Canby Community Leader Takes Reins of State Treasury in 1960

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Can you hear me now? Good! On Canby Then this week, we wrap up our series on the history of the Canby Telephone Association, better today as our local telecommunications provider DirectLink.

It began as the Macksburg Mutual Telephone Company in 1904, but soon became an integral part of the growing community of Canby.

In the early 1950s, a man named Howard C. Belton joined the Board of Directors for the Canby Telephone Association, which was more commonly known as the CTA.

Belton, like those who had formed the telephone cooperative a half-century earlier, was a rural farmer, managing about 200 acres outside of town. But his ambitions stretched far beyond that. To say the dynamo was “active” in civil service and state politics would be a bit of an understatement.

Truth be told, he was busier than a one-legged cat in a sandbox.

Belton served 15 years as a member of the Canby School Board and was president of the Butteville Insurance Co. and the State Association of Mutual Insurance Companies. He was a senior grand warden of the Masonic Lodge, and a past grand patron of the Easter Star.

He spent nearly 20 years in the Legislature — primarily in the State Senate — where he had served as President in 1945, and had held the coveted title of chairman of the Ways and Means Committee for several sessions.

During that tumultuous 1945 session, held near the end of World War II, Belton helped play a role — for better or worse — in the development of the Oregon tax system. He was appointed to the State Tax Committee, tasked by then-Governor Earl Snell to present, quote, “recommendations as to the most attractive, advantageous and equitable tax system consistently possible for Oregon to devise.”

Whether or not they accomplished that noble goal, we’ll leave up to you to decide, dear listener. Canby Then is not the place for editorial comments.

Belton was president of the Canby Kiwanis Club and Canby Chamber of Commerce. In his “spare time,” he supervised the operations of a timber stand he owned in Clackamas County. There was even an awful rumor that he slept — on rare occasions.

Whatever he did as secretary of the Canby Telephone board, he evidently did it very well, because on Jan. 4, 1960, Governor Mark Hatfield appointed him Oregon state treasurer, replacing Sig Unander, who had resigned to accept a federal gig on the maritime board.

Twelve years earlier, Belton had sought, and won, the Republican nomination for state treasurer, but narrowly lost the general election to Democrat Walter J. Pearson by less than a one-point margin.

“Howard Belton is extremely well-known throughout the state,” Hatfield said in The Oregonian’s front-page story announcing the appointment, “through his agricultural activities, his insurance business presidency, his lodge work and his long legislative service. In choosing a state treasurer, it seemed to me taxpayers most want a man who is extensively experienced and basically conservative: tough, yet fair-minded, when it comes to public money.”

The announcement came at a statehouse press conference, a photo of which also made the front page, featuring not only Belton but his lovely wife, Mae Brown. A few months later, Belton announced he would run for a full term, against a Democratic challenger who had already filed, State Rep. Shirley Field, of Portland.

“I feel a deep sense of responsibility to the job,” said Belton, “and would like to continue the interest I have had in public finance for the past 30 years, for the benefit of Oregon and its people.”

Evidently, the people of Oregon wanted him to continue as well, because they elected him to a four-year term in November 1960.

Not surprisingly, around that same time, Belton realized he might have a bit much on his plate, and he asked to step down from his position on the board for the Canby Telephone Company. His resignation was accepted, with John Harms being elected to take his place.

At the same meeting, the board agreed to spend $86,000 on a new dial board, as a step toward “ultimate long-distance direct-dial service.” We youngsters here at the Canby Now Podcast have no idea what that means, but it sure sounds cool. Canby Telephone Manager Rufus Kraxberger anticipated that the new hardware would be installed by April 1961.

On Oct. 3, 1962, the infamous Columbus Day storm put 80 percent of the city’s more than 2,000 telephone customers out of service. It took almost a month, but service had been restored for most customers by November 2.

In 1979, the Canby Telephone Association continued its trailblazing ways, becoming the first company to cut a digital to digital toll route in the United States. It was also among the first companies in the Northwest to underground most of its facilities.

Finally, Canby Telephone was the first company to successfully join an existing Stromberg XY Switch with a Stromberg Digital Switch. And again: We have no idea what that means. But hey — congratulations, and way to go.

Two years later, the CTA secured a $3.1 million loan to bring — you guessed it — cable television to Canby. In July of that year, 1971, the FCC granted Canby Telephone a “Cable Television Cross Ownership” waiver, which prohibited companies from owning a broadcast television station and cable system in the same market.

In 1983, 911 service came to our city, and more important (OK, not really), the city officially granted a cable TV franchise to Canby Telephone. A subsidiary, CTA Communications, was formed to sell phones, key systems, PBX systems, burglar and fire alarms, card lock systems and a Radio Shack franchise. (Hey, I remember them!)

North Willamette Telecom, or NWT, began cable TV operation the following year.

Throughout the 80s and 90s, the co-op established itself as a significant and reliable contributor to a wide variety of community causes. They donated $10,000 to Canby Kids to add lighting to Empey Field, $15,000 to Canby Police to establish a D.A.R.E. program and another $15,000 for the Canby Swim Center.

In 1989, they gave $175,000 to the Canby Rotary to establish a “perpetual scholarship fund.” They donated an enhanced 911 system to the Canby Fire District and Canby police and gave thousands to the chamber, high school and library for various projects.

In 1996, Canby Telephone Association donated free internet to the Canby Public Library, Canby Adult, Clackamas Community College and the Canby School District.

Ten years later, and in keeping with changing times and technologies, the 100-year-old Canby Telephone Association rechristened itself Canby Telcom, which is still the name many know it by in town, even though they officially became “DirectLink” in 2016.

As both Canby Telcom and DirectLink, the co-op has been a leader in establishing a robust fiber-optic network to their entire service area, according to a multi-phase plan they developed back in 2014.

Their work led to them receiving the much-coveted “Gimme Fiber Award” from the international Fiber Broadband Association.

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