Monday, May 27, 2013


I'm not sure I remember all the advice Dad ever shared with me, but this one was surely the most effective.

After a bit over a year in college, it became painfully clear that college wasn't going to work for me. It might be more correct to say I wasn't going to work for college, but either way, I decided college wasn't for me.

When I announced my intention to withdraw from Butler University, in Indianapolis, Dad asked me what I was going to do. I told him I guess I'd find a job. That's when he laid the line, shown above, on me.

That was late in 1957, and in a stunning display of my good timing, that was also a time of recession in our economy. I got a job working as an apprentice in a Body Shop, but the recession caught up with that. Then a short time working for another car dealer, and the recession struck again.

The following week, the first week in April, 1958, we'd been planning on going to Florida. When I told Dad on Friday night that Northside Chevrolet had shown me the door, he asked what I was going to, and I said I'd find another job when we got back from Florida. He said, then, something like this: "Wrong ... vacations are for people with jobs, which you don't have. We'll see you in a week."

Then he gave me the advice, the importance of which I couldn't have comprehended at that time:

"Be sure you get a job you can turn into a career."

I moped all weekend, and then on Monday morning, I watched the Today Show. One of the stories they did that morning related the fact that there were 50,000 jobs in New York City, which employers were unable to fill. There were lots of unemployed people, but the jobs didn't pay much more than Unemployment Insurance, and people didn't want to work for the difference. Trouble was, I hadn't worked long enough to be eligible to receive Unemployment. But the story did something for me that I didn't expect. I figured if there were 50,000 jobs in New York City, there must be 15 or 20 jobs in Indianapolis, and I decided by golly I was going to go find some.

And I did. Found five jobs in three days. Driving a fruit juice delivery truck, working in a Health Spa, jobs like that. But Dad's words rang in my ear, and nothing I found looked like an entry point for a career. So, having seen an ad in the Want Ads for "Mark Kelly's Job Mart", I called them and arranged to see them the next morning. It may also be noted I picked them because I was low on gas, and they were closest to my house.

When I visited in the office, the secretary .. a nice lady named Margaret Wright ..  asked me what sort of job I was looking for. I told her I didn't care, as long as it was something I could turn into a career. What I did not know, then, was that she was a good friend of a lady named Fannie Burch, who was Secretary of Wabash Fire and Casualty Insurance Company, a fairly new insurer in Indianapolis. And Fannie had just that day told Mrs. Wright to be on the lookout for a young man who might make a good mailboy ... Fannie had caught their mailboy washing his car on company time. 

That same afternoon, Mrs. Wright called and told me to report to Wabash and see a Mrs. Burch. And be sure and wear a coat and tie. I did that, and when Mrs. Burch asked me what pay I expected, I said "Whatever the job pays. I just want a job I can turn into a career". She said I was hired, and the pay would be $45 a week.

The details would be quite lengthy and probably boring to everyone else, but suffice it to say, I spent from April of 1958 to February of 2008 ... with a couple years in the middle in a other businesses ... in the insurance business. I still cannot believe all the things God put on my plate ... inventing a new kind of insurance coverage on two different occasions ...  flying all over country and speaking at insurance agency meetings ... going to London to work with Lloyds' for a week, several times ... speaking at various trade association meetings, ... all of which leave me wondering how on earth all that stuff happened to me. 

(Note: the answer is that it may have happened to me, but it all originated in Heaven.)

The picture above is from an Indianapolis Newspaper article about Wabash, as part of a series called "Where Indianapolis Works". That's me, sitting there in the dark jacket. The picture was taken mid-1958, and I can say with absolute certainty that I never, ever dreamed of going all the places I've been, and doing all the things I'd done, over the next half century in the Insurance Industry.

When I retired February 1, 2008, we had a "retirement dinner" for our family and a couple friends. There, Peg gave me a scrapbook covering my career, and this was the first picture in it.

Thanks, Peg, for the memories ... and I met her and married her at that first mailboys job ... and thanks, Dad, for the advice. And thanks, God, for making it all happen.

PS: There's a p.s. of note. When I got to Wabash the first day, I found out the other mailboy ... one did the 7 a.m. incoming mail run and distribution, the other did the 5 p.m. outgoing mail run to the downtown Post Office ... was a guy named Bill, a good friend of mine from high school. After a few months there, he came in and gave his week's notice, saying he had gotten a job as a lathe operator at a local manufacturer. He mentioned they needed more people, and the pay was about double what we made as mailboys. I declined, again thinking of career. 

Jump ahead to June 1975 ... 17 years later. I had gone from the mail room to the accounting department, and then after another year had gone to Statesman Insurance Co. as a trainee. After becoming an Underwriter, I went to Indiana Insurance Co. for 18 months and then back to Statesman as a supervisor. Each of those jobs gave me more diversity and depth of experience. From there I spent 5 years working in a local insurance agency in Indy, and was then hired by Associated Insurance Managers to manage 3 agencies in Muncie, Eaton and Dunkirk, Indiana.  

Then in June 1975 I was hired by Ken Williams at MMI in Pelham, as VP of Agencies and Program Sponsors, which is what got me to traveling nationwide. 

On the last weekend before we moved to Birmingham, we went a function at the Indiana State Fair coliseum. We found a place in the crowded stands on one side, and when we got up there, I sat down right next to Bill. The one who'd left Wabash to be a lathe operator. He asked what I had been doing and I updated him on my career, including the job I was heading for 2 days later. I then asked what he was doing. He said he was still operating the same lathe.  

That's a fine job, I'm sure. He's probably got a gangbusters retirement. But in that moment, I went back to that day in 1958 when Dad gave me that little bit of advice. And thanked him again.



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