It all started with Moses Abousleman, a Lebanese immigrant who had his hands in everything worth getting involved in in Jemez Springs, New Mexico, from the day he arrived in the mountain village in 1912 until the day he died in 1934.
“His many businesses included a mercantile, livery stable, saloon and bath house," wrote local historian Amanda Lewis. “In addition to being a merchant, he owned as many 40,000 sheep, which he grazed throughout the Jemez Mountains."
The first telephone in the village was in Moses and Edna Abousleman's home, as were the first electric lights and the first indoor plumbing. The power for the lights came from a small hydroelectric plant Moses and his grown sons built on the Jemez River.
The hydro served only the Abouslemans and a few neighbors, but it gave their son Fred the idea for something much bigger and longer lasting: Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative (JMEC).
When Fred and his brothers returned home from World War II in 1945, the hydro plant was in bad shape, and he couldn't abide it.
"Every little town in Germany had power. They generated power from a river or creek," he told the person who interviewed him for JMEC's official history. “I made up my mind, I was going to have central power from somewhere."
About the same time, a community leader in the nearby village of San Ysidro, J. Antonio Montoya, met with representatives of Continental Divide Electric Cooperative hoping this new utility in neighboring McKinley County would extend lines east into Sandoval County. He also met with members of the New Mexico congressional delegation in Washington.
But when nothing happened, Montoya, Abousleman and other activists in the Jemez Mountains formed their own co-op, which they incorporated on April 22, 1948. They hired an engineer to draw up a plan for a distribution system and applied, successfully, to the federal Rural Electrification Administration for a $930,000 loan.
A big chunk of the loan went to purchase a diesel plant and distribution lines in Espanola owned by the now-defunct Inland Utilities. This was a significant expansion of the JMEC footprint. (Espanola is in Rio Arriba County, Sandoval County's neighbor to the north.)
Abousleman and Montoya served on the first board of 11 directors, which expanded to 13 to allow representation from the Espanola area. Abousleman was elected president.
A ceremony was held at a dance to mark the beginning of a new era. After Abousleman finished his speech, he proudly pulled the string hanging from a light fixture in the ceiling. But the bulb stayed dark because the transformer hadn't been switched on, according to the history. The mess-up was quickly rectified, and JMEC's members went home to turn on the lights in their homes and businesses.
JMEC kept expanding, building lines in three more counties: McKinley, Santa Fe (east), and San Juan (northwest). The co-op's line crews used horses to erect poles and string lines in rugged areas.
As demand grew, the old diesel generator in Espanola couldn't keep up. In 1957, JMEC joined 12 other electric co-ops in the state in creating Plains Generation and Transmission Cooperative, which soon built a gas-fired power plant in Algodones, another village in Sandoval County. The plant supplied all the wholesale power JMEC needed until the early 1980s. (Plains G&T was folded into Colorado's Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association in Colorado in 2000.)
Today, JMEC is the largest distribution co-op in the state with more than 31,000 members.