History of Garden Valley

Garden Valley Presidents | Garden Valley Managers | Timeline

Director Districts

District 1 – Beltrami, Fertile & Maple Bay

District 2 – Brooks, Erskine & Mentor

District 3 – Red Lake Falls & St. Hilaire

District 4 – McIntosh & Winger

District 5 – Fosston & Lengby

District 6 – Clearbrook, Gonvick & Leonard

District 7 – Bagley, Minerva & Shevlin

District 8 – Gully, Oklee & Plummer

District 9 – Gatzke, Goodridge & Grygla

Garden Valley’s Presidents

1906-1910. . . . . . . . . . .Jens O. Rindahl

1910-1913. . . . . . . . . . .Herman Loitten

1913-1914. . . . . . . . . . .M.E. Randklev

1914-1919. . . . . . . . . . .C.H. Carlson

1919-1922. . . . . . . . . . .T.K. Bergland

1922-1944. . . . . . . . . . .J.O. Melby

1944-1969. . . . . . . . . . .Walter E. Day

1970-1975. . . . . . . . . . .Elmer Berg

1975-1992. . . . . . . . . . .L.J. Lee

1992-1998. . . . . . . . . . .Edgar Olson

1998-2003. . . . . . . . . . .Joe Sandberg

2003-2006. . . . . . . . . . .Ronald Engelstad

2006-2010. . . . . . . . . . .Warren Larson

2010-2016. . . . . . . . . . .Vernon Hamnes

2016-2019. . . . . . . . . . .Jerry Freitag

2019-Present. . . . . . . . .Byron Ness

Garden Valley’s Managers

1906 – 1913 – J.O. Hovland

1913 – 1945 – Thomas Vollom

1945 – 1960 – Carl Ostby

1960 – 1977 – Harold Peterson

1977 – 1996 – Lawrence Ware

1996 – 2015 – George Fish

2015 – Present – Tim Brinkman



The Garden Valley Telephone Company was formally incorporated in March, 1906. The original officers of the cooperative were Jens O. Rindahl, president; Herman Loitten, vice president; James O. Hovland, secretary; Gilbert A. Bratlund, treasurer; Erik G. O. Hoglund, trustee; Martin Peterson, trustee; and Lars Wik, trustee. Organizational records disclose that in 1905… “A meeting was called for the purpose of working up a Cooperative Telephone organization for mutual convenience to build telephone lines from Rindal to Winger and Fertile.” Twenty-nine subscribers initially agreed to purchase stock to begin building telephone lines. The first annual meeting was held on February 6, 1906 at Rindal, Minnesota—the cooperative’s original principal place of business.


Fertile was established as the first Garden Valley exchange, acquired from the Fertile Brick and Tile Company in 1907. Erskine, in 1908; and McIntosh, a year later, became the cooperative’s second and third exchanges. Herman Loitten was elected in 1910 to serve as Garden Valley’s second president. The cooperative began providing service for Winger, Gully and Clearbrook in 1911, as Garden Valley expanded to six exchanges. The following year, Fosston and Mentor were established as the seventh and eighth exchanges. Also in 1912, J. O. Hovland, whose duties as secretary-treasurer had included the general management of the cooperative, was officially designated secretarymanager. M. E. Randklev became the company’s third president in 1913—the same year in which Thomas Vollom, upon the resignation of J. O. Hovland, was named secretarymanager; and Gonvick was added as the ninth exchange. A year later, C. H. Carlson was elected as Garden Valley’s fourth president, at which time Thomas Vollom was named general business manager and J. O. Hovland reassumed his duties as corporate secretary. In 1915, the articles of incorporation were amended to provide for the relocation of the cooperative’s headquarters from Rindal to Erskine; and Lengby was added as the tenth exchange.


During this ten-year period, Garden Valley grew to sixteen exchanges—with the addition of Leonard in 1917; Oklee and Plummer, acquired from the Clearwater Farmers Telephone Company in 1920; Goodridge in 1924 (previously served by the Red Lake Eastern Marshall Farmers Telephone Company); and in 1926, Grygla, which was purchased from the Grygla Co-op Telephone Company; and Beltrami, acquired from the Polk County Telephone Company. T. K. Bergland, elected in 1919; and J. O. Melby, in 1922, became the fifth and sixth presidents of the cooperative.


Garden Valley added Shevlin and Bagley in 1928, including subscribers formerly served by the Clover Telephone Company, to increase the total number of exchanges to eighteen. The cooperative observed its 25th anniversary in 1931.


Following several years of a national economic depression, Garden Valley acquired the Red Lake Falls Telephone Company in 1940 and began the cooperative’s nineteenth and twentieth exchanges—Red Lake Falls and St. Hilaire. Walter E. Day, in 1944, began his twenty-five years of service as Garden Valley’s seventh president. Thomas Vollom retired in 1945, after thirty-two years in the position of general manager, and was succeeded by Carl Ostby. A year later, the company began rebuilding and modernizing its telephone plant facilities. Garden Valley members were informed that the long-standing “dollar a month” rural rate would soon be increased to $1.50. The formal notice stated… “At a meeting of the Board of Directors held in November the Go-Ahead Signal was given to the biggest venture to hit this territory for some time. Garden Valley’s 3,000 miles of pole line, thousands of feet of underground and overhead cable, 18 switchboards, 18 telephone buildings and other equipment are to be either overhauled or replaced. The aim will be to provide top-notch service for our communities.”


Minerva, previously served by the Bagley exchange, became the twenty-first exchange in 1950—the company’s first exchange with dial service. In 1951, Garden Valley was granted its first of several loans by the Rural Electrification Administration (REA)—an initial amount of $2,065,000. Nine exchanges, in 1954, were cutover to dial service and, in the following year, seven additional exchanges were upgraded to dial facilities. During the cooperative’s 50th year, in 1956, the four remaining exchanges with operator-handled local service were converted to a dial system. The last call completed by a Garden Valley operator (or “central,” as she was often referred to) occurred in the Erskine exchange on July 31, 1956.


Harold Peterson, who had been employed in the cooperative’s plant department for thirty-two years, was named general manager in 1960, succeeding Carl Ostby who retired after fifteen years in that position. A new headquarters building in Erskine was constructed in 1965.


In 1967, Minerva became Garden Valley’s first exchange to be upgraded to all one-party service. Thirteen additional exchanges were cutover to one party status during this ten-year period. The company, in 1969, began a five-year direct dialing conversion project for long distance calls. In 1970, Maple Bay (formerly part of Fertile, Mentor and Winger) and Brooks (previously served by Red Lake Falls) were established as independent exchanges—the company’s twenty-second and twentythird dial offices. Gatzke (previously part of Grygla) was established as the cooperative’s twenty-fourth exchange in 1974; the same year in which the company entered into a contract with the Northwestern Bell Telephone Company to determine toll settlements on a cost separations basis. During this decade, Elmer Berg was designated, in 1970, to serve as Garden Valley’s eighth president. He was succeeded in 1975 by L.J. Lee, the company’s ninth president.


Harold Peterson, in 1977, retired after forty-nine years of service with the cooperative—including seventeen as general manager. He was succeeded by Lawrence Ware—who was the fifth person to hold that position during Garden Valley’s nine decades of operation. The company’s remaining ten exchanges were upgraded to all one-party service during the period of 1977-80. In 1981, the company’s last remaining pole lines were removed (other than some aerial plant to premises within city boundaries). Eleven exchanges were cutover to digital central office equipment from 1980 through 1985. Garden Valley began offering cable television service (CATV) in five exchange areas, following the amendment of the corporate articles in 1979 to expand the cooperative’s purpose to include other communications services, in addition to basic telephone services, requested by members. The U.S. Department of Justice and AT&T entered into a divestiture agreement in 1982 to separate the Bell operating companies from AT&T—a decision which has promoted extensive competition for long distance services. In 1983, the company began operating a Radio Shack dealership, which provides members a source of computer terminals and software programs, including those commonly used in conjunction with the telecommunications network. In 1985, the company’s first 4P toll offices were placed in operation. Electronic switching equipment at the central office in Bagley began processing long distance calls from and to four exchanges; and the 4P office at Red Lake Falls, using fiber optic telephone cable to Crookston, began handling toll calls for five exchanges.


During the period of 1987-90, the company’s remaining thirteen exchanges were upgraded to digital equipment. Toll facilities at the cooperative’s 4P toll offices in Bagley and Red Lake Falls were expanded to process long distance calls for all twenty-four Garden Valley exchanges. By the end of 1987, all counties in which Garden Valley’s central exchange offices are located had 911 emergency telephone systems in service. In 1990, the company implemented a 24-hour schedule for emergency service; and established an education foundation to assist area public schools in obtaining and using telecommunications technology to enhance educational programs. In 1991 new cellular mobile telephone and paging systems, partially owned by Garden Valley, began operating in portions of the cooperative’s service area; and the company’s CATV operations were expanded to serve a total of twelve communities. Also in 1991, area residents were provided an opportunity to individually select their long distance companies. Garden Valley was one of 65 Minnesota telephone companies which created a new toll network, known as MEANS (Minnesota Equal Access Network Services); which, beginning in 1992, connects rural communities to a centralized equal access switching point. Upon the retirement of L. J. Lee in 1992, Edgar Olson became the cooperative’s tenth president. In the fall of 1992, six area schools began offering courses over an interactive television system transmitted by Garden Valley’s fiber optic cable facilities; and, in the following year, the cooperative began operating one of the first interactive videoconferencing sites in Minnesota. In 1994, Garden Valley began distributing 18-inch television satellite receiving antenna dishes and providing, through its affiliation with the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative, DIRECTV® programming packages. The company also began offering toll-free access to Internet information services. Through 1994, the capital credits had been retired and paid to members for more than 81 of the cooperative’s 89 years of operation. In 1995, for the first time, the number of telephone access lines served by Garden Valley reached 14,000. The cooperative expanded its headquarters building in Erskine, adding needed office space and a training and meeting facility; and constructed a garage/storage building in Fosston, which will also be used as a reporting location for some Garden Valley employees. George Fish, an employee of the cooperative for fifteen years, was named general manager in 1996, succeeding Lawrence Ware who left after nearly 19 years in that position.


In 1997, Garden Valley installed a new billing, accounting and plant records computer system. The number of Internet subscribers more than doubled to a total of 762 by year-end; and Garden Valley started an extensive service upgrading program utilizing a fiber fed digital loop design. During 1998, President Edgar Olson was succeeded by Director Joe Sandberg of Erskine. The cooperative began offering long distance service and continued its service upgrading program in the Fertile exchange. In 1999, the Mentor and Maple Bay exchanges were rebuilt with fiber optic cable; the cooperative applied for a $20-million RUS loan to continue its service upgrading projects; and the number of Garden Valley Internet subscribers climbed to 2,379. Garden Valley continued its service upgrade program with the Erskine exchange in 2000, getting us closer to the provision of digital subscriber line (DSL), or high-speed Internet service. The number of Internet subscribers at year-end grew to 3,499. In 2001, Garden Valley took another step toward eliminating the “digital divide” by deploying DSL service in all communities in Garden Valley’s service area, as well as rural areas in the Beltrami, St. Hilaire, Fertile, Maple Bay, Mentor and Erskine exchanges. More than 190 members have subscribed to the high-speed Internet service. In 2002, Garden Valley’s new electronic billing system was introduced and will allow customers to view, print and download their current and past months’ account information over the Internet. Work continued on the service upgrading program, which consisted of rebuilding the north half of Fosston, rural Bagley, Minerva and Shevlin exchanges with fiber optic cable to within 12,000 feet of every customer. During 2003, Joe Sandberg stepped down as president and was succeeded by Director Ronald Engelstad. Work progressed on the service upgrade program with the completion of Leonard, Clearbrook, Fosston and a portion of the Winger exchange, enabling subscribers in those exchanges to receive DSL. More than 90 percent of Garden Valley subscribers now have access to DSL service and more than 860 members are subscribing to the high-speed Internet service. Nearly $1.9 million in capital credits were paid out in 2004. The cooperative also continued its service upgrading program under the current Rural Utilities Service (RUS) loan and started work on a new design utilizing fiber to the premise. On June 11, 2005. Garden Valley Telephone Company hosted its 100th annual membership meeting. This centennial celebration, with record attendance, included many activities for all ages. Old telephone equipment and memorabilia were on display, and a video depicting the history of the cooperative was presented during the business meeting. Members and guests attending were given a cookbook, made up of recipes submitted by cooperative members and employees, and all were treated to a fine meal and old-time dance. In 2005, Garden Valley also started its first Fiber-to-the-Home project in the Red Lake Falls exchange. The cooperative’s plan is to use a mix of this technology, along with existing facilities, to offer additional services, such as video, in the near future. In 2006, Garden Valley members authorized amending the By-Laws to change references of “nonoperating” to “Nonpatronage” to protect the cooperative’s non-taxable status. In January, we cut into service our first Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) customer, allowing us to offer additional services, such as video, in the near future. During the remainder of 2006, the FTTH project continued in rural Grygla and the north half of the Plummer exchange.


  • President Ronald Engelstad was succeeded by Director Warren Larson of Bagley
  • GV Cellular was added to our line of products and services.
  • IP (Internet Protocol) based television service is being offered throughout our service area.
  • In May, capital credit checks were issued to members totaling more than $2.3-million.


  • Fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) technology was installed to subscribers in the Gully, Oklee and Brooks exchanges. The completion of this project means that 100% of Garden Valley subscribers are now able to receive broadband service.
  • Purchased the Fertile CATV system.
  • In May, capital credit checks were issued to members totaling more than $2.6-million.


  • FTTH project is in progress in the McIntosh, Winger, and Gatzke exchanges, as well as a portion of the St. Hilaire exchange.
  • Received a new RUS loan for approximately $34-million to finish the FTTH build-out in all Garden Valley exchanges.
  • In May, capital credit checks were issued totaling more than $2.3-million to members who had service with the cooperative in 1999 and/or 2008.
  • Garden Valley’s Education Foundation also awarded its latest $5,000 grant, completing distribution to schools in our service area.


  • FTTH project continued in the Bagley exchange, as well as the remainder of the St. Hilaire exchange.
  • Began offering IPTV video service in June.
  • President Warren Larson was succeeded by Vice President Vernon Hamnes.
  • In May, capital credit checks were issued to members totaling more than $1.8-million.
  • Discontinue IMTS service in Fertile, Red Lake Falls and Lengby.


  • FTTH project in the Fosston and Mentor exchanges continue.
  • Replaced our central office switching equipment because it was no longer supported by its manufacturer.
  • In May, capital credit checks were issued to members totaling more than $938,000.
  • Received new RUS loan for approximately $29-million.
  • Exit DirecTV business.


  • Rates increased in March of this year because Garden Valley’s local service rates were lower than the FCC-required minimum. This was the first overall change in rates since 1992, when the local service rates decreased by $1.50.
  • FTTH project continued in rural Fertile and the Beltrami exchange.
  • Started turning down portions of the McIntosh CATV system due to the system’s condition and cost involved in keeping it operating.
  • Facebook was added to our online social media platform.
  • Garden Valley’s Education Foundation completed distribution of its sixth $5,000 technology grant to schools in our service area.
  • In May, capital credit checks were issued to members totaling more than $483,000.


  • FTTH was installed in the Erskine, Maple Bay, Shevlin and Leonard exchanges. This means that all the subscribers in those exchanges, including the rural areas, are now served with fiber optic cable, providing them with increased broadband services.
  • Shevlin CATV system has been shut down due to the system’s condition and cost involved in keeping it operating.
  • In May, capital credit checks were issued to members totaling more than $526,000.
  • FCC-mandated local rate increase.


  • FTTH project included the installation of over 600 miles of fiber optic cable to finish the rural areas in our service territory, specifically in the Minerva, Clearbrook, Gonvick and Lengby exchanges.
  • Local service rates were increased in November in order to meet the FCC minimum rate requirements.
  • In May, capital credit checks were issued to members totaling more than $554,000.
  • Received new RUS loan for approximately $12-million for system upgrades and improvements.


  • General Manager George Fish announced his plan to retire effective June 1.
  • On June 8, 2015, Tim Brinkman became Garden Valley’s seventh General Manager since 1906.
  • FTTH project continued and included the installation of 45.82 route miles and 683 service locations within the city limits of Fosston.
  • Grygla CATV system has been shut down due to the system’s condition and cost involved in keeping it operating.
  • First school and local content channel (channel 30) was launched, in November, at the Win-E-Mac school.
  • YouTube was added to our online social media platform.
  • In May, capital credit checks were issued to members totaling more than $469,000.


  • FTTH project now includes the cities of Fosston, Bagley, Fertile and Red Lake Falls.
  • St. Hilaire CATV system was shut down due to the system’s condition and cost involved in keeping it operating.
  • School and local content channels were implemented in Fertile-Beltrami, Fosston, Bagley and Red Lake Falls schools
  • Garden Valley “adopt a highway” along Hwy 59.
  • Radio Shack store, located in Erskine, was redesigned to better serve our customers.
  • In May, Garden Valley was recognized as a Certified Gig-Capable Provider by NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association for delivering gigabit broadband speeds and enabling technological innovation within Garden Valley’s service area.
  • In September, Garden Valley was recognized for their advanced technology offered to businesses, schools, hospitals and the residents in our area. This recognition came with an NTCA Smart Rural Community award that we are honored to have received.
  • On December 29, 2016, Garden Valley announced that Dan and Mike Vesledahl had signed an agreement to sell the business assets of Minkota Technologies to Garden Valley Innovations, LLC., a wholly owned subsidiary of Garden Valley Telephone Company, located in Erskine, MN. The Minkota Technologies name will not change; they will simply be powered by Garden Valley.
  • Volunteer time-off program was implemented allowing employees with paid time-off to volunteer in area communities.
  • In May, capital credit checks were issued to members totaling more than $482,000.
  • FCC-mandated local rate increase.
  • President Vernon Hamnes was succeeded by Vice President Jerry Freitag.


  • Awarded a Border-to-Border Broadband grant in Rural Thief River Falls. The grant will provide assistance needed to plow services to over 300 unserved households.
  • FTTH was installed in the Bagley and Fertile exchanges. Work has begun in Red Lake Falls exchange.
  • Mentor and Fertile CATV system has been shut down due to the system’s condition and cost involved in keeping it operating.
  • Technology grants presented by Garden Valley Education Foundation to each area school in the amount of $5,000.
  • Redesigned website was launched in March, providing in addition to the updated design and layout of the pages, functions were added, such as; live chat, survey, speed demo & online interactive forms.
  • Local service rate increased in May from $18 to $20.
  • New board of directors; Lee Hoaas replaced Joe Sandberg and Casey Holland replaced Edgar Olson.
  • Bagley store / office in October opened for business.
  • School and local content channel was launched in November for Red Lake County Central School.
  • LinkedIn was added to our online social media platform.
  • Volunteer time-off program was extended allowing employees with paid time-off to volunteer in area communities.
  • Awarded a Border-to-Border Broadband Grant in Bejou and rural Mahnomen, including portions of White Earth Indian Reservation.




    • We are now offering Hosted Voice services to our business customers.
    • Capital credit checks were issued to members totaling more than $514,000.
    • Consumer Broadband Only Line (CBOL) is an “Internet only” service and is now offered to customers.


    • Garden Valley opened their third retail and business office location in Thief River Falls, MN. The store located at 1517 US Hwy 59 South will be open from 10am-6pm Monday through Friday.
    • New board of directors; Larry Djernes replaced Vernon Hamnes and Ron Kiesow replaced Ron Engelstad.
    • Approved by the USDA for a Rural Utilities Service (RUS) loan totaling $20,360,040. This loan will allow GV to finish its construction of FTTH technology to the remaining 22% of subscribers not yet upgraded.
    • FTTH has been completed to nearly 8,000 homes and businesses in 25 exchanges.


    • School and local content channel was launched for Grygla school, channel 36.
    • GVT joined millions of people and added Instagram to our online social media platforms.


    • Began offering Video only service to subscribers located within our ILEC area. These services are not available to TRF, Mahnomen or National revenue areas.


    • Gonvick CATV system has been shut down due to the system’s condition and cost involved in keeping it operating.



  • We added a new digital sign outside our retail store located in Bagley.
  • GVT partnered with Netflix to provide customers the highest quality viewing experience.

March – May

  • The CATV systems (located below) have been shut down due to the system’s conditions and cost involved in keeping them operational. McIntosh (March), Clearbrook (April), Maple Lake (May), Cable Lake (May), Erskine (May), and Plummer (May).


  • Capital credit checks were issued to members totaling more than $569,000.


  • President Jerry Freitag was succeeded by Vice President Byron Ness.