By Kim Brooks, Express Editor
In the June 24, 1987, issue of the Monticello Express, REM Electric celebrated its 50th year in business. At that time, Rudy Monk and his wife Marion owned and operated the store.
The article explained that ever since Rudy was a young boy, he always loved to tinker around with electricity and machines. Rudy told Express writer Eric Bullock that when he was 8 years old, he installed an electric headlight on his train set engine.
“I just thought it didn’t look right without a headlight”, Rudy was quoted as saying, “so I cut a hole in the front and attached a thimble and put in a light bulb.”
REM Electric first started out behind McNeill Hardware. After Rudy graduated from high school in 1937, he rented space from the hardware store for a number of years. Rudy then enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served in WWII. When he returned home, he then built the present-day REM Electric, located at 324 E. First St.
The name REM Electric comes from Rudy’s initials. For their 50th celebration, they held a free pancake and sausage breakfast at the Legion Hall for their customers.
Now, REM is celebrating 75 years in business, with Rudy’s son Randy Monk running the business. Randy worked for his father since he was about 10 years old doing odds and ends at the store: cleaning the shop, wiping off the tools from the day’s use, emptying trash cans, etc.
“I grew into it,” said Randy of the family business.
He said his dad was a pioneer in the electric business when Rudy started REM. He said it was a risk in the early to mid-1900s having such a business because “at that time, most farms were in the dark.”
After Randy went to college and served in the Navy like his father during Vietnam, he was looking for something creative to do. During the Navy, Randy worked as an electrician.
“It just came natural to me,” he said. “I’ve been doing it forever.”
Randy took over his father’s business in 1996. He worked through the ranks at REM from the time he was a young boy cleaning the floors.
“My dad always said we had to prove ourselves,” said Randy. “This business wasn’t just handed to me.”
Living in the apartment above REM, Randy recalled the times he would come downstairs for work every morning.
Over the years, like most anything, appliances and products change from time to time. Appliances used to be manufactured in a variety of colors like copper tone, poppy seed red and avocado. Now Randy said the popular colors are white, black or steel.
“White is dominating the field,” he said.
REM sold TVs, like it continues to do today. Randy said his dad had the first color TV in Jones County, a milestone in that time. In the early 1960s, his father bought a Polaris snowmobile, something Randy said was not known at that time. He said his dad was ahead of his time, always trying to stay up with the latest. Over 20 years ago, one wouldn’t even think about using a solar-powered water heater, but Rudy bought into the idea.
“Dad was buying new items all the time,” said Randy.
Rudy sold smaller appliances back then, something Randy got out of to focus on larger appliances. Rudy also sold 45 record players, phonographs and console radios.
REM would also man a booth at the Jones County Fair, displaying appliances and such. Randy said his dad introduced the first microwave during the fair.
Aside from REM’s in-store appliances, they are also a full-service electrical shop. Randy said they’ve worked for at least half a dozen local industries including Yeoman and Company, Monti Produce, Energy Manufacturing, Eastern Iowa Sports Facility, Foam Rubber, NCI and Franklin Industries.
“We’ve been fortunate to have such great community support,” he said.
REM has been hired through the years to do electrical work at industries and for many new residential construction projects in the area.
Over the years, Randy said they preferred to stay small when it comes to the number of employees.
“What we do,” said Randy, “we do well.”
In 2002, Randy added an addition onto REM to expand the showroom and back shop area.
“Change was hard for dad,” he said of the addition, which was needed as they were growing out of the space.
Judy Dumond came on board at REM about 15 years ago. She had prior appliance-related experience from working at Amana for over 20 years.
“They needed help at REM,” explained Judy, “and I came in part-time.”
Over time, Judy did sales, inventory, bookwork, cleaning, a little bit of everything at REM.
Randy said with the industry changing every day, he has to stay up on his schooling and electrician’s licensing.
“It’s forever changing,” he said.
Randy said he has noticed that today, appliances are made so much better than in the past, as well as better quality. Everything REM sells comes with delivery and installation service.
“We take a lot of pride in what we do,” Randy said of their service.
After 75 years in business, Randy said he would have never thought his family business would still be around like it is today.
“I was always just so busy I never thought about the future of dad’s business.”
Randy said he just loves the people in this community in which they serve. He now sees second and third generations of families coming into REM or seeking their services.
“We’ve been very blessed to still be in business,” Randy said.
PHOTOS: Top: Employees at REM Electric Inc. in Monticello proudly wear shirts to celebrate 75 years in business. From left, Rick Goedken, Janet Turnis, Connie Edwards, Jerry Jasa, Judy Dumond and Randy Monk, owner. The car is a replica of Monk’s father’s (Rudy) first business truck, a 1930 Model A Ford. Bottom: REM Electric is more than an electrical service business. They sell many appliances and products, including microwaves, oven ranges, refrigerators, televisions and more. Randy Monk and Judy Dumond love living and working in Monticello, which has helped keep the business running for 75 years. (Photos by Kim Brooks)