American Success Story

Outgoing United Electric Board member George Toner dedicated decades of work to varied careers and his community

By Dianna Troyer

George Toner, right, reflects on his four decades of service as a member of electric co-op boards. He and local historian Gary Schorzman reminisce about the decades of Ruralite issues George has saved. Photo by Dianna Troyer

At age 7, George Toner could barely see over the steering wheel of the truck he was guiding through a field during harvest near Burley.

“Whatever crop we were working on, they put the truck in a low, slow gear and had me stand on the seat so I could see where I was going,” George says. “At the end of the row, someone would get in and turn the truck for me, then we’d go down another row.”

George was born March 21, 1929, at a time when children and teens were relied on for farm labor.

This became the foundation of a relent- less work ethic. Relying on it, he prospered in his careers as an auto mechanic, carpenter, building contractor and pilot. It also carried into his services as a longtime member of United Electric Cooperative’s board of directors.

George served as the first board president in 1998 of the newly formed United Electric Co-op, a consolidation of Rural Electric Cooperative and Unity Light and Power. Previously, he had served as president of Rural Electric’s board.

When the consolidation was proposed, George and Ralph Williams—who would become the new co-op’s general manager— went door to door and had community meetings to explain the benefits of merging.

“It had a 96% vote of approval from members,” says George, who lives in Paul.

During the co-op’s most recent annual meeting in March, George asked for the microphone following the election of his successor, Dan Lloyd.

“I told everyone that I was four days shy of my 94th birthday, and they had made a wise choice voting for Dan,” George says. “He’s sharp and will do a good job. It was an honor to be on those boards for 41 years.”

American Success

George developed a system to test switches at his shop at home. Photo by Diana Troyer

Local historian and co-op member Gary Schorzman describes George as a self- made businessman, an American success story with an intense zeal for life.

“George has always been known for his honesty, integrity, work ethic, perfection- ism, kindness, humor, ability to talk to anyone and to back up any work he has done,” Gary says.

George says he never thought of himself in those terms.

“I’ve always just worked and did my best to do the job right the first time,” he says. “Since I was a boy, I’ve always found some kind of work—thinning sugar beet fields, driving truck, picking potatoes, selling newspaper subscriptions and working at a service station.”

After school, George worked at a service station repairing and lubricating cars, clean- ing restrooms, pumping gas and fixing tires.

He saved his money and bought his first car when he was 12. It was a 1933 Chevrolet that cost $175.

“Back then, you didn’t need a license to drive,” he says. “You just needed a car.”

George says he rarely turned down work, no matter what it was.

“The service station was next to Payne Mortuary, so sometimes I was hired to transport bodies,” he says.

At age 15, one unforgettable trip took him to Helena, Montana, and back during a blizzard just before Christmas 1944. A couple was heading home to Helena when the husband died suddenly at a hotel in Burley.

“I was volunteered by Payne Mortuary to drive her home in their truck with the body in the back under the camper shell,”

George says. “The snow was deep, the roads were slick, and it was 44 below zero in Burley. I didn’t sleep for about 48 hours because we had such bad weather, a flat tire and road closures on the way home. They paid me $20 and gave me a bus ticket. I got back at afternoon Christmas Eve.”

He spent his spare time with his future wife, Rosie, who moved to town in 1945.

“She was the one for me and always encouraged me with whatever job I had,” George says. “We were married on August 25, 1947, and were blessed to spend 74 years and five months together. We raised three wonderful children: Sandra, Michael and Daniel.”

They built 2 homes for themselves in their spare time after he got off work as an auto mechanic.

Restless to start a new career, George started Toner Construction in 1972. Homes and businesses he and employees built are still as sturdy as when they were built decades ago in Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and Oregon. He built truck stops, car washes, 39 airplane hangars in Burley, homes and townhouses.

His homes were innovative, with water source heat pumps and a touch plate panel for electrical switches throughout a home.

“At the panel, I could turn lights on and off anywhere in the house or garage,” he says. “I used to tell electricians they would understand the panel if they had ever wired a car. It all made sense to me.”

Flying to Board Meetings, Jobs

George Toner worked after school at local service stations and saved money to buy a car at age 12. Photo courtesy of George Toner

George’s electrical expertise made him an ideal candidate for the Rural Electric Cooperative board. Manager John Brog asked him to replace a board member in 1982.

“I’d done some work for John, so he thought I’d be a good fit on the board,” George says.

Years prior, in 1967, George earned his pilot license. It was John, a pilot himself, who encouraged George to learn to fly. George eventually owned four planes.

“John and I sometimes flew to co-op meetings,” he says. “Flying was great, too, to get to some of my construction jobs quickly.”

George’s son, Daniel, now runs Toner Construction.

“I still go out with him on calls some- times,” says George of a recent visit to a palatial 10,000-square-foot home near Twin Falls. “I started it in 2004 and finished it 3 years later.”

Toner Construction still does occasional projects for the residents.

At the entry, George designed an impressive 20,000-pound freestanding stairway with customized wrought iron railing and travertine steps. The stairs alone required 6,000 pounds of steel. He also designed and built a spiral staircase.

“There was one heck of a lot of steel in that property,” he says.

Outside the home, he erected a 500-foot-long fence with 42 concrete pillars, customized wrought iron, and one rolling gate in front and 2 hinge gates in back.

“We poured 200 yards of concrete for the fence, gates and posts,” George says. “That job was challenging, but it was appealing because it was so different. I felt privileged to work for such friendly people. I’ve met great people through all my careers.”