Reliance Connects receives award

by:  ISABEL GAUTSCHI - Brenda Crosby (from left), Brooke Wheeler and Matt Day discuss the family business over coffee.You can’t get more “family business” than Reliance Connects.

And it’s those connections — both today and in the past — that have earned the company statewide recognition as a recipient of a prestigious excellence in family business award through Oregon State University’s Austin Family Business program.

The business has been led by the same family since Brenda Crosby’s great-grandparents, Alva and Maud Smith, took over management of the then Estacada Telephone & Telegraph Company in the 1920s.

When visiting Alva’s son, a practicing attorney in Estacada, the Smiths had bought small parcels of stock in the company.

Alva Smith was a gentleman farmer in Stayton, but when he heard the company was in financial trouble; the Smiths moved to Estacada to set the company straight.

According to a history of the company written by Betty Cody, citizens referred to Alva as “Telephone Smith.”

“Visible, friendly and aggressive, Alva Smith, though small in stature, made a lasting impression on the people of Estacada,” Cody wrote.

Smith purportedly wore gentlemen’s attire, complete with hat, suit and gold chain.

The Smiths quickly drew praise for their civic involvement, a tradition continued in the family to this day.

Leadership of the company eventually passed to the Smith’s daughter, Neva, and her husband, Floyd Day.

Their son, Duane Day, began working at the company at age 8 and has continued ever since.

His future wife, June Harbert, worked the switchboard during her high school years.

As a young man, Duane traveled to Washington, D.C., and New York to learn about President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Rural Electrification Administration programs designed to bring telephones into every home in the United States.

With the knowledge Duane had gained, the Days revolutionized telephone communication in Estacada by switching to a dial telephone system.

Leadership eventually transferred to Duane and June, and then on to their children.

All three of Duane and June’s children worked for the family business.

Brad Day worked in the telephone division of the company until his death in January 2012.

Gordon Day works in the radio division of the business and runs Day Wireless Systems.

Brenda Crosby runs Reliance Connect’s telephone, internet and cable television companies along with the Mastertech security company.

Her husband Steve had also worked for Reliance Connects until his death in 2011.

Brenda has lived in Estacada for most of her life and has witnessed many changes in the town.

She was there for the “end of logging” and she was holding the reins of the company during the Internet boom in the early 2000s.

“It used to be our main focus was on voice and now it’s data,” said Brenda. “It has changed our industry tremendously.”

Undaunted by the change in technology, Brenda explained that the family saw the Internet as a new opportunity and promptly started another company to bring Internet access to Estacada.

Brenda remembers that when she was growing up, the business dealt only with telephone service and had about 40 employees.

There are now 420 employees for the various Reliance Connects companies.

Today, two of Brenda’s own children, along with at least four nieces and nephews are working in Reliance Connects.

It’s the fifth generation of the family in the business.

Brenda’s daughter, Brooke Wheeler explained that the fifth-generation all started working small jobs in the company in seventh or eight grade.

“I think by the time our generation was around it was a family business, not just a business,” Wheeler said.

Brenda laughingly remembers when one of her sons was suspended in school in seventh grade.

Her punishment for him was to pick up garbage around the company’s building’s premises for eight hours in the rain.

If they chose to, the kids would move up in the business as they grew older.

Brenda’s nephew, Matt Day, said that he’s been working for the company since he was a little kid.

“I don’t have any desire to work anywhere else,” he said.

Wheeler hopes that if her generation’s children wish to, they’ll continue on the tradition of working in the family business.

“My hope is that by the time our children are old enough, our business is diversified enough that there is a spot for everybody... If they want it,” Wheeler said.

The family is very proud of their generations of success.

As a way to acknowledge that success and honor Duane and June Day, Brenda, Gordon and “the kids” secretly applied for a family business award through the Oregon State University Austin Family Business program.

They won.

The awards recognize achievements in entrepreneurship, community involvement and multi-generational planning.

The family will be honored in the large business category in a ceremony Thursday, Nov. 21, at the Governor Hotel in downtown Portland.

Brenda, Gordon and “the kids” told Duane they had won the award during Duane’s birthday celebration this summer.

The family has a lot to be proud of.

Brenda said she is proud of the companies’ employees who “feel like family” and the continued success of the company.

Wheeler added that when she was growing up, Reliance Connects employees felt like “aunts and uncles.”

Matt Day is proud “That we provide job opportunities for people here in wage job opportunities.”

Matt added that the company is unique for offering services such as high-speed Internet in rural areas. Many companies wouldn’t because they wouldn’t make enough money.

“I’m proud of our community ties and our interest and involvement. I’m proud of the amount of effort we put into the community,” Wheeler said.

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