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Ponderosa Press Release

599 Words

Ponderosa Telephone Celebrates 100 Years of Family Business: Shares Secrets to Success

Ponderosa Telephone Company of O’Neals, CA is celebrating 100 years of business. 

The Bigelow family story is the story of the central San Joaquin Valley and the determined pioneers who tamed the rough and tumble territory in the late 1800’s. This telephone business was founded by Harmon Bigelow and is one of a handful of companies surviving 100 years in the Central Valley that is still family-owned and operated. 

In 1900 young Harmon secured a contract to transport U.S. Mail from Madera to Fresno Flats and O’Neals with just 2 horses and a small spring wagon.  The need for transportation services for the foothill and mountain communities grew and a stageline business was born.

The telephone business was actually inspired by Harmon’s wife Leota.  Leota lived on the homestead ranch north of downtown O’Neals and wanted to speak with her mother, who lived a mile away. The whole thing started with 2 phones from a mail order catalog.  Harmon grew the telephone network from a family convenience, to an essential communications tool for the stageline business, ultimately extending to the surrounding foothill communities of Friant, North Fork, and Clovis . 

Throughout the years there have been relatively few family leadership transitions.  In 1938 Jesse Bigelow took over as president following the death of his father Harmon. Jesse continued to grow the business through significant investment in the network infrastructure while continuing his ranching raising sheep and cattle.  In 1979 Jesse Bigelow died and passed the reins to his son, Robert Bigelow, assisted by Bob Silkwood, who was married to Jesse’s only daughter, Luanne. 

In the early 1980s tragedy struck the family as Jesse, Robert Bigelow and Bob Silkwood passed away within an 18-month span.  This left the family leadership to Jesse’s only daughter Luanne Silkwood . When asked how she coped with such a tragic and sudden responsibility of leadership Luanne answers with the same determined conviction of her pioneer family, “There was nothing to do but run the business and move forward.” 

25 years after assuming leadership of the family telephone company, Mrs. Silkwood, owns and directs the company along with her daughter Kristi Mattes, Vice President, and nephew Frank Bigelow, Vice President. When asked for the secret to enduring a century of family ownership, she responded that Ponderosa Telephone is not just a business, it is a family lifestyle:

“For 5 generations my family has been passionately invested in a rural lifestyle and their community: from logging to stageline transportation to ranching and communications. Providing quality communication solutions for life in the surrounding communities is a natural extension to preserving a beloved rural American lifestyle.

My secret to success in business is I am only as successful as the people I surround myself with.  Without the talents of our management team and employees there would be no Ponderosa Telephone.  Attracting capable employees along with the flexible mindset by our family leadership results in a commitment to serve our customers and will take Ponderosa to another century of successful business.”

A historic timeline of Ponderosa Telephone has been compiled and presented at so customers, employees and historians can understand the grand scheme of a small business, telecommunications technology and the Central Valley ’s rural lifestyle through Ponderosa’s historic journey.

Ponderosa Telephone is located approximately 25 miles northeast of Fresno and Clovis . 80 employees serve approximately 10,000 subscriber lines in Friant, Tollhouse, Auberry, Prather, Shaver Lake , Huntington Lake , Wishon, O’Neals and North Fork . Services include Internet, Long Distance and Cable TV.



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