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Saturday, December 5, 2020

60 Years of Memories: Insurance Men in Butler

On The Square

60 Years of Memories of Butler

by James Ring


Harkening back through sixty years of Butler memories, I can recall quite a few “insurance men” over the years. And men they primarily were; most insurance agents were male back in the day, even though they probably had women taking care of the paperwork. Selling insurance is not an easy way to make a living; you’re trying to convince someone to spend money for, essentially, nothing tangible. It’s a little like book-making, in that you’re taking a bet against the odds of paying off, according to the terms of the coverage in the contract.


What I purchased, when I bought some insurance at age 20, was peace of mind. For $1.80 a month, I was assured that my folks would get $2000 in the event of my death in an accident. Small comfort, but at least they wouldn’t have to spend their savings to lay me away. Dale Ensor sold me the policy, and he came around to collect the premium every month, giving me a receipt. That’s the way agents worked in those days.


Eddie Herrman took over Ensor’s business later, upgrading me to a $10,000 ordinary-life policy that I still have; after 50 years it’s worth a little more than the the ten-grand. Eddie subsequently went into business with Wayne Beckham, with offices in the basement of the Inn Hotel. 


By far the biggest agency in town was George Krinn’s independent (all lines) insurance agency, right across from the Post Office (“near neighbor to Uncle Sam” was his ad line.) George was a stalwart Democrat party supporter, eventually turning the agency over to Jerry Cook; Cook Insurance is still going strong on the Square.


There was also Bud Robinson, whose office was upstairs over the First National Bank on the northeast corner of the square, and Nobel Ray, who had a walk-up office on the north side of the square. Harry Weiss ran his insurance agency from his home on Fort Scott street, an inspiring feat considering that he had no arms. Harry lost his limbs in a farm machinery accident as a young man, but he refused to remain helpless, driving a car with his one stump and providing for his family by typing up insurance applications with a pencil clamped in his teeth. 


Later on, Wesley Jensen and G.J. Six both ran insurance businesses on the Square, and there were many others that escape my memory. I would be remiss not to mention the Bates County Mutual insurance company, ran by Melvin and Mary Billington on the second floor of the First National Bank before it built its own office at the corner of Fort Scott and South Main, later moving to West Fort Scott street. County Mutuals were common in countyseat towns across the nation, usually re-insuring their risks in regional pools with one another.


There were also the ever-present young “Combined Insurance” salesmen traveling through, who would show up periodically with their leather folders of presentation material, trying to sell Mr. Stone’s Chicago-based Combined Accidental Life Insurance on a promised starter commission. The mostly-worthless product and starvation remuneration guaranteed rapid turnover of these eager beavers.


Selling insurance remains a difficult but necessary business, balancing risk versus gain, giving personal service while maintaining one’s duty to the company. Peace of mind is all your agent has to sell—until you have a loss.