting the rural telecommunications industry and to identify collaborative approaches to telecommunications policy development.

     Rod is also a current Board of Directors member and a former President of the Fiber Ring Revenue Pooling Association (FRRPA).  In South Dakota, FRRPA provides a pooling mechanism for a collective, cost-averaged transport network for South Dakota local exchange carriers.  Utilizing a centralized administration system, FRRPA members were able to construct, implement, provision and maintain a system of interconnected survivable rings that can serve nearly all independent LEC areas and more than seventy percent of the geography of the state of South Dakota.  Rod, as FRRPA board member, is responsible for evaluating the equity ownership of a member company, assessing received revenue, and disbursing the revenue to ensure each member company collects a fair rate-of-return on their investments.

    Additionally, Rod is an active member on the Local Exchange Carrier Association’s (LECA )Board of Directors.  On behalf of their member companies, LECA is tasked with developing and pooling uniform intrastate access rates.  During his LECA board tenure, Rod has diligently participated in negotiations with the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission and interexchange carriers concerning intrastate access rates to ensure that the interexchange carriers would continue to provide toll calling services to South Dakota’s rural customers.  Rod has also worked cooperatively with the LECA member companies to develop an equitable pooling and redistribution procedure so that all member companies receive reasonable disbursements.

     Rod also serves on the Board of Directors for South Dakota Network (SDN).   SDN is a centralized equal access service provider formed in 1992 by a group of South Dakota telecommunications cooperatives with the intent of providing cooperatives with the state-of-the-art and consolidated telecommunications services.  When SDN opened membership up to non-cooperative companies in 1998, Kennebec Telephone Company was among the first companies to seize the opportunity.  Rod was the first to be elected to SDN’s expanded Board of Directors and he continues to serve in this capacity presently.

     Recognizing the impact and overall influence rural companies can possess when working together, Kennebec Telephone Company has been an active member of the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association (NTCA) for years.  While not a cooperative telephone company, Rod recognizes NTCA as the national telecommunications association that best represents and advocates on behalf of his commercial company’s interests.  Further, Rod has recently been appointed to the NTCA's Business and Technology Committee.  Rod also participates in NTCA’s annual and fall conferences whenever possible.

     On June 9, 2004, Rod was appointed by South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds to the South Dakota Legislative Research Council’s State and Local Government Task Force.  Rod, one or eighteen appointees, was the only representatives from the telecommunications industry.  The task force was assigned the responsibility of reviewing areas where state and local governments could foster cooperation and improve services.

     In 2005 the community of Kennebec and Kennebec Telephone Company were selected for a personal visit from FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein and the South Dakota PUC Commissioners during their tour of South Dakota.  For this event, Rod hosted a community picnic for the Commissioners.

     Rod’s active involvement in the leadership of the organizations dedicated to the advancement of the rural telecommunications industry not only demonstrates his willingness to take on challenging responsibilities, but also exemplifies the confidence and assurance his peers have in his character, ability and diligence.

Contributions to and Positions Held in Community/Civic Organizations

     When factoring in the hours Rod spends managing the operations at Kennebec Telephone Company and the time he invests in his industry association officer duties, it is really astonishing that Rod has any time left in his day.  However, looking at Rod’s contributions to the communities of Kennebec and Presho leaves no doubt that serving, maintaining and giving back to those rural communities is also at the very top of Rod’s priority list.

     Carrying on a family tradition, Rod serves on the Kennebec Volunteer Fire Department as the Assistant Fire Chief fighting fires alongside his father and his two sons.  Rod is certified to fight large forest fires and has been dispatched to such fires in the Black Hills and Pine Ridge Reservation areas.  Any compensation Rod receives for fighting forest fires in the Black Hills or Pine Ridge areas is donated to the Kennebec Volunteer Fire Department to purchase or replace equipment.  Understanding the need for quick emergency response in rural areas, Rod encourages his employees to become active in the Kennebec and Presho Volunteer Fire Departments.  Kennebec Telephone Company boasts employing seven of Kennebec’s firefighters and EMT’s.  When an emergency call comes in, Rod’s employees are allowed to respond to the call and perform their volunteer duties while still receiving pay.  Rod has also been instrumental in forming a firefighting cadet program to encourage young residents to learn about volunteer firefighting opportunities.

     On June 20, 2009, Rod and his wife Donna and Kennebec Telephone Company were presented with the Community Service Award plaque by members of Kennebec’s Town Board in appreciation for their continual support and service to the community of Kennebec.

     Rod serves on the Kennebec Housing Board.  In this capacity, his goal is to ensure that community structures are maintained and do not become visually undesirable or safety hazards to community residents.  Over the last five years, Rod has purchased the former Post Office building and provided an alternative location before destroying the former building due to safety hazard concerns.

     Rod is an active member of the Presho Chamber of Commerce.  He works diligently to support community events in Presho.  When Presho hosts the Farm and Home Show, Rod is there to help set up and take down any equipment or structures as needed.  Rod also supports community fundraising efforts by donating money or items.

     When the community of Kennebec lost its city maintenance services, Rod was quick to step in and offer any assistance.  Kennebec Telephone Company, through Rod, provides the Kennebec community with free use of its equipment for snow removal, to hang its Christmas lights, to install irrigation system for the town ball park, to maintain the parks and to make any necessary repairs.  Rod also has purchased an interstate sign for the community of Kennebec.

     Rod is actively involved with the Kennebec Town and Country Club and has served in various capacities for this club.  When hosting events, Rod is there to assist in set up, take down and clean up.  Rod donates time and money to the local libraries.  Rod also encourages his employees to become active members of their community clubs and organizations.  Rod’s Plant Manager, Matt Collins, serves as the President of the Kennebec Town and Country Club.

     Rod is also extremely supportive of new business ventures in the Kennebec or Presho communities.  Rod purchased an office plaza building to ensure that any new or existing businesses looking to relocate would have commercial rental space available to them in Kennebec.  When approached by a local rancher about the possibility of erecting a test tower to measure wind velocity and consistency, Rod had four Kennebec Telephone Company employees construct the tower.  Following that, four new employees were added to erect Meteorological towers nationwide.  This venture now services an area that encompasses ten states and has been a significant factor in the emergency and expansion of wind towers.

     Rod Bowar’s selfless efforts, whether focused on the rural telecommunications industry, Kennebec Telephone Company, the Kennebec community, family, or volunteering, illustrate the exceptional ripple effect one person can truly have on society.  Without any expectation of recognition for his considerable contributions, Rod fully personifies the oft-cited quote, “character is who you are when no one is watching”.  For these reason Rod was nominated for the NTCA’s Special Achievement Award.


When Delores Johnstone owned the Kennebec Telephone Company, she had hired Telec Communications as her consulting firm.  She has seen many changes since then in the telephone industry.  Telec has changed their firm name to Consortia.  Rod Bowar now manager of Kennebec Telephone Company Inc., still uses Constortia as his consulting firm.  Darrell has been a good friend of Delores for a long time. 

Wind Test Towers

These are some pictures of wind test towers we put up for a customer north of Reliance in March.  The towers need to collect wind data for 1 to 2 years before it can be taken down and reused.  This is a 50 meter tower or 165 ft, it measures the wind at 50 meters, 30 meters, and at 10 meters.  South Dakota west of the Missouri River is supposed to have some of the best wind in the country, I guess it's always blowing.






Four members of one family, three father-son duos among members
By Kimberly Kolden
The Daily Republic, Mitchell, SD
July 27, 2006

KENNEBEC — When a grass and tractor fire ignited last Saturday near Kennebec, four members of the Bowar family helped put out the fire.

With the assistant fire chief, a captain and two other firemen in the family serving on the Kennebec Volunteer Fire Department, fighting fires is a family affair for the Bowars. Other family members also get into the act, bringing the firefighters refreshments when it gets hot.

Many small towns in the state have strong family lines in the volunteer firefighter ranks, but Kennebec seems an exception. Not only are there four Bowars suiting up for the department, but also three father-son duos.


Kennebec Fire Chief and Lyman County Sheriff Don Manger said he isn’t sure why so many families continue with the department generation after generation, but thought maybe it had something to do with the small town lifestyle.

“I think most people out here are kind of volunteer minded,” he said. “People from small communities like this kind of like helping one another out.”

At 73, Charley Bowar is the oldest firefighter in his family and has given 45 years to the Kennebec department. He continues to captain a six-wheel-drive fire truck when he’s needed.

“I guess I just wanted to be involved,” he said of when he first joined the Kennebec department in the early 1960s.

Now Charley’s son, Rod Bowar, and two of his sons, Chaz Bowar, 18, and Laddy Christensen, 27, all serve with the Kennebec Volunteer Fire Department. Chaz joined the department after his birthday in February.

“I wanted to stay on long enough ’til my grandsons got on here,” said Charley. “I guess I just wanted to go to a fire with them.”

Rod Bowar said his youngest son always wanted to fight fires with his family.

“(Chaz) has wanted to for a long time. I felt pretty proud when he wanted to,” he said. “I think my dad takes a lot of pride in it. I think it’s a good thing — it’s a good experience for young people. … It’s a positive experience all the way around.”

Rod Bowar, 44, says it’s likely he’ll be involved with the department for a long time after he’s retired, just like his father.

“I think about some day when I retire from work, I’d still like to be involved,” he said. “Whether it’s just helping around the firehouse or doing support things. Sometimes that’s harder than the firefighting.”

Rod Bowar says the attraction to the fire department has been strong for his family. The department is big for others in the community, too; the 30 firemen on the roster comprise 10 percent of the town’s population.

The department boasts six trucks that are used to cover some 500 square miles near the Lyman County town. Kennebec also built a new fire hall in 2003 with the help of a $100,000 grant. Donations and free labor poured in and the town put up what Bowar says is a $280,000 building for $100,000.

“That was a credit to the whole community,” said Bowar. “Our community is very supportive and very generous to the fire department.”

Rod, who speaks proudly of the young and active nature of the department, said he received his “calling” to help at fires, quite literally, when he 18.

“I was just out of high school and the fire whistle was blowing,” he said. “Whoever I was standing beside said, ‘You need to go,’ so I went. After (the fire) I filled out an application. I’m still there.”

Now he is the assistant fire chief and commands the fire crews when the fire chief isn’t able to get out to a call. Of the department’s 30 volunteer firefighters, 19 are very active, Rod Bowar said. Around 15 have received and completed “red card” training, qualifying them to help fight large fires safely in the Black Hills or other areas around the state, Bowar said.

The Bowars are not the only family to boast several generations of firefighters in Kennebec. Manger’s son, Steve, serves as a captain in the department. Willis and Monte Houchin, and Steve and Tom Hills are two other father-son duos.

Another connection running through the department is that seven of the town’s firefighters and EMTs are employed with Rod Bowar’s company, the Kennebec Telephone Company.

“We’ve got a company policy that as long as the supervisor OKs it, they’re free to go (to emergency calls),” he said. “We will continue to pay them just like they’re here from 8 to 5. It’s a very important piece of the community. If somebody’s hurt out there it’s more than likely one of our customers and that’s important to us. It’s not only your customers; it might be your friend or family out there.”

In order to keep the department rolling with young, active members, Bowar said the firehouse is starting a firefighter cadet program to encourage participation in the community’s youth, ages 14-18.

“We’ve got a lot of good things going on now,” said Bowar. “… If we get the young guys going … when they turn 18, they’re ready to go.”


Kennebec Telephone Co., Inc.
PO Box 158
220 S Main
Kennebec, South Dakota 57544-0158

Phone # 605-869-2220
Fax # 605-869-2221



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