CEDAR FALLS — One of the individuals instrumental in leading Cedar Falls Utilities into the Information Age is stepping down.
Roger Kueter, the second-longest-serving member of the CFU Board of Trustees, is stepping down from that post at the end of August, ending more than 20 years on the board, a record surpassed only by trustee Maurice Alderman.
Kueter, and associate dean of education at the University of Northern Iowa, co-chaired a 1994 committee that successfully campaigned for the creation of a municipal communications utility in Cedar Falls.
Kueter joined the board shortly after that.
During his tenure the board, Kueter also helped guide CFU through a weather-plagued 2008 when the city and its utility infrastructure was hit by a hailstorm, severe flood that inundated CFU offices and a windstorm in the College Hill area.
He also served through several general managers and was part of the board that hired current CFU general manager Jim Krieg about 15 years ago following a period of turnover in leadership for the municipally run electric, water, gas and communications utilities.
Kueter came to the community in 1970 when he came to work at UNI. “President (J.W.) Maucker signed my letter of employment. So I’ve worked for every president since President Maucker and every dean in the College of Education.”
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After serving 18 years as head of the Department of Teaching, he “un-retired” about two years ago and came back to the university at the request of then-College of Education dean Dwight Watson.
“I always appreciated doing things for people. I guess service in my blood,” he said. “I”Ve enjoyed my professional career tremendously, and my time in the Cedar Valley area.” He’s served as an auctioneer for a number of benefit auctions in the community for a variety of charities, ranging from Cedar Valley Hospice to Columbus High School to the Allen School of Nursing—a talent he picked up while attending Loras College in Dubuque prior to coming to town.
He became involved in CFU due to his academic background.”My degree from Indiana University in 1970 was instructional systems technology,” he said which brought him to UNI, teaching with colleagues responsible for educational and audio-visual media.
“I’ve always had an interest in computers and technology,” and taught high school principals and superintendents in that area.
At that time, he became acquainted with CFU trustees Monte McCunniff, Bill Appelgate and Dave Williams, who were exploring the possibility of a municipal communications utility.
“I didn’t have to think very hard to be co-chair,” Kueter said. “Deno (Constantine) Curris was the president at that time at the university, and Dr. Curris was always encouraging people to get involved.”
Kueter became co-chair of the “Citizens Wired for the Future” campaign committee along with Doris Kelley, later a state legislator.
Some questioned the initiative. “The kind of things we encountered was, ‘How does this relate to water, gas and electricity?’ and ‘This is really the business of private industry; why should a municipal utility be involved?’ “
The referendum encountered opposition from TeleCommunications Inc., or TCI, then the private cable provider.
“Give credit to the City Council and the mayor and people in this community,” Kueter said. “This is a community who says, ‘If we don’t do it, who’s gonna do it for us?’ That led people to explore this further.” The consensus was, “We might have some connectivity at some point in time. But it won’t be this year, next year or maybe not this decade unless we step up and do it ourselves.”
The time was right, Kueter said and CFU’s position in the community, built up over decades, made it happen.”We had the foundation of a utility to build off of,” he said. “Cedar Falls Utilities and the city of Cedar Falls have been partners forever. We had a base in Cedar Falls of trust in an organization.”
The referendum passed with more than 70 percent approval. Concurrent with that, voters approved a measure to expand the board of trustees from three members to five, after which Kueter and University Book & Supply executive Rose Lorenz were added to the board.
It was sold to improve television, but also required public education as to the economic development benefit from computer access for businesses and households.
“It has made the difference,” Kueter said. “The Industrial Park would not be the type of Industrial Park that it is without it. There’s probably not a business in the Industrial Park that isn’t interconnected with some one in the Cedar Valley, the Midwest, the country or around the world. There’s no limit. Martin Brothers, the (Viking) Pump people, they need to connect. The communications utility has made that possible.
“And we didn’t do that at the expense of electricity, gas and water,” Kueter added. “This is not one utility company. this is four utility companies under one board of trustees. We cannot commingle funds and communications has to to stand on its own feet.”
All those other utilities have made expansions and improvemewnts, Kueter said, as evidenced by an ongoing effort to put electric distribution lines underground and the electric utilities’ recent “Simple Solar” initiative and solar farm near Prairie Lakes Park. It has also invested in wind generation and traditional power plants. CFU also has added a natural gas substation and water towers and an initiative for land-line telephone service
“The people in this organization have always looked to the future,” Kueter said. “We haven’t stopped looking at how we can make Cedar Falls better.
“The Utilities is not successful because of one person,” Kueter said. “I’m one trustee. Five of us trustees work with a general manager and his directors. That group of people couldn’t do anything with out the 180 people in this organization.”
CFU general manager Krieg said of Kueter, “He’s been such a great ambassador for the community in so many ways. Not only Cedar Falls Utilities, but his work throughout the community, not only at the university, but the nonprofits, his work the Rotary, his work as a auctioneer.
“But what he brought to Cedar Falls Utilities, I think his legacy will be his leadership and his vision of the possibilities of who we could be,” Krieg said, as CFU commanded national attention and recognition, as evidenced by President Obama’s visit to CFU last year.
Krieg said Kueter emphasized “customer focus and professionalism, having the foresight to drive innovation in each of the respective utilities.”