Life on the Lake

Q&A with Tom Kimball


Interview by Savanah Mandeville


Tom Kimball was named chairman of the Grand River Dam Authority board of directors in September. He is a founding member of the Owasso Economic Development Authority and 56-year veteran of the retail industry. This is his second term as chairman, serving in 2014-15.


SMTO’s Savanah Mandeville visited with Kimball to learn about what community leadership means to him and what’s next for GRDA.


Tell us a little bit about your role as the chairman of GRDA board of directors.

GRDA is a seven-member board with three members appointed by the governor, one member appointed by the speaker of the house, one member appointed by our city customers, one member appointed by the co-ops that we sell electricity to, and one member appointed by the president pro-tempore, which is the spot I hold. We rotate the chairmanship every year because we work as a very cohesive group. I’m fortunate to have a background in economic development so I like to incorporate those strengths in particular into my leadership.


What are some of the board’s current goals?

We work on a one-year, three-year and five-year plan. A large undertaking we are involved in is renewing our license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to operate the lake and dam. It is historically a 25-30-year license, and it takes 3-5 years to renew, depending on the amount of studies on the lake we must do. As of now, there are about 20 studies, some of them are detailed, some are relatively simple.


Another segment of GRDA we are busy with is the Scenic Rivers Commission, for which we are in our third year of operation. The SRC is responsible for the Illinois River, and through that commission we have cleaned up the river and increased law enforcement – GRDA has its own police force – so now the Illinois River is a safe place to visit.


In recent years, GRDA has become active in promoting tourism on Grand Lake. Can you tell me about that?

We have a very extensive program to make Grand Lake into a larger, year-round destination for the region. Grand Lake is not your average lake. It is 66 miles long, 130 feet deep, and it has 950 miles of shoreline. It’s one of the top 10 bass-fishing lakes; we’ve hosted the Bass Master Classic twice in the last six years. We have Har-Ber Village Museum. In Grove, we have a museum of antique motorcycles. Below the dam, on GRDA property, is one of the top three places for rock crawling, and we host a rock crawling event that attracts over 15,000 people. We have three organized boat races per year now, and we have over 80 organized fishing tournaments a year now. Just some seven years ago, before GRDA changed leadership, there were about three events per year on the lake. Today there’s one or more events every single weekend.


Why are you personally interested in improving the community?

The future is geared around our young people, and I don’t want to see our young people move away in search of the quality of life somewhere else. My passion is to make it where no person my age has to leave the Four-State Area to see their children and grandchildren. One project I was thrilled to work on years ago was running hardwire fiber internet all the way around Grand Lake. Most major cities don’t have that.


On the flip side, this area is great for retirees. If you’re thinking about retirement, you can go to Patricia Island in Grove and have a brand-new home for under $300,000 on the golf course, you can play all the golf you want every day, and you can get in your golf cart and go down to your boat dock. On Grand Lake, you can own a boat dock in front of your house, which is unusual.


We have almost 6,000 boat docks licensed on this lake. It’s my privilege to be involved in efforts to promote the Grand Lake area, but ultimately, it’s not about me. It takes a group of dedicated people from multiple age groups. It takes a village.