Today is my dad’s last day of work as a State Farm insurance agent.
On this day 49 years ago, Sid Neuhoff opened his first office in Lorain, Ohio. I was one. My dad’s older brother George Neuhoff was also a State Farm agent in Lorain. He encouraged my dad to join the company as a worthwhile way to support his new family.
As his family grew, so did my dad’s business. His sincere kindness, tenacity and dedication to his customers is what made it successful. He knocked on doors, made cold calls from numbers he looked up in the phone book, and estimated countless properties with a measuring wheel he kept in the trunk of his car. Week after week, he sold auto, fire and life policies.
He did it with ease. Connecting with customers came naturally to him. He can make small talk about anything, and immediately makes you feel at home thanks in part to his Southern charm. He gains trust by looking you in the eye, shaking your hand and telling you he will take care of it. He means it. Being a good neighbor is not just a tag line for the company he works for, it’s my dad’s way of life.
With two children and one on the way, my dad moved his family into a brick home on a dead-end street in Vermilion, Ohio – a small boating town on the shores of Lake Erie. He bought an office on Liberty Avenue, and was the only State Farm agent in town. He built a joyous life for his family on Sassafras Drive where he and my mom raised five children.
He had large, framed pictures of my siblings and I on display in his office. Customers often asked if it was one child in five different stages of their life. He would laugh and proudly reveal that they were his four daughters and one son who were all two years apart.
In 1989, my dad packed the pictures, sold his office and said goodbye to his longtime local agent friends to move back to his childhood home of Nashville, Tennessee. There he married his second wife, Betty, my step mom, and started as an unknown agent in the back office of a barber shop on Granny White Pike located a few miles from Music Row, the heart of Nashville’s country music industry, where his maternal relatives once lived.
Again, he found himself starting over. Name recognition helped a little since some of his new policyholders were familiar with Neuhoff Packing Company, a reputable meat packaging business started by my dad’s paternal relatives on the banks of the Cumberland River. Being Catholic was also an asset since my dad was one of a handful of Catholic agents in Nashville.
While being a Neuhoff and a practicing Catholic were bonuses, ultimately it was my dad who built up his business enough to make the move to an office in Belle Meade, an affluent independent, three-square mile city which Forbes Magazine once listed as a “Top 25 Place to Retire Rich.”
When I went to his office in Belle Meade for the last time, the black and white photos of myself and siblings were not on the wall. Those photos are now on display in my home. My dad’s awards were packed away and his desk was empty except for a handful of mini State Farm bumper stickers.
Over the years, State Farm bumper sticker have brought me an abundance of joy and pain. I experience much joy when the red and white reflection of a sticker catches my eye as I search for something I need. But what a pain to try and peel that sticker off. The first example I could think of was my red, banana seat bike which my dad insisted on putting a sticker on so if the bike was ever lost, it could easily be returned.
Throughout my life, the State Farm logo has always been present – on beach towels, plastic cups, hats, t-shirts – you name it. My dad proudly wore his State Farm gear which included double-starched, button-down, white, collar dress shirts. As a teenager, I wasn’t always thrilled about wearing matching red and white hats with my siblings so my dad could easily spot us in a crowd. But looking back, my dad had superior marketing skills. What better way to advertisement your business than to have your five children donning State Farm beach towels, hats and beach balls at the pool?
While today is my dad’s last day of being a good neighborhood for State Farm, tomorrow is the first day he can just be himself and do whatever he wants. After making over 400 phone calls to customers to share the news of his retirement, he won’t have to make a single call. He can sleep in as long as he wants. There will be no questions to be answered and no impending emergencies to handle.
Instead, he can relax and watch uninterrupted, back porch sunsets on the Cumberland River. He can indulge in boating with friends at Rock Harbor Marina and take trips with his wife on a whim. He can volunteer at St. Henry’s Parish and spend more time with friends and family, including his five granddaughters in Cleveland, Ohio.
After 49 years of being a good neighbor, Sid can just be.