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Account: Lakedale Telephone
The following
account is an excerpt from John Bishop’s presentation to the Kiwanis Club at their July 16, 2015 meeting.

The Annandale Telephone Exchange was purchased from Bill Kiehn by my father, M. H. Bishop, and a business associate in 1945.  At that time Kiehn had been the general manager and Bill Saltmarsh, who previously had been an employee of the Rural Electrification Administration in Washington D.C. replaced him in that position and continued as general manager until 1968.  In early 1946 they purchased the Maple Lake exchange from Frank Elsenpeter.  At that time they incorporated the two exchanges as Lakedale Telephone Company, the name which was a combination of Maple LAKE and AnnanDALE. 

In 1953 they purchased the Waverly, Montrose, Hamel, Hanover and Rockford exchanges. The headquarters office for Lakedale at that time resided at 46 N Oak in what is now occupied by Wendy's Travel on Main Street although each town had a central switching office. The headquarters office in Annandale housed not only a switching office but operators that were on duty 24/7. All calls had to be routed by those operators to their destination as they are who answered your call when you picked up the phone. During that period there were as many as 8 people utilizing a single telephone line. Therefore very often when you picked up the phone you would find it busy... or being utilized by someone else sharing the line. Also there were unending complaints about people "rubbering" or listening in on the conversations of their neighbors. For some elderly subscribers it became a past-time and often caused conflicts among neighbors because obviously their conversations were far from private. I guess it might be considered the predecessor of the Edward Snowden controversy. It is funny how sometime things come full circle.

In 1965 Lakedale built a new headquarters office and installed a new central office switching center at the corner of Cedar and Maple in what is now the Annandale State Bank Mortgage lending office and before that was the Allina Medical Clinic. Shortly after moving into that building in 1967 the old operators were replaced by a new, all modern direct dial switching center which pleased some and was not appreciated by others. Many people didn't like the new direct dialing because the operators had provided such great service and had acted as an answering service. If someone was going to call, say Dr. Bendix, they would pick up their phone and ask for Dr. Bendix and the operator would tell the caller Dr. Bendix had told them he would be at the barber shop for the next 1/2 hour and asked if they wanted to forward their call there. Again...was it progress or not? ...not until voicemail and call forwarding came along would that kind of service again be available. Unfortunately, even with the new switching center there remained open wire multiparty lines.

In 1968 Bill Saltmarsh retired as that was the year my father passed away and Bud Morrow was appointed general manager, followed by Gene South in 1996. Gene brought Lakedale into prominence and respect in the industry at both the state and national level.

Although I had worked at Lakedale for many summers before serving in Vietnam I began my full time employment at Lakedale in 1970. Unfortunately at that time we were not able to lineup the financing to service the explosion of growth in the Hamel, Hanover and Rockford exchanges and some drastic changes became necessary.  In 1970 we facilitated at trade with what was, at that time, Northwestern Bell Telephone Company and exchanged the exploding Hamel, Hanover and Rockford area for the slightly bigger but much slower growing Paynesville exchange.

In 1971 we were finally able to obtain financing for modernizing our antiquated outside plant and between 1972 and 1978 we upgraded our open wire multi party plant to all buried single party service in all six of our exchanges. During this period we had grown to 27 full time employees. Just as an aside....the cost for upgrading those facilities was hugely expensive and the rate charged for local service did not come close to being able to justify the upgrade. The ever hated long distance charges for long distance calls always subsidized the ability to provide these upgraded local services. When those long distance charges began to transition to the present flat rate charges for internet services with deregulation in 1986 the cost to continue to provide upgraded services and facilities became prohibitive and caused finding additional revenue sources mandatory. With that "bundling" became the buzz word....in other words providing and packaging voice services with internet and video. Due to the new deregulation, Lakedale proceeded to "bundle", as well as originating with many other new ventures. In 1987 the FCC held a lottery to award spectrum for wireless services which Lakedale was fortunate to win. After winning we partnered with several other independent telephone companies to build Cellular 2000 in St. Cloud. In time that company allowed us to become the Sprint affiliate for all of Minnesota as well as Eastern North Dakota and northern Iowa. In the end that organization alone employed over 250 people.

We also built a vast fiber optic network with two other independent telephone companies that reached from Minneapolis as far as Fargo and Duluth. That network was built to enable small telephone companies to transport all their long distance traffic to a central location that enticed competing long distance carriers to want to obtain that business. That was how Lakedale was able to provide subscribers with their choice of long distance providers rather than just AT&T.  In 1983 Annandale moved to its new location on Highway 55.  Also, as most of you know, we also began to provide video and became an Internet Service Provider in 1996 and dial up internet connection became a thing of the past.  Additionally we participated in many smaller endeavors one of which ultimately provided the 911 service to 57 of Minnesota's 87 counties.

The Lakedale years saw the office in three locations: on Main Street at 46 N Oak, 1946-65; around the corner at 60 N Maple, 1965-1983; and then out on the highway at 9938 St Hwy 55 NW, 1983-2008. With the growth of wireless communication there was very little future in landline telephone and flat rate internet, so in 2008 Lakedale was sold to Iowa Telecommunications which in turn sold it to Windstream in 2010. It was very hard to sell the business that had been in the family for 62 years.