Change is inevitable over the course of four decades.


But at South Central Indiana REMC, there have been two constants – Rex Franklin and Jerry Pheifer.


There hasn’t been a board of directors without the pair since the early 1980s.


Pheifer came on board in 1982 with Franklin following suit a year later. It wasn’t something either had expected to do.


In the case of Pheifer, the whole situation was unexpected when a board member suffered a heart attack and passed away.


“They asked me if I wanted to serve and I told them no,” said Pheifer, who spent 25 years as the athletic director at Monrovia High School and was inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame earlier this month. “They called back a week later. I said, ‘I’m an athletic director. I don’t have time.’”


Jerry Pheifer

But board member Byron Bray was persistent. He told Pheifer, “Just try it. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to do it.”


Pheifer’s been doing it ever since.


It was a more traditional route to the board for Franklin, who rode a wave of change as the membership was unhappy with a significant increase in rates related in part to the newly operational power plant at Merom.



Rex Franklin

“My next-door neighbor was on the nominating committee and asked if I’d be interested,” Franklin recalls. “I said, ‘I don’t know. I never thought about it.’”


After talking with his wife and thinking about it, Franklin agreed to go on the ballot, beating out a board veteran of 30-plus years in the process.


It would be another 31 years before Franklin was nearly ousted himself, winning by less than 100 votes in 2014.


“I never dreamed I’d be on the board 40 years, but everybody likes to think they will leave some kind of legacy,” he said. “For me, it’s my family and this. I’ve really enjoyed it, and it has been rewarding for me. I’ll miss it when I go off.”


Both Franklin and Pheifer know that will be sooner than later.


“Three of my eight kids live in the district, and I’d tell them (being on the board) would be enjoyable if they wanted to do it,” said Pheifer, who is also a member of the Hoosier Energy board of directors. “I’m 77 years old, and if I run one more time, that would be it.”


But what a run it’s been for two guys who had little idea what they signed up for.


“I didn’t have a clue then, and I don’t know if I’m even up to speed now,” said Pheifer, who grew up in Monrovia on Indianapolis Power and Light before moving out into REMC territory. “There was a lot to learn, and stuff changes so fast.


Jerry Pheifer (third from left) and Rex Franklin (far right) pose for a picture during the early days of their tenure on the South Central Indiana REMC board of directors during the 1980s.

“Learning how it all worked and how it got started was pretty fascinating.”


So were some of the issues they faced along the way.


“I attended NRECA summer school in Myrtle Beach, and they were talking about mail-in ballots,” Franklin recalled. “We got to talking about how that could open voting to the whole membership, not just those who attend the annual meeting.”


Back home, an attorney at the board meeting said state law prevented mail-in ballots in Indiana, but he said he’d look it up and bring the statute to the next meeting. When that meeting came around, the attorney clarified that the law was against proxy voting but not mail-in ballots, leading SCI to establish the system it uses today.


It was a similar story that led to the implementation of Operation Round Up in 1996, highlighting the benefit of a nationwide cooperative network.


Interacting with those people has undoubtedly been the highlight for both men over the decades.


“What I’ve enjoyed most is meeting people from all over the country, whether down in Georgia or out in California,” Pheifer said. “Co-op people are good people, and they’re hard-working. When I first started, most were related to the farming industry, but it’s much more diverse now. Even our board at SCI is way more diverse now than it was.”


Franklin agreed.


“You get to know people from all over the country with the NRECA annual meeting,” he said. “I’ll see guys there once a year from Alaska, California, Idaho, just from all over, and I really enjoy that.”


They’ve also enjoyed the people closer to home.


“We’ve always had good directors on the board,” Franklin said. “It makes it really easy when you have a good staff working for the benefit of the membership.”


It’s a membership that has seen a steady evolution over the years from the introduction of computers to automated meter reading to fiber internet.


“We’ve done a lot of things for the membership, but this last go-around with high-speed internet has been great,” Franklin said. “Whenever a member comes up and says, ‘I have your internet service,’ it makes you feel good like you’ve done something that has really benefitted them. Those kinds of things are rewarding.”


So is just being a sounding board for those newer to the REMC.


“Rex and I are kind of historians, giving advice on things we’ve tried in the past,” Pheifer said. “They must think we’re halfway wise, or at least have been around long enough to know what’s going on.”


There’s little doubt about that after 40 years and counting.