In early 1957, the National Rural Electric Cooperatives Association’s Annual Meeting was off to a strong start in Chicago, and invited speaker, U.S. Senator Lyndon B. Johnson (D: TX) addressed the crowd with a novel idea: Rural teens should have the opportunity to experience Washington, D.C. and see their government in action – and America’s rural electric cooperatives are the perfect organizations to facilitate this!
“If one thing comes out of this meeting, it will be sending youngsters to the national capital where they can actually see what the flag stands for and represents.”
– Lyndon B. Johnson
The following summer, in 1958, Iowa’s rural electric cooperatives sponsored 34 delegates for a week-long tour of Washington, D.C.
Recently a member of that very first group was interviewed about her Youth Tour experience. Here’s what she had to say.
Delores Fagle Thom recalls experience on 1958 Youth Tour
Over 60 years ago, Delores (Reed) Fagle Thom stepped on a bus headed to Washington D.C. for the first annual Rural Electric Co-op Youth Tour.
Delores holding a group photo from the 1958 trip.
It was a trip that would leave a lasting impression on the recent high school graduate.
At the time, Delores was working at the Extension Office in Independence. As a member of the Buchanan County Rural Electric Cooperative, her boss suggested that she complete the application for the tour, writing an essay about why she wanted to be chosen. She was one of the over 30 participants from Iowa selected to go to D.C. in 1958.
On June 14, Delores got on a bus headed to D.C., her first time to the nation’s capital.
The first day of the trip, they had breakfast with members of the Iowa Congressional Delegation, followed by a tour of the U.S. Capitol, led by Senator Thomas Martin. That was followed by a tour of the Library of Congress, visiting both the House of Representatives and Senate, as well as the Supreme Court Building. Delores recalls the time she spent visiting with her local delegates, as well as posing as a group on the Capitol steps.
June 17 saw the participants visiting the NRECA (National Rural Electric Cooperative Association) Building, followed by a visit to the Bureau of Printing and Engraving and the Department of Justice.
Activities the next day included touring the REA (Rural Electrification Administration) Headquarters at the Department of Agriculture, viewing the Washington Cathedral and touring the USDA Research Center in Beltsville, Maryland.
June 19 holds a special place in Delores’ memory. That was the day participants got a special tour of the White House.
After the White House tour, the group visited the Washington Monument, including an elevator ride to the top. Next, they went to the Smithsonian Institute and finished the night with a trip to Glen Echo Amusement Park. On the final full day of the trip, they toured Arlington National Cemetery, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Lee’s Mansion, then concluded the visit with a tour of Washington’s home at Mt. Vernon. After five days of learning about government, the group got back on the bus to Iowa on Saturday, June 21.
Although it’s been well over half a century since Delores was on the Youth Tour, she still has fond memories of the trip.
With the next group of Youth Tour participants just weeks before their trip, Delores is excited for them to experience the thrills she had.
“Make it a learning experience because there’s a lot to learn, but still enjoy the time that you’re there,” she said. “It was a good experience for me, a good learning experience.”
Special thanks to Jennifer Achenbach, manager of marketing and communications at Allamakee-Clayton Electric Cooperative, for allowing us to republish her story.