LIVE from the 2023 Ben Lomand Connect Annual Meeting!

April 1, 2023


In our 10th episode, Bryan and Karen find themselves talking about…

  • The past, present, and future of Ben Lomand Connect with board members Joe Roper and Gerald Sitz.
  • Ben Lomand Connect’s help in the farming and finance sectors with Mr. Roper and Mr. Sitz.
  • Plus, the latest at Channel 6, the Ben Lomand Connect YouTube Channel, The Connection magazine, and indoor events around our area.

Show Notes

Transcripts have been lightly edited for clarity and readability.

Bryan Kell: Welcome to the BLC Connection Podcast. I’m Bryan Kell.

Karen Wilson: I’m Karen Wilson.

Micah Lawrence: And I’m Micah Lawrence.

All Hosts: Let’s get connected!

Bryan Kell: Welcome in to the BLC Connection Podcast. Bryan Kell is here, and Karen Wilson is here.

Karen Wilson: That is true. I’m present.

Bryan Kell: We do not have Micah Lawrence with us on this one. He is traveling.

Karen Wilson: Yes, we miss him, but he is on a wonderful trip with his family and church, I believe, too. So we wish him a safe travels, and we’ll be happy to have him back for our next one.

Bryan Kell: He’ll have a lot of stories to tell, I’m sure, because they’re going to some interesting places, but we’ll talk about that maybe in the next episode. This is episode ten, The Perfect Ten, and the perfect place, Karen, for us to do this podcast is right here at the Milner Recreation Center.

Karen Wilson: That’s right. I mean, isn’t it amazing that ten fell on our annual meeting day, and we are back here at the Milner Recreation Center. This is, you know, our first time back since its renovation. And as we commented privately to ourselves a few minutes ago, it kind of feels like home.

Bryan Kell: It does. It does. You’ve done quite a few out here. I only did one, but just yesterday in the set up, and just looking at things as we’re doing right now, we’re kind of behind all the seats here at the annual meeting. It just feels right. It really does. And let’s face it, part of that is we’ve done, well, we’ll talk more about that later, but we’ve done some outdoors ones, and it’s good to be back inside and all this stuff.

Karen Wilson: The weather’s unpredictable this time of the year. So.

Bryan Kell: It is.

Karen Wilson: And it’s a cool day today. So happy to be inside where the heating unit is here.

Bryan Kell: Yes. We’re going to be taking a look back at some past annual meetings, Karen. And who knows who we’ll grab for that. Or it may just be me and you discussing, but been quite a few of these over the decades.

Karen Wilson: Yes, there has. I know we’ve both been here many years now, and, you know, they’ve all been great. I go back to our probably 50th anniversary. I remember Mike Snider for entertainment. That was very monumental.

Bryan Kell: I sat right up there.

Karen Wilson: Yeah, Charlie Louvin one year, and that was a lot of fun. That was an anniversary meeting. So there’s been a lot of great things happen.

Bryan Kell: Absolutely. And so we’re going to talk about that. We’ll also take a look at what’s going on at Channel Six, Connection Magazine, also events in April. But up next, we’ve got a couple of guys that we’ll be talking to that are just kind of stalwarts and legends here at Ben Lomand. Up next, we’re going to talk with Joe Roper and Gerald Sitz, board members of the Ben Lomand Connect machine here. And we’re back in just a second with them here on the BLC Connection Podcast.

Bryan Kell: Welcome once again back into the BLC Connection Podcast. We have a guy with us that is no stranger to Ben Lomand Connect. I think he’s the dean of our board of directors, and it is the Joe Roper. Mr. Roper, thanks so much for joining us here on the podcast.

Joe Roper: Thank you all for having me.

Bryan Kell: Yeah. Well, another annual meeting is under way. You’ve experienced quite a few over the years. Talk about what early memories you’ve got of the annual meeting and kind of what it means to you today.

Joe Roper: Well, we did have a problem getting people in, in the early days, and then we had to do the gifts and so on and get them in. I like this location that we’re having. I think this is the best location for us to have the annual meeting. There’s been several of them that I’ve been to. I don’t think anything stands out really. One that really stands out in my mind is my friend Charlie Louvin of Louvin Brothers came. He was one of our customers at Brothers Implement, and I asked him, and he came. And I enjoyed Charlie singing just for, you know, having a country famous singer here in this building, it’s something for Ben Lomand.

Karen Wilson: I remember Louvin’s, I think it was, Louvin’s Ladies. He had a fan club that came with him and supported him and stuff. They followed him everywhere. And, you know, I really had not heard his name until the annual meeting. And now when I listen to like documentaries on music, heritage and things like that, his name comes up a lot.

Joe Roper: Yeah, Louvin Brothers.

Karen Wilson: Well, we were blessed to have him, that was a monumental meeting. So, Mr. Roper, tell us about about Joe Roper, who you are and what you do and the things that are special to you.

Joe Roper: Well, I was born in Coffee County and raised in Coffee County. I spent my college years at UT Martin. Then I spent three years in Memphis and Mississippi working for International Harvester. And I came back, and I’ve been involved either in agriculture or ag-related business in Coffee County til I retired.

Karen Wilson: That’s kind of unusual for a farm boy from Coffee County to get the opportunity to attend college. Is that something your parents kind of wanted for you or that you wanted for yourself?

Joe Roper: No, it was pushed. It was hard to make a living. See in the ’50s, we had a drought in middle Tennessee and just you couldn’t make a living on a farm. And they thought that we needed to get out. And I just loved being in agriculture and agriculture related. So I went. In fact, it’s my granddaughter’s going to do farming this year. She’s 19 and going into vegetable farming, so it’s still in the blood.

Karen Wilson: That’s great. We need that next generation passing, you know, picking up the torch from former generations because that’s something, as we were talking about earlier, you know, no dairy farms left in this area really to speak of. But you do see a good number of our youth that are going into ag-related careers. And that’s great.

Bryan Kell: Yeah, it really is. Speaking of farming, talk about some of the positive things and also maybe challenges that the farming industry is experiencing today and maybe also what part Ben Lomand Connect has played in helping local farmers in our service area.

Joe Roper: The biggest thing that they’re experiencing right now is just the cost of putting out a crop, and there’s no guarantee. I have invested in a crop and got zero yield, so you have a complete crop failure. It wasn’t bad in my day. I lost $85 an acre. Today, they’re losing $500 an acre, you know, if they don’t get a crop. So anybody that wants to go into farming, go out and invest about $500,000 and hope you get it back.

Bryan Kell: Wow.

Karen Wilson: I know the price of fertilizer, lime, things like that, apraying, all of that, is crazy how expensive it is, and you just hope for a good year.

Joe Roper: But getting back to what Ben Lomand does, the Internet is a blessing. We spend a lot of time just looking at for equipment. My son just bought a bean picker out of New York by Internet. They’re going into the vegetables and so they bought one. Doing a lot of research, you can do on YouTube and see all the other people across the nation, how they’re doing it. Will that fit my operation? If it does, fine. If it doesn’t, just move on. But we used it a lot at Brothers Implement to help customers. As long as they’ve on Ben Lomand, they could look up the same picture I’m looking at, and we could talk. But now you get out on AT&T and some of the others and they say, “Oh,” I said, “I’ll lose that before you get talking.” So, you know, we’re blessed with the system that we’ve got.

Bryan Kell: Very much so.

Karen Wilson: So over the years, Ben Lomand Connect has had some major, you know, highs. We’ve got close to 30,000 broadband connections, 83% of those being fiber. We’ve had grants come into Coffee County and Cumberland counties. Talk to us about the last 365 days or so from yours and the board’s perspective.

Joe Roper: I’m going back a little further.

Karen Wilson: Okay.

Bryan Kell: You have that right.

Joe Roper: When they broke up, Ma Bell divestiture – a lot of people don’t know what I’m talking about – but they told us at annual meetings at NTCA that you may go broke. Our revenue was going down because we were paid or whatever they wanted us to do. Now there is a formula. You’re going to pay by mileage. So we were connecting in Hillsboro. We went about three miles, and it went back to Baylor. So we only got paid three miles. Levoy brought in the switch to McMinnville, then that call in Hillsboro, went to McMinnville, out to Sparta and then to Nashville. So we really increased our revenue, and that was a monumental thing. The next thing that we did was fiber. Fiber, and I can’t tell you the year, I don’t remember the year, but fiber came in as just cutting down on the structure. You could take a 5 or 6 big strands and put it down in one little strand. We didn’t even know what internet was then. Now, I’d like for y’all to hang up your computers and go back to a telephone and talk to somebody and get all your information.

Karen Wilson: Sometimes old school is good, isn’t it?

Joe Roper: Well, I don’t know. What we’re doing right now is really helping these counties. We’re getting this information out to people that doesn’t have a chance to get it. And as long as we’re bringing the internet out to the rural people, then it’s a blessing, I think, and a just a big comfort for Ben Lomand.

Bryan Kell: Do you have any stories of maybe seeing – you talked about you growing up in Coffee County, and then going away to college, work and then coming back. But do you have any stories of like seeing Ben Lomand Connect, Ben Lomand Telephone back then, in action, former employees or board members, that maybe made an impact with you either before you started serving Ben Lomand or maybe when you first started joining the board?

Joe Roper: No, not really, because when Mr. Jamie Ashburn was killed in an accident with his car, and Mr. Robert Bramblett asked me to be on board, and I didn’t know anything but plain old telephone. Pick up the telephone, dial the number. But I realized right quick, I need to do some research on what Ben Lomand and what they stood for. But I can go back to, y’all don’t remember it, but at one time you could dial and call to somebody and talk for three minutes, and then it cut you off.

Bryan Kell: Wow. Yeah.

Joe Roper: I mean, we’ve come a long way from from where we started out.

Karen Wilson: And, of course, Mr. Ashburn was one of our first board members. So was Mr. Bramblett as well. But you’re talking like some of the original people, and then you were kind of followed up right after them.

Joe Roper: Yeah. You see, when I came on the board, Bill Slusher was in his last, so I have been a director for every manager that’s been with Ben Lomand.

Karen Wilson: That’s a big statement.

Joe Roper: It is here.

Karen Wilson: And that’s a lot of change, a lot of different personalities. But the board has always consistently worked well with every one of them.

Joe Roper: Yeah. Yeah.

Bryan Kell: I’m curious because, you know, being that we’re moving next year to 70 years of Ben Lomand Telephone, Ben Lomand Connect. Bill Slusher, tell us about him.

Joe Roper: I just got in on the last of his reign. I got last year is probably, maybe two years, and then Ozil came on. But I’ll tell you a tale on him. We were at a San Francisco with an annual meeting, and we got in a taxi with him, our van, to go to the motel. And the door was open, and it had a Hilton, and that’s where we were staying. So we crawled in the little bus. We made a circle around the airport and come right back to the same spot. When they closed the door, it said Hilton Airport. And we got out and he says, “Hilton Downtown.”

Karen Wilson: I wonder if they charged you for that ride.

Bryan Kell: Oh, man.

Karen Wilson: So what are your thoughts, Mr. Roper, on these new generations coming on board at Ben Lomand Connect and helping to move the company forward? Lots of new faces. We’ve had a lot of new employees hired on just because of retirement.

Joe Roper: They are electronically savvy. And that’s what it’s going to take. My sole focus is going to be pushed out to pasture. But they’ve got new ideas, and they know what the customers want. We’re going a long way from a plain old telephone.

Bryan Kell: Yeah, it really has. Ben Lomand Connect opened an office in Coffee County, something I know you were very proud of, a couple of years ago. It has to serve as a great source of pride for you that, you know, you’ve had to have heard some very good feedback on having that office over in Manchester.

Joe Roper: Yeah. They can pay the bill. They can come in and sign up locally. And that’s just, I wish we could find a building and get out on their own and have a drive through. That’s 2 or 3 things that I wish we’d have because we’re going to grow in Coffee County.

Karen Wilson: That property is a hot commodity right now, so it takes a while to search and find out those places, doesn’t it?

Joe Roper: Yeah. We can’t find anything right now.

Karen Wilson: Yeah. So what do you expect from the board’s perspective over this next year, you think?

Joe Roper: Continue to build out. I’ve been looking forward for 100% build out in our local territory for years, and we’re a little behind on schedule. And I hope that with Greg, we can catch up and get a complete build out. Because that’s the lifeline. You know what broadband does? It brings on customers.

Bryan Kell: Yeah. And I think Mr. Smartt may be mentioning something a little bit higher than a gig possibly at the annual meeting, and we haven’t mentioned the fact that we’re talking to you here at the annual meeting, but we may have a surprise or two for folks out there.

Joe Roper: That’s coming, but if it gets, what do you need above a gig for if you’re individual? Now businesses and some of that needs it. But as far as an individual, a gig will do everything that they need, and that’s the main thing. And the price is reasonable.

Bryan Kell: Yeah. Very much.

Karen Wilson: It’s been so pleasant to tell customers our new pricing. You can afford this. You know, and if you want a couple of connections at your home or business, it’s still affordable.

Bryan Kell: Well, and too, with you and the other board members, I know that you all have events that you guys go to learn what’s happening in other places. That has to be so much of a thrill for you all when you’re talking to board members from all across the United States and go, here’s what our offering is, and you probably get some wide-eyed looks from folks.

Joe Roper: Yes. And do you know of any other in the United States that’s offered now?

Bryan Kell: We’ve looked. I think we’re the best.

Joe Roper: I think. I know we’re the best.

Bryan Kell: Yeah, exactly. And so, like I said, that’s just, it’s a thrill to be able to offer something that folks need.

Joe Roper: Yeah, that’s what it is. If you don’t need it, why buy it?

Karen Wilson: Yeah, but an affordable price. It’s so hard to provide a service that people cannot afford. We’ve always kept our costs low, but I mean, this is monumental in that most everybody, and then there’s even a federal funding and stuff like that that helps people that do struggle with affording the $57.95 a month.

Joe Roper: Well, I haven’t used it, but if any of you, about the medical deal on broad –

Bryan Kell: Yes. I mean –

Joe Roper: I’ve never used it.

Karen Wilson: I’ve had telehealth appointments where my doctor was, especially through COVID and stuff, and my doctor has maintained that. Every other appointment now is a telehealth appointment.

Joe Roper: Older you get, it may be better off doing it when you can’t travel.

Karen Wilson: You don’t have to get out in the cold. That’s right.

Bryan Kell: Well we’ve talked about industry leading services with Ben Lomand Connect and a leader on this board for many decades and hopefully many decades to come has been Joe Roper straight out of Coffee County. Sir, thank you from all of us at Ben Lomand Connect for what you’ve done for Ben Lomand Connect and just the areas we serve.

Joe Roper: Okay. Thank y’all for having me.

Bryan Kell: Thank you. That has been Joe Roper, one of our elite members of our board of directors. Up next, he’s straight out of Grundy County. It is Gerald Sitz here on the BLC Connection Podcast.

Bryan Kell: We’re back here on the BLC Connection Podcast. And joining us, as we mentioned going into this, straight out of Grundy County, Mr. Gerald Sitz, welcome into the BLC Connection Podcast. Thank you, Bryan. So another annual meeting is underway. You’ve experienced quite a few of these over the years. Talk about what today means to you.

Gerald Sitz: Well, it’s a continuous tradition, basically. Okay. And then it gives us an opportunity to meet our membership, our employees. I mean, it’s a good time for us to even mix with our employees. So it’s an opportunity for the membership to understand what’s going on with the company. It’s a business meeting, So, you know, they get to see the business side of things. And so it’s good camaraderie.

Karen Wilson: Yeah, I think too, it’s a great opportunity for the membership to meet you all, their representatives and the people that work for them, the employees.

Gerald Sitz: In the past, we’ve had those members come up and ask us questions, you know. If they have a problem, they’ll voice it, that’s for sure. And that’s an opportunity to be able to fix a situation, so.

Karen Wilson: Yeah. Well, so tell us, I guess I hope you’re an expert on Gerald Sitz. I’m sure you are. So tell us who you are, what you do, and what is special to you.

Gerald Sitz: Well, I’m a retired community banker. I’ve been retired for six years now. But I stay active, you know, of course, being on the Ben Lomand board. And then also I serve on some community boards. I serve on the Hillcrest Meadowood. It’s a housing, senior housing, board. So that’s been a great part of my life and helping in their needs. I also serve on the Grundy County Historical Society. So, I’ve been on that board for over ten years, and I’ve got to see it evolve into a great museum, a great library, and being a part of that. I’m going to be the new treasurer for it. And then I volunteer once a week. So I get to, I do tours to people that come in.

Karen Wilson: At the museum.

Gerald Sitz: To the museum. So, you know, that gets me out, gets to see some people. And as a retired person, sometimes you get to be a homebody too much. So, you know, I still get together with some of my old customers, have breakfast with them, whatever, and I have a few hobbies. So that’s what I do now.

Karen Wilson: That seems to be a popular thing, going to breakfast with the guys at the table and talking and revisiting work histories and stories.

Gerald Sitz: It does. It does. I had a customer call me, you know, yesterday. I was headed to Nashville, but he wanted to know about, you know, his bank account. You know, so even though I’m retired, been retired for six years, I still have that camaraderie with certain people.

Karen Wilson: And the trust.

Gerald Sitz: And the trust.

Bryan Kell: If folks haven’t figured it out, you’re a huge history buff. I know we’ve talked about things before. Talk about the changes you’ve seen as we move closer to 70 years of Ben Lomand Telephone and Ben Lomand Connect.

Gerald Sitz: Yeah, you know, when you think back, and 60 years ago, in the mid ’60s, was when we first had our telephone put in, you know. So, and today we think of social media, and I look back, and I look at how my mother revered that phone. Basically, we were on a party line, you know, and that was when they first came out. We were on a eight party, six parties, but quite a few people. But anyway, but my mother, she was a homemaker, so she never worked. She never drove a car. So that phone became a big part of her life to really open it up and to talk to family, friends, church members, whatever. So that was a social media for her 60 years ago. Now, let’s look at what social media is and what Ben Lomand is able to provide the platform for that, you know, and so that’s a lot of change. But still, you know, there was a way of social media back then also.

Karen Wilson: It was. That was, like you said, the lifeline for many people, visiting with loved ones that had moved up north or all around the United States.

Gerald Sitz: Yes.

Karen Wilson: So, you know, we’ve talked about your background in banking. How do you feel that being from that background has helped and prepare you to serve for the board?

Gerald Sitz: Well, you know, when you look at it, I really started out consumer oriented, basically customer-to-customer. So that’s always a big help, being able to, having dealt with customers, their problems, their visions. So that’s been a big part of it. Then a transcended later on in my career as the bank grew and whatever into more of a commercial side of things and underwriting committee doing credit analysis. So financial statements understanding those. So as a board member, you know, every month we review those financial statements. So I think I have a little better understanding because of that career and maybe can contribute from my experiences.

Karen Wilson: So yeah, when you’re working with budgets like a telephone cooperative to a regional bank, there’s a lot of similarities in that and the banking sure can help,

Gerald Sitz: You know, and as we continue going and advancing into getting grants and going into other areas, that budgeting is a big part of that. And our accounting department has done a great job with that and management overall.

Karen Wilson: I know, with grants come accountability, as it should. You know, and they’ve done a fantastic job at that. Talk about some of the positive things also and the challenges even that the banking industry is experiencing today and maybe what part Ben Lomand Connect is helping with that.

Gerald Sitz: Well, you know, online banking, for one thing. You know, it’s a big part of my life. I don’t go in the bank actually much anymore. And a lot of people, customers, don’t. So they’re able at home to do their banking for the most part, you know, access their accounts, transfer money, pay bills, whatever. So, and we’ve, you know, as a banker, what it provided to us in the banking industry, it gave us a platform that with great speed, send data down to other offices, other to the main office, receive that data. So without that speed, without that connectivity, you know, we used to do a lot of passing paper back and forth, but so that sped up the process a little bit in that banking side of things. You know, and another thing that we did from a Ben Lomand standpoint was when voice over IP came in, you know, our bank, we were on four or five different networks. So we called Tullahoma; it’s long distance. Called McMinnville; it’s long distance. Dunlap, the main office, was long distance. So when we went to the hosted VoIP program, it eliminated those costs, trimmed that down, and then we were able to have just one network. We had around 250 people that you just put in their three digit code, and you had access to them right then. So instead of going through an operator waiting, so it just, it gives you a lot more efficiency from a time standpoint. And so that was a great program for the banking industry too.

Karen Wilson: Yeah, I never thought about that, but everybody’s on the same network. If there’s an issue, you don’t have to call one or two or three different companies.

Gerald Sitz: No, go directly right into that person’s desk, you know. So a lot of efficiencies in that.

Karen Wilson: Yes.

Bryan Kell: Well, we’ll throw out a plug, too. This is Tri-County Bank, just a tremendous banking institution. And like you said, that switch over to hosted was a major project for Ben Lomand, and it’s been something that I think citizens to this day hopefully helps them out, but just tremendous work.

Gerald Sitz: The bank was a pioneer with Ben Lomand on that. And it’s been, as far as I know, it’s still a good association.

Bryan Kell: So we’re talking again with Gerald Sitz, our director for Ben Lomand Connect out of Grundy County. Sir, do you have any stories of maybe seeing Ben Lomand Connect in action, former employees or board members that made an impact with you either before you started serving Ben Lomand or when you, you know, first started serving?

Gerald Sitz: You know, I’ll go back to the director I replaced, Charlie Boyd. And Charlie came to me and says, “Look, my health’s going down. My wife’s health, so I’m going to resign from the board. Would you like to replace me?” So I had no idea what that would entail. But I did. But I look back at Charlie, and Charlie was one of the original board members of Ben Lomand. Okay? So when they combined all the different little small companies in the area in ’54, he was a part of that. So he was on the board of the old Dixie Telephone that was in Tracy City at that time. So he had experience in the telephone industry himself. So he carried that legacy for, I mean, for a long period of time. So he had enough vision to see even then that a small company wasn’t going to be able to survive, they wasn’t going to be able to extend those lines and give more people that service. Okay. So when they did that, there was a lot of federal money out there to extend those lines. And so that’s the benefit of that early Ben Lomand. And what it did for the community is being able to provide telephone service to a broader area. And Grundy County benefited because of that and his actions. So he was a pioneer in the industry, so I got to give him kudos, you know, for that.

Karen Wilson: Well, talking about the benefits or the impact Ben Lomand has had, you know, Grundy County’s special to Ben Lomand. It’s been with us for many, many years. What kind of impact are you hearing that the services we are providing, or the cost that we have things at, is making a positive impact there?

Gerald Sitz: You know, so many areas, to be honest, you know. So, I’ll give you an example of – I had a cousin who worked for Blue Cross Blue Shield. And so everybody had to drive to Chattanooga, and they had 5,000 employees. Today, Blue Cross Blue Shield has “Hey, you can stay at home and work from home.” So you have employees in Grundy County now that have a platform, have the speed to do the things where they can work from home. Okay. And it’s just not that; there’s a lot more. And even the people that move into our area have access to that. And so it helps the real estate market. You know, most people, they want to know what kind of speed you have in a home when they purchase it, especially if they’re coming in from out of the area. You know, another good example of that was, oh, 15 years ago, this guy, he was from New York, and he was a stockbroker, but he moved to Grundy County, and he had Ben Lomand to put in a T1 line directly to him in Flat Branch. So that was a long – he had to pay quite a bit of money. I don’t know what he would have been charged. So but, he was willing to pay that for that faster speed. And back then, we were on dial-up pretty well. So, so that wasn’t sufficient. So I went to his house.

Gerald Sitz: He invited me over for lunch one day, and so I went into his work room and, you know, here he has big screen, monitors, and we are used to just small monitors. So this guy was serious, you know, about his day trading, you know. So, and then you look at what he had to pay, and now that we have the service that we provide for $57.95, as highest speed that anybody in America could get. So, so recently heard that another New York Wall Street person moved to Grundy County, and one of the reasons he chose was because of high speed internet. So that legacy kind of continues, but it’s on a much cheaper platform, you know. So we’re able to offer that to our customers, and it really benefits them. You know, and out of the Tracy office, we also serve the new Sewanee area. So I go into the pharmacist, you know, get a flu shot. And he said, “Hey, I think I recognize you. You came to one of the community meetings there at Sewanee, and you’re on the board.” And I said, “Yes, I am.” And they said, “Well, I want to say that it’s a very good service. We’re very happy to have you.” And they just wanted to tell me that, so. So those are good things that you hear that what Ben Lomand’s doing, how it affects people’s lives.

Bryan Kell: You know, you’ve served as president of the board a few times over your career with the board. And I was just thinking, as you were talking about the impact and everything, how awesome and important was it that Ben Lomand Connect had that plan for our ILEC area, that cooperative area, that you all instituted probably, what, six, seven years ago, on hey, this is our game plan, that we’re going to build out these areas within our counties. Here comes the pandemic. And we’re full into, you know, build mode with that. I think it’s fair to say that so many other telcos maybe found themselves scrambling. But Ben Lomand already had a plan based on your all saying, “Hey, listen. This is our strategic plan. We’re going to work it.” And wow, here comes a pandemic that nobody saw, but Ben Lomand is working that plan two-thirds of the way through, something like that. That had to be huge.

Gerald Sitz: Yeah. I mean, it slowed it down a little bit. You know, I’ll be honest, but we’re getting close to being 100% fiber to the home. And that’s our goal. That was that strategic plan. And then when that network really is in place, you know, it’s unlimited in what the possibilities for our customer base is out there, you know, so.

Karen Wilson: It can bring jobs and people from all over.

Gerald Sitz: Yes. Jobs being you know, just think about that Blue Cross employee that used to have to drive an hour to work, an hour back, wear and tear on the auto.

Karen Wilson: And not an easy drive either.

Gerald Sitz: Not an easy.

Karen Wilson: I mean, you’re talking going up and down the mountain.

Gerald Sitz: Yeah. And so their quality of life is much better because of that. Not all people can probably work at home. Now, I’ll say that, but I’d say, if they’re really good employee, it doesn’t affect them, you know?

Bryan Kell: We’ve talked a little bit about yesteryear. We’ve talked a little about where we’re at today, but what can we expect during, you think, this year and over the future years to come here at Ben Lomand Connect?

Gerald Sitz: Gosh, this year, hopefully, you know, like I say, we’ll get this network in our co-op built out. So that’s goal number one, basically. And then as we progress into other areas where the government is kind of encouraging companies to expand and go into other areas, and we are. And so we’re going to be able to serve the underserved customer again. And that’s what a co-op did from the beginning, the underserved. Okay. So now we’re moving on and giving a great service, I think, to a broader customer base. And now as far as, you know, you try to think of a vision of what how our lives could be impacted, and even be better, you know, and how technology changes so fast today. And we look at, you know, one thing that excites me is when we get this network in place, the value of maybe what, telehealth, telemedicine. I think if the government and states will get behind the program to really expand that,– just think about if you didn’t have to, you know, in Grundy County, you have to drive to Winchester, Tullahoma, McMinnville, Murfreesboro, Nashville, Chattanooga.

Gerald Sitz: So that’s a lot of time for, and especially for the elderly, you know, just to get someone to take them to the doctor or whatever. But what if they can videoconference with a doctor, “Hey, this is my symptoms.” And then even with today’s technology, your watches, they can give all the basic data to that doctor. They may have to go in for a blood test occasionally, but, you know, they’ll be able to congregate all that data and be able to maybe serve that, our customer in his home. And I think that would be a great service to our community if that can happen, you know. And so, you know, whereas artificial intelligence, you know, we’re seeing that in the news today, where is that going to head also, you know, and what our customers, because of our network will be able to use that in a meaningful way hopefully also, you know, so. There’s so many opportunities out there, and it’s exciting that we’re going to be able to provide that to people.

Karen Wilson: I’ll give a shout out, you know, from your area. The Beersheba Springs Medical Clinic is a tremendous resource that Grundy County has, and I’m sure the technology helps them in recruitment of doctors and finding resources for the citizens up there in Beersheba Springs, which is a very remote area. So we’re very proud that they’re leading the way in medical, you know, medical help in that area. But like you said, that telehealth is just an additional resource that’s going to be so tremendous.

Gerald Sitz: Yeah, it’s unlimited in what could possibly go on there. You know, and doctors and lawyers and bankers may not want to hear all that, you know, because it’s going to affect every industry, you know. So our world is going to continue to changing.

Karen Wilson: Well, I went to a conference actually last week, and they talked about an app that can actually like write for us now.

Bryan Kell: Yeah. GTP.

Karen Wilson: GTP and talking about whether PR people would be needed in the future, and I thought, “Oh, don’t say that.” But, you know, the technology –.

Bryan Kell: There’s bugs in the system, though, right now.

Karen Wilson: Yes, there are. There are. You know, and there’s a lot to work through with it. You cannot replace the resource of a person, but you’re making it so much easier for that person to get their hands on the information that they need to make their job work.

Gerald Sitz: Well, you know, I’m not saying you’re going to replace doctors or whatever, but really they are so busy today, it’s hard to even get a personal doctor anymore or whatever you call them. So, but they are so busy, it’s hard. You’re on a wait list to even become one of their patients. So they’re getting a lot of demand and hopefully some of this can fill in for that.

Karen Wilson: Yeah, that’s true. Very much so.

Bryan Kell: Quick plug. You mentioned the Beersheba Springs Medical Clinic. You can check that out on our podcast as Karen sat down with Mandy Eller, correct?

Karen Wilson: Yes.

Bryan Kell: And talked all about that, so be sure and check that out. Sir, you mentioned great service to our community. And that’s Gerald Seitz. He has served his community well and sir, you’ve served Ben Lomand Connect well. From all the employees, thank you so much for all you’ve done for Ben Loman.

Gerald Sitz: I appreciate that, Bryan.

Bryan Kell: Yeah.

Gerald Sitz: Karen, thank you.

Karen Wilson: Thank you.

Bryan Kell: Thank you for sitting down with us. That has been Gerald Seitz, one of our many great board of directors here at Ben Lomand as we move along on the BLC Connection Podcast.

Bryan Kell: Great times to be able to catch up with Gerald Sitz and also Joe Roper. Karen, two of the best.

Karen Wilson: Well, they’ve been here as long as I’ve been here, so I don’t know the time before that they weren’t not a part of Ben Lomand.

Bryan Kell: Yeah. Absolutely. It’s Connect with BLC. Usually Micah moderates this, but he is off jetsetting around the world or at least halfway around the world. We’ll talk with him in maybe in the next episode about his travels. But Karen, you know Channel Six, Connection magazine, a lot of different ways for folks to be able to reach out to us and catch local content and also our YouTube channel.

Karen Wilson: Yes, we’ve had lots of new viewers tune in to YouTube because they like seeing the episodes on their pace. Maybe they’re not catching it on Channel Six, or they can forward a certain episode of something to a friend, and we love that. So keep joining our Facebook fan base. And as far as Channel Six goes, you know, we’re kind of wrapping up a lot of the basketball season. A couple of the teams, I know Van Buren and White County both did fabulous in the tournaments. And so we’re, you know, we commented last week that it’s going to be time for back to the strip and all the high school graduations before we turn around. That’ll be coming up in May. So we’ll be preparing for that. And then as far as the magazine goes, we’ve kind of taken on a different schedule this year. We’re doing four this year. The next edition will be coming out in July, and we’re going to have some great articles in there. We’ve got, I know, Miss Betty Byford is an iris guru from Centertown, Tennessee, and she’s going to be featured in there, and lots more great content.

Bryan Kell: As far as, you mentioned in passing, again, Van Buren County Girls, White County Boys, huge hats off to them on both teams, making the state tournament in their respective classifications. And so, wow, it’s so much fun to be able to help provide that story, you know, throughout the season on Channel Six. And so more great things to come, but salute to those two teams.

Karen Wilson: Those young folks worked very hard on that. We appreciate Warrior Media and Eagle Media for helping us film that. Those are some a-number-one kids that we have helping us with that. And so all of that is thanks to those schools.

Bryan Kell: We’re broadcasting again from the annual meeting, the Ben Lomand Connect annual meeting. This morning, I believe, was 25 degrees. Tons of frost on the ground, so as we talk about things going on in April, still indoors a little bit right now. And so some of the places that we’re proud to call partners have a lot of things going on in April. Cumberland County Playhouse, Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” from April 14th through May 30th. At the Park Theater in McMinnville, Grammy nominated country singer songwriter Brent Cobb is April 13th. And former Lynyrd Skynyrd, drummer and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member, The Artimus Pyle Band, will be April 15th at the Park Theater. The Caverns in Pelham has got three pretty good concerts going on here. One group from back in our days, the Australian rock Band, The Church, is going to be performing in the cave on April 8th. Bluegrass legend Del McCoury, The Del McCoury Band will be there April 16th in the Cave. And American folk rock band The Avett Brothers will be there April 23rd. That’s going to be an Amphitheater concert on that one.

Karen Wilson: That’s a lot of very diverse things to do in our area, so a lot to look forward to this spring.

Bryan Kell: One last one in Crossville, the Palace Theater, Little Texas, April 27th. They are a ton of slew of country top ten singles, including the number one song, My Love. So all those things still going on throughout our area. And it’s amazing that I don’t think we could ever imagine when we were growing up, the fact that there’s so many different entertainment options within one hour, 45 minutes, of at least our home base, which is Warren County. Great stuff.

Karen Wilson: Yeah. These hit all age groups. You know, bluegrass was something you kind of went to Rocky River to see in our day. And it’s taken on this resurgence where it’s young, it’s hip. The players are young and hip, and they have a different sound. And it’s a lot of fun.

Bryan Kell: Yeah. So be sure and check out some of those, or all of those going on in the month of April. And as you kind of in a way connect with BLC.

Bryan Kell: Well, Karen, another episode is in the bag. And speaking of bags, let’s talk about the mail bag.

Karen Wilson: Well, we want you all to message us your questions and any topics that you want to hear talked about that’s kind of in our wheelhouse. We don’t want to comment on stuff we don’t know anything about, but you can do that on BLC’s Facebook page, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn, or you can email us at And I need to go through the list of where everybody can listen to the podcast. It can be found on our website. That’s probably one of the easiest places in the news section, but also on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcast, Amazon, Audible and iHeartRadio, just to name a few. There’s probably about five more, but those are the main ones people kind of tend to do their podcast searches on.

Bryan Kell: Also, too, we would ask if you join us on Spotify or any of those podcasts and it allows you to be able to give us a rating, we can earn a five or a high rating from you. That just helps other folks be able to find that. And also too, subscribe to it. So that way when a new episode drops, then you get a little push notification there and voila. It’s there for you.

Karen Wilson: And we love it when people share it, too. Because when you hear something good, you tend to want to tell your friends or, “Hey, listen to this. I think you’ll find this interesting.” So that’s great.

Bryan Kell: Yeah, absolutely. Well, we’re a little unsure right now as we wrap up this episode, what episode 11 will have for us. We think we may know, but who knows? We could be on the road. We could be talking about a brand new service. So we’ll keep that a little under wraps. Karen, kind of the same way with you right now with the mini episode.

Karen Wilson: Right. I love to seek out businesses that are going above and beyond. So if you feel like your business is excelling in anything from customer service to surviving the pandemic to, you know, any of those topics that you feel other businesses can learn from, contact us on one of the platforms that we spoke about earlier, and let me know you’d like to participate on the podcast.

Bryan Kell: We are wrapping things up here at the 2023 annual meeting. And Karen, guess what? Next year at this time, it’s the big 7-0.

Karen Wilson: Wow. That’s amazing that the company, and that is so impressive to me as an employee that it’s 70, and all the people that came before us. And I think they would be so proud.

Bryan Kell: Yeah, we sure hope so. And so as we wrap things up here at the Milner Recreation Center for a vacationing Micah Lawrence, also for Karen Wilson, we want to say thank you for listening. Stay safe and stay connected.

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