Dordt College News

Vernon shows his commitment to community, education, progress

January 11, 2009

Ross Vernon has always been community-minded.

He is convinced that if people and organizations are doing good work, they should be supported.

He’s put his money behind that commitment many times over the seventy plus years he’s lived in Sioux Center. The MTC Foundation Scholarships are one example. Seventeen years ago, as head of the local Mutual Telephone Company, he helped set up the six $1000 scholarships awarded to three Dordt College students and three Northwestern College students each year since then. Recipients are required to be in the Sioux Center 722- telephone exchange area to be eligible. Each scholarship is renewable for three years. Over the years the MTC Foundation has helped fifty-one Dordt students and fifty-one Northwestern students get a college education, providing scholarships to twenty-four of them each year. In 2000, the amount of each scholarship was raised to $1500 per year.Ross Vernon

Making it possible for these students to get their education is one way Vernon has encouraged, supported, and enabled young people in the community to use their gifts
and be successful.

Arriving in Sioux Center with his wife Velma in 1937, Vernon took a fledgling telephone company and made it a progressive and successful business. Armed
with a degree in engineering, he began looking to the future and to what it would take to move from old equipment to newer technology, and sometimes change attitudes
from “this is good enough” to “this is an exciting possibility.” He borrowed money to install new equipment and modernized the operation in ways that positioned it for the future. He also hired many young people. During the war, Velma ran the company while Ross was in the army.

“People sometimes ask me ‘Is there anyone in town who didn’t work for you?’” he says in his firm but soft-spoken way. From the early years of hiring young women operators to today’s more hi tech support staff, Vernon has given many young people a start to their careers or good experience in the working world. The current manager of what is now called Premier Communications, Doug Boone, worked for Vernon for years as a student and once he graduated from college, was offered a position in the company. Today he is CEO.

Vernon has always valued education for himself and for others. And he’s
continued to learn, staying current with new developments in his field. He was convinced that if you weren’t moving forward you were moving backward.

“When you do something it makes sense to have it last awhile,” he says. “Many people tend to look only short term. I like to look long term.” He mentions the decision to install fiber cable very early, before many companies and communities were doing so. Because of what Boone calls a “gutsy” decision Vernon made in the early 50s to borrow money to significantly upgrade phone company equipment, the Sioux Center area had cable television already in 1981 and  internet service by 1996.

Vernon has always been interested in new developments. He went in to his office daily until he was in his early 90s. Today at 97, he still talks knowledgeably about the communication business he was so intimately involved in for so many years. Over the years, he traveled the country and served on many local and national telephone company boards and committees, taking the lead in bringing state-of-the-art communication to Iowa.

His commitment to the community was as strong as his commitment to his business. As a city councilman for decades he encouraged long-term rather than short-term thinking. In part as a result of his leadership, Sioux Center has  come to be known as a progressive community. Vernon likes to cite the the decision early on to install public utilities underground, even though it was more expensive initially. As a fireman, he encouraged the city to provide good equipment, believing that the community had to think about quality of service as much as price. Today he believes that laying this foundation has added to the quality of life in the community and provided long-term savings.

Ross and Velma Vernon also gave generously “They supported things they believed would give long-term benefit to the whole community,” says Boone. The ice arena in the All Season’s Center, the Crown Pointe retirement complex, and the newly completed public library are only some of the ways they helped  the community grow.

Vernon’s support of students is another part of this commitment to look at the long term.

This fall Vernon was in his office at Premier Communication sorting through a lifetime of miscellaneous “stuff.” He came across some thank you letters, one received years ago from a woman he’d met at a national phone company meeting. She needed help keeping the company started by her grandfather afloat because she needed to make improvements in order to stay in business. Vernon pulled together a small group of people to lend her the money. Years later she was only one of many to have thanked Vernon for his support and encouragement.

In his desk, he also found letters from some of the students supported through the MTC Foundation scholarships.

“Many told me they  would not have been able to afford college without help,” he says with a smile of  satisfaction. Today he lives quietly in the assisted living wing at Crown Pointe, alone after seventy-three years of marriage to his beloved Velma, who died early last year. The Vernons, who donated generously to the community, continued to live simply and put the needs of young people and their community in the fore. Today, there are fifty-one Dordt College students who have received nearly a million dollars because of that commitment.


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