Ten years ago, southeast Minnesota was hit with record rainfall impacting many towns in the area; Rushford being the most severely hit. The flood of 2007 left residents without drinking water, a usable sewer system, power or use of their phone. The equipment in the telephone office was destroyed, and cell phones also were not working. Rushford was in dire shape. Homes were damaged or destroyed, roads washed away, and businesses unable to function. Yet today, Rushford thrives. Some say the town recovered because of heroic measures that were taken by so many. But when AcenTek was asked about their role in the recovery of the town, they describe it as “simply doing their job.”
The days and weeks following the flood were filled with emergency crews, city workers, utility companies and volunteers who immediately responded to the devastation, doing tasks many had never done before, in conditions they had never seen before. People went to extreme lengths to help, giving of themselves more than they had ever given before. Many sacrificed, putting others needs before their own.
AcenTek, the local provider of voice, video and internet services, was concerned with the challenge of how to provide services to the customer. In order to do this more would be required of their staff. Much more. Yet the employees reflect on their role during the time of the flood with great modesty, accepting no praise for their efforts. “We simply did what needed to be done. Our job was to provide voice, video and internet services to our customers. The flood knocked out those services and our job was to restore it as quickly as possible, hopefully minimizing the distress people were experiencing. We simply did our job.”
When the flood hit Rushford, AcenTek’s goal was to restore phone service to the people as quickly as possible. Having no way to communicate was only adding to the devastation that the people of Rushford were feeling and, at that time, landlines were more of a necessity than they are today. With four feet of water and mud in the central office (where all the phone equipment was stored), this was a challenge the company had never faced before. Cleaning the office out, purchasing and installing new equipment, and then reconnecting all of the homes would take a lot of time. Too much time. AcenTek recognized that the people of Rushford needed a solution as fast as possible. Just five days after the rain quit falling on Rushford, they had that solution. Joe Hightower, a supervisor at AcenTek, used his connections from a prior job (Falcon Communications in Malden, MO) to rent a special digital-equipped trailer to bring to Rushford. This trailer acted as a temporary central office so that AcenTek could get phone services restored while continuing to work on the clean-up of their office. Cable splicers took 12-hour shifts, working through the night to get the wiring transferred from the original central office to the trailer and just hours after the trailer arrived AcenTek had established dial tone. Two days after the trailer arrived AcenTek began restoring phone service to customers. Hightower’s connections, along with the workers’ relentless dedication was not only helpful, but impressive. However, none of the workers describe the sequence of events that way. “We simply did what needed to be done.”
Rushford residents were not the only customers impacted by the torrential rainfall. Customers in many of the other serving areas were also without services due to the storm. Some employees had to turn their focus to the customers outside of the Rushford area. That is where construction supervisor, John Jore and his team came in. They were responsible for identifying the issues with services in surrounding communities and then worked to fix them. “We just did everything we needed to do to get services working again. Crews worked long days, six or seven days a week at first, but no one complained. We just did what we had to do,” Jore explained. In just two weeks 90-95% of voice services were restored, along with internet services to some.
Corey Gantenbein, then a warehouse worker, was less than one week from his wedding day when the flood hit. The Brownsville Community Center, where his reception was planned to occur at, had been turned into a temporary home for families, now without one. He had water in his own basement, yet opened up his home to a family of four who needed a place to stay. Despite the turmoil in his personal life, Gantenbein willingly put in 15-hour days to help a community in need. When asked about the sacrifice he made (during a pretty important week for him personally) he answered, “Whatever our needs were at that time, the community of Rushford needed me more. Others had a lot more to deal with. I just did my part. It wasn’t a big deal.”
Another employee who worked out of the AcenTek office in Michigan, volunteered to come to Minnesota for 7-1/2 weeks to help. Jerry Stone, a technician, arrived in Houston in a truck completely full of clothing, food and toiletries that the employees at the offices in Mesick and South Boardman, MI had collected. When asked why he was willing to give up time with his family in the comfort of his home, and come to work in less than favorable conditions, Stone answered, “Because I’m human. That’s what people do to help those in need. It didn’t have anything to do with where I worked. I think we should always help those less fortunate. I could come and help, so I did. It’s that simple.”
Each employee told a similar story – all ending the same way, “We simply did our job.” One AcenTek employee completely lost his home and still reported to work, stating, “It was a good distraction.” Other employees had damaged homes, vehicles and driveways. One employee even used a four-wheeler as his only means of getting to work. None of them, including the one who lost his home entirely, let their personal distress distract them from the goal of restoring services to a community in need. “I feel it was our finest hour,” said Joe Hightower, supervisor. “I am very proud to work for a company that responded the way we did. These are good people. Good people make this company.” Former CEO, Dave Schroeder, also commented about his (then) staff, “If it wasn’t for all employees working together, the recovery wouldn’t have happened the way it did. It certainly wouldn’t have gone as quickly or as smoothly without all employees working toward the common goal of restoral of service to all customers! I trusted them fully. I knew them well and knew they were capable of doing what needed to be done. The fact that they believed they were simply doing their job speaks directly to their integrity.”
Whether it is reflecting back on the flood or discussing Rushford today, AcenTek’s commitment to this community is the same. The fiber project is on target to be complete by March of 2018, allowing customers in the city limits to get faster internet speeds and increased reliability. In addition, a donation was recently made to the new school for the purchase of 70 wall digital displays. These displays can show the time, daily lunch menus, upcoming events, and practice schedules. They also serve as a method of notifying classrooms of weather announcements or an incident in the school. Corey Mattson, Technology Director at the school commented, “These displays truly are a piece of technology that our district will greatly benefit from, and we are extremely grateful for AcenTek's support in our continued efforts to make our school district the most informed and safe that it can be.”
Current CEO at AcenTek, Todd Roesler, commented on the continued commitment to the area saying, “We have a strong desire to serve this area and the people who live here, no matter what that takes. We cared about Rushford when the flood devastated their community 10 years ago and we still care about them today. Some call that extraordinary; we describe it as simply doing our job.”