Phone company rings in centennial with historical photo book

Who better than one of Old Mission Peninsula's longest running companies to stockpile the area's historical photos and local legends in a 144-page commemorative book entitled "A Century of Service: The People and Places on Old Mission Peninsula?"

As the Peninsula Telephone Company's 100-year anniversary approached in 2006, the staff brainstormed ways to celebrate the event, which was closely followed by yet another celebration: owners Jack and Vi Solomonson's 60 years of service to the company.

"We like to joke that Jack took a part-time job in 1949 that lasted 60 years," says Mary Jo Lance, office manager as well as the Solomonson's first-born daughter. Lance has been working in various capacities at the phone company since she was old enough to sit at the switchboard. Since Jack Solomonson has a passion for local history, the group agreed to compile the commemorative book – celebrating 100 years of the Peninsula Telephone Co. as well as 60 years with the Solomonsons at the helm – featuring black and white photographs of Old Mission Peninsula families, farms, events and organized groups.

Lance printed a request for historical photographs and stories. The flyer was included with one of the monthly phone bills to the more than 1,600 Peninsula Telephone Company customers. "The response was immediate and overwhelming," she recalls. "It was truly reflective of the camaraderie and community here on Old Mission Peninsula."

The more than 300 images are woven together by stories detailing the vast and varied characters of the area. Power Island, for one, was inhabited at different times by Indians, bald eagles, Canadians, hogs, reclusive fishermen, and, some say, a ghost.

Solomonson knew most residents already, having helped untangle wires from storms in the old days to helping establish high-speed Internet today. What he didn't expect was to help customers learn more about themselves. For example, as a result of the project, peninsula resident Lawrence Kroupa discovered the identity of his great grandmother through her journals and photos which the company incorporated into the book.

"In the process, we had the good fortune of talking with lots of people we hadn't seen in several years," says Lance. Another resident, retired schoolteacher Mary Louise Jones, came in to the company's headquarters on Peninsula Drive to pay a bill only to end up identifying people in pictures of her family's farm. The conversation led to several short interviews and a significant section of A Century of Service.

The Peninsula Telephone Co. started with farmers rigging lines together so they could talk to their neighbors. Over the years the Solomonsons became the major stock holders and thus owners as well as community pillars. Apart from connecting calls and growing alongside – many times ahead of – technology, the company's switchboard has long fielded simpler requests, such as the answer to a child's math problem, messages to mothers, and house calls to check on those not answering for a long time. One memorable request still gets a chuckle from employees: someone called to ask, "How many cards in a canasta run?"

The Solomonsons would insist otherwise, but, by linking lines and opening their doors and hearts to the people of Old Mission Peninsula, they've formed an unshakable history of companionship. Now, with A Century of Service: The People and Places on Old Mission Peninsula, they have, as their daughter points out, "…brought this already close knit community even closer." BN