A HISTORY OF HARDT INSURANCE
SOUTH HAVEN, MICHIGAN
Hardt Insurance has been a community asset in South Haven, Michigan, for well over a century. It remains such a community asset not only because it provides insurance coverage for a multitude of needs, not only because it recirculates monies locally, not only because it provides a relaxed and welcoming environment for clients, but also because its people add value to this community by serving and volunteering in various public and charitable capacities.
As former owner Doug Leins said upon his retirement in 2014, "I’ve enjoyed the insurance business and enjoyed helping people. Every day I saw people come through those doors, and I’m going to miss that."
An ongoing challenge for a service-oriented business like Hardt is to professionally employ current technology while simultaneously nurturing that personal contact and relationship building. Even though business contact may currently originate via internet or other non-personal source, how can Hardt employees add a human face and a growing relationship into the mix? Following are those employee names, past and present; and then some of the events which demonstrate how Hardt folks have succeeded in blending technology and personalism over the years.
The People of Hardt Insurance
Herein is a list of past and present Hardt Insurance staff (not exhaustive), with dates of service where available.
John W. Hardt partnership with a Mr. Fullenwiden 1906-1933
Art Clarke, Sr. added real estate & finance 1918-early 1920s
Clarence T. Fritz 1923-1968
(Share repurchase agreement in 1967, final payment 12/28/79)
Mary Hardt stockholder/director 1930-1940
(Share repurchase by Fritz and Carnahan)
Mavor Carnahan 1930-1941
Richard G. Shanley 1940-1975
Leslie A. Poorman 1946-1974
George Corliss agency merger 1950s
Pat Carnahan son of Mavor 1962-1990
Richard Foster 1970-2008
R.W. Elliott agency merger 1974-1978
Doug Leins 1976-2014
John Long agency merger 1986-1997
Tom Rummel 2008-Present
B. Current Agents
Bethany Ross 2015-Present
Nicole Koblinski 2018-Present
Riki Lawson 2018-Present
C. Additional Staff
Dora Watkins; Diana Hernandez; Marilyn Hinton; Jan Moser; Ella King; Jill Seltenreich; June Brownfield; Joan Atteberry; Scharlene Bird; Sandra Seroke; Velva Peck; Helen Roe; Shirley Eberhardt; Scott Lane; Janice Dekreck; Linda Willett; Marcia Dennison.
Insurance Companies Represented
As an independent insurance agency Hardt Insurance has represented dozens of companies over the years. The effort, of course, is to have maximum coverage available for client needs. Present companies include Pioneer State Mutual, Hastings Mutual, Michigan Millers, Progressive, Foremost, Michigan Insurance, Accident Fund, and CNA Surety.
Past organizations include Maryland Casualty, Aetna, Monarch, Ins. Co. of North America, St. Paul, Transmerica, Ohio Farmers, Wolverine, and Titan.
Representing these companies has allowed Hardt Insurance to offer the best of several possible coverages to clients for their residential homes, mobile homes, rental homes, farms; businesses, equipment, employees, fleets; liquor liability, corporate fidelity; automobiles, motorcycles, watercraft. In terms of insurance volume, agriculture and commercial provide one-third, with the remaining two-thirds made up of residential and vehicle insurance.
Local Community Commitment
Geographically Hardt Insurance is licensed in three states: Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois. However, the vast majority of policies have been and continue to be written for clients living and working within the South Haven area (80% within a 20 mile radius). For all of its existence this agency has been located in downtown South Haven. In 1906 John and Mary Hardt settled in South Haven, moving from Kansas for health reasons. That same year the insurance agency was established by them, continuing as a “doing-business-as” until January of 1930 when the Hardts and Clarence Fritz incorporated the business as John W. Hardt Agency, Inc. These three composed the first Board of Directors, and listed the corporate address as 207 Center Street, South Haven, Michigan. By the time of the 1936 annual meetings of shareholders and directors, the office address had shifted to 313 Center Street, South Haven, Michigan. The final move to its present location a 511 Huron Street, South Haven, Michigan, occurred in 1995, where a former medical building later converted to the offices of the Van Buren County Health Department was purchased and transformed into its present manifestation--the home of Hardt Insurance.
With such a long history of local presence, it is logical that the people and the wealth that circulate through the front doors at 511 Huron continue to work within the local community. First, the vast majority of insurance policies (8 of every 10) are issued by Michigan-based insurance companies. Thus eight of every ten premium dollars paid by Hardt clients support folks in our state. Second, Hardt has over these many years averaged close to one million ($1,000,000.00) dollars in claims payments per year. These monies are used for repair, replacement, and rejuvenation here in this community. Think of the construction industry. Think of the retail industry. Think of the auto industry. Think of the medical establishment. All are represented locally, and all receive claims dollars paid due to Hardt Insurance protection. Third, of revenues generated by Hardt, 85% remain in the South Haven area. Think of employee salaries. Think of local advertising. Think of maintenance of building and grounds at 511 Huron. Think of banking, accounting, and legal services. Think of a small business whose people have for so many years cared about this local community and the people who create and maintain it.
Here’s how Tom Rummel described it a few years ago: Just like shopping local for material goods, it’s also important to look locally for services like tax assistance, legal help, banking or insurance or real estate. We have a lot of great, qualified professionals here locally, providing the same or even better level of service that you’d find in a bigger city. And, the dollars we spend with them go a lot farther in our community than if we spend those dollars elsewhere.
Local Community Involvement
It becomes immediately apparent upon entering the doors at 511 Huron that clients are both welcomed and treasured. And so it has been since Clarence Fritz delivered policies by bicycle in the 1920s, since agents remained for decades with the agency, since corporate ownership was by agreement kept within the confines of present employees. Present evidence of this pro-client attitude includes: 1) payment options of automatic deduction, cash, check, or credit/debit card; 2) availability of face-to-face discussions throughout business hours; 3) all possible discounts explored; and 4) mediating of client/adjustor disputes.
Throughout the recent past, as technology challenged, improved, and threatened to overwhelm most small businesses, Hardt Insurance has insisted upon maintaining both technological relevancy and a relaxed, appreciative work environment. When a business is wedded to the local community and its welfare, both principles are necessary. Present percentages bear out this previous statement. Approximately 20% of new business comes via internet; 30% via walk-in, and 50% via referral. The retention rate rests above 85%.
Finally, there exists a desire to become and remain helpful within the community, particularly within its charitable and service sectors. Over the years Hardt employees have been: 1) members of clubs carrying the following names; Elks, Kiwanis, Rotary; 2) members and officers of the South Haven Area Chamber of Commerce, South Haven Convention & Visitors Bureau, South Haven Downtown Development Authority; 3) active in South Haven Public School projects and clubs; 4) supportive of We Care, an agency created by multiple area churches to reach out to needy members of this community; and 5) willing to allocate considerable resources to various local projects, one example being the Blueberry Festival parade, another being advertising in/donating to local sporting and academic events.
Perhaps much of these many years of providing insurance services and a local presence to the South Haven, Michigan, area can be summed up in a South Haven Tribune (12/21/2014) quote attributed to current Hardt Insurance President Tom Rummel. "We’re all in this together. If our schools do well, or our local hospital, or our service groups and business community, we all benefit. It’s easy to look around and find fault in the community around us, but negativity doesn’t solve problems. Nothing ever gets better until we decide to lift up instead of drag down, and that’s what service and involvement is all about."
May the next hundred plus years be as positive and productive as the previous hundred plus years have been.
Dated: July 30, 2018