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Ronan Telephone Company celebrates 50 years

RONAN —The Ronan Telephone Company commemorated 50 years in business on Thursday — not a small feat for a small company in Ronan.

In the half-century that RTC has been in business, there have been many changes in the community and the communications business. Jay Preston Jr., the president of the business will be the first to tell you that. 

When his father bought the company in 1960, operators filled the front room on Main Street that now houses the main office. Lines would light up on the switchboard, and operators would connect lines manually. In the early days of the 1960s, the company served about 500 customers and calling Pablo from Ronan was long distance. In the rural areas, there were 20 subscribers on each telephone line — which meant that each residence had its own ring and families trusted their neighbors not to eavesdrop.

But by the early 1970s, town customers shared their lines with only one other neighbor, and the rural areas lessened the load of 20 subscribers per line to four-party lines. 

Eventually, the company outgrew the multi-party lines, and operators and switchboards became a thing of the past. 

Throughout the years, RTC has weathered a few business storms and survived to tell about them. In a time when many smaller companies are being absorbed or bought by larger telephone corporations, RTC has grown and persevered. 

At one time, there were 4,000-5,000 small telephone companies that served local communities across the nation, Jay Jr. said. But in recent years, that number has shrunk to 1,000 local telephone companies, RTC included.

RTC fended off the larger corporations and by 1990, the company had a total of 4,200 subscribers in Pablo and Ronan. 

In more recent years, the company found that they would have to adapt and change with influx of new technologies. With the introduction of mass cell phone use, RTC has lost about 1,400 telephone lines. 

However, RTC now offers high speed internet to over 1,500 subscribers, and are looking to improve their services as the need evolves. 

While the company continues to flourish amidst seas of change,  RTC prides itself on being a small, family-owned business and continues to support the Ronan community in a plethora of ways. 

“I hope there will still be family companies in the future,” Jay Jr. said. 

Small, family-run companies still understand their community and are invested in the town they serve. For the wellbeing of their employees, customers and their own families, RTC strives to see the community prosper and grow. 

“We’re pretty lucky,” operations manager Rosa Tougas said. “The Preston family has treated us like family, and they’re just as supportive of the community.”

Tougas has seen the company evolve from typewriters in 1983 to advanced computer systems. In the 27 years she has worked for RTC, she has obviously seen a lot of changes and transitions, but she has not seen a lot of turnover. RTC’s employees are usually on board for the long haul. 

Three of RTC’s longest employed staff members, Alan Unruh, Cal Hardy and Del DesJarlais have been working at RTC since the mid-'70s and early '80s. 

“They bring so much to the company,” Tougas said, noting that long-term employees offer so much expertise in their particular field. 

With 30 local employees and 50 years of business, RTC has deep ties within the community, and the company is always looking forward to grow and serve Ronan’s communication needs adequately in the future. 

At the celebration on Thursday, the company generously opened its doors to members of the public, presenting them with delicious morsels of food, a canvas grocery bag and a cute coffee mug. The community responded by attending and visiting with the staff members, the owners and even the founders: Jay Sr. and Elizabeth Preston. 

Not many large companies could hold such a warm, inviting and community-based event, complete with the company’s president, the owners and its founders on its 50th birthday. 

“The best part (of the business) is working in the community. It’s very rewarding,” Jay Jr. said. 


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