District 6: Austin, Colorado and Fayette counties
Member of the Board’s Audit & Finance and Legal & Governance committees.
Byron Balke, a Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative board director since 2000, enjoys listening to members and tries his best to help keep rates low and make the best decisions for everyone. He has seen a lot of modernization at the co-op and many good changes to create improvements and efficiency.
"We've upgraded our member service centers and offer more transparency," Byron said. "We host open meetings, and we don't stop our members from asking questions. Everyone has access, and that makes everyone on the inside accountable."
Byron grew up in Bleiblerville, a small community of less than 100 people in northwestern Austin County. He has a younger brother, Jimmy, and a younger sister, Marian, each sibling five years apart from the next. He attended Welcome Elementary, a one-room schoolhouse with five grades, before graduating from nearby Bellville High School in 1959, where he played football and baseball.
"Our football coach wouldn't let us have any water during our two-a-day workouts ... it was supposed to make us tough and wear us out," Byron said. "So I guess he was pretty surprised when he caught me baling hay after practice."
He played baseball at Blinn College in Brenham after high school, but said because all of his other classmates attended Blinn or Sam Houston State University, he ultimately decided to go to Southwest Texas State University — now Texas State University — in San Marcos, where he earned a degree in agribusiness in 1963.
In 1961, he signed a "little bitty" pro baseball contract with the Houston Colt .45s (now the Houston Astros) and attended a training camp for two weeks in Florida, though Byron is quick to laugh and point out that it felt more like a vacation since he did not make the team. Instead, he served in the Army Reserve and came back home to help run his family's general store, which sold everything from beers to bras, including groceries, livestock feed and hardware goods.
The store had been a focal point in his family and in the community since the late 1800s, when his grandfather, Herman Albert, bought the store from the town's namesake, Robert Bleibler. The town's post office was located within the store, as was common in small towns with one retail establishment, and Byron's mother had served as the postmaster since age 19, following her father's death. His parents bought the store from his grandmother in 1955. His mother continued to work as postmaster until the mid-1970s when the town got its own freestanding post office building.
Byron started working at the store while in junior high. Upon returning to Bleiblerville after college, he bought a fertilizer and seed business and continued to help his parents with the store. Byron's fertilizer business and his parents' store both shut down in 1994, and he began working full-time with his cattle and hay operation, which he continues to this day.
His work at the store actually helped when striking up his first conversation with his wife of 40 years, Annette. They met at a bowling alley in Brenham. Byron was rolling gutter balls and Annette bowled in the lane next to him. He told her, "I bet you don't know where Bleiblerville is," but she said right away that she had visited his store. She could even quote one of the prominent funny signs in the ladies' restroom. The couple has two children and four grandchildren.
"I miss all the friends, the newly move-ins and strangers that came to the store and all the crazy conversations that took place during domino games," Byron said. "But one thing I liked was always meeting new people, and I still get to do that through the co-op."
Byron enjoys collecting antiques, hunting, and fishing at the coast. He serves as treasurer of the Austin County Livestock Association and is a member of the Bleiblerville Volunteer Fire Department. He and Annette are both active in the Bleiblerville VFD's annual fundraiser, which includes a fish fry, auctions, raffles and activities for kids, which takes place the third Sunday in May. Bluebonnet donates fans for the event, and Byron said the co-op's commitment to community service is just another reason he's proud to serve as a board director.