The Kasson-Mantorville Tele-phone Exchange was founded by Herman M. Tollefson on March 19, 1901 with 39 subscribers. One hundred ten years later Mary (Tollefson) Ehmke and Beth Tolle-fson represent the fourth generation of a company that has over 6000 telephone, internet, television and cellular customers and has 25 employees.
H.M. Tollefson was the local druggist. The telephone switchboard was located in the rear of the Kasson Drug Store (Kasson Dollar & Video today). As the company grew H.M. purchased the Mantorville exchange in 1909. In 1913 the Kasson exchange was rebuilt with aerial cable and a new building constructed. Twenty-four hour telephone service was initiated in 1916 with a new switchboard. Prior to that time service was given only during daylight hours and limited times at night.
By 1927 the number of telephone customers grew to 731. H.M. Tollefson managed the company until his death in 1933. Son Howard H. Tollefson took over management until his retirement in 1964, 51 years later.
Beth Tollefson and Mary Ehmke represent the fourth generation of family ownership that dates back 110 years to their great grandfather.
In 1954 Jon Tollefson, representing the third generation and son of H.H. Tollefson, started in the business. That was also the year dial up service was introduced to K-M customers. Jon and his wife Dee bought what would become the Rock Dell Telephone Company and it became a subsidiary of the Kasson & Mantorville Telephone Company.
Jon and Dee's daughters, Mary Ehmke and Beth Tollefson, represent the fourth generation of ownership.
Growing up neither Mary or Beth gave a great deal of thought about being the next generation in the telephone business. Both were outstanding students and athletes in high school. Beth will go down as one of the few K-M athletes to be on three state tournament teams for volleyball (1984) and basketball and softball (1985). Both Mary and Beth played Division III volleyball and basketball and graduated from Concordia College two years apart. Mary’s plans were to become a teacher but was struggling to find a job. At the same time, one of the managers at Kasson & Mant-orville Telephone Company left, ope-ning a door for Mary in the family business. "I always knew I would somehow come back to my roots. I didn’t want anything to do with big city living and wanted to raise my family in a small town," said Mary.
Beth graduated with a degree in accounting, became a CPA and worked for a public accounting firm before she decided to come back "home".
"It's worked out well," said Mary. "We are a close family and this has been a good opportunity for us. We are blessed to be able to operate the business and remain in a small town.”
Mary is the COO (Chief Operating Officer) and is charge of Operations. Beth is the CFO (Chief Financial Officer) in charge of finance. They share a good working relationship be-cause as Beth said, "Neither one of us would want to do the other’s job." "Beth is more de-tailed so we complement each other," added Mary.
So much has changed with technology since Mary in 1987 and Beth in 1991 started with the company. When they began the breakup of AT&T was just starting and the company had 10 employees. The internet had not been developed and the company was operating mostly as a telephone utility in a monopolistic industry. In 2001, Kasson & Mantorville Telephone Company became known as KMTelecom.
For three-and-a-half generations KMTelecom was basically POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service). Now there is the internet, digital television, cellular phones and fiber optics. Mary insists the challenges facing the company are much different because there is so much competition. "We have had to focus on expanding our products, promoting and becoming a total communications company," she said.
The technology in the business is approaching "Star Trek capabilities," said Mary. "Even we are amazed at what has happened in the last 10 years," added Beth. Keeping up with the technology to meet customer needs is one of the greatest challenges at KMTelecom. "When we install something today, it seems like five years later it will have to be upgraded," insisted Mary.
KMTelecom continues to make improvements to communication services and infrastructure despite the challenges of these tough economic times. The signifcant investment in Fiber-To-The-Home (FTTH) technology continues to expand the services offered to their customers. High Definition TV (HD), Digital Video Recording (DVR) and faster internet speeds to beyond 20M service are a few changes currently happening. As technology expands, so do the services.
KMTelecom's goal today is to keep up with ever-changing technology, be able to finance it and at the same time, take care of the customer. "We are fortunate to have excellent employees who give our customers excellent service," said Mary.
When asked if there could some day be a fifth generation of Tollefson ownership, Mary said her 12 and 15 year old are not at the stage to be thinking about that. If they did show an interest she would encourage them to go somewhere else and work first. That way they will have more appreciation for working here if they do decide to come back.
“Where technology comes with a human touch,” that describes KMTelecom today. H.M. would be amazed at what K-MTelecom has become with his great grand-daughters at the helm.
Jon and Dee Tollefson with children Beth, Mary and Paul in front of the Kasson-Mantorville Telephone Company in 1969.
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