Larry Webb and Brian Bernard hold the quilted wallhanging Irene Mathison made for Bloomfield Mutual's 125th anniversary. (Tribune photo by Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy)
Larry Webb and Brian Bernard hold the quilted wallhanging Irene Mathison made for Bloomfield Mutual's 125th anniversary. (Tribune photo by Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy)
Bloomfield Mutual Insurance Company of Spring Valley is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year thanks to its watchwords of strength, service and stability.

"I think it started in a house or the post office in Bloomfield, and I think the post office is where they had their initial meeting," said Bloomfield Mutual Insurance Company manager Larry Webb.

"There were 29 men, and they insured $30,000 of property. It's been its own company since it was chartered - it's never merged with anybody."

As noted in the insurance provider's history book, Bloomfield Mutual Insurance Company's original name was "The Farmers' Mutual Fire Insurance Company of the Town of Bloomfield."

The articles of association for the company, approved March 9, 1875, read: "We, the undersigned citizens of the Towns of Bloomfield, Beaver, York and Forestville, do hereby resolve ourselves into a body corporate for mutual protection against loss by fire or lightning, under an act of the Legislature of the State of Minnesota, approved in 1875, amended in 1878-1881, and other years, relating to Town Insurance Companies. Said company shall be known and styled as the Farmers' Mutual Fire Insurance Company of the town of Bloomfield, Fillmore County, Minnesota."

According to the articles, residents of the "Town of Bloomfield" included C.M. & H.O. Larson, Hans Aslakson, E.E. Lundby, Erick Johnson, J.E. Wilcox, D. Paul, Lewis Gullickson, I.C. Sprague and William Sample. "Residents of the Town of Beaver" were Asa Barrett, Albert H. Barrett, Levi Gates, Robert Hall, A.R. Hungerford, W.A. Hall, Torry Avery, C.L. Avery, J. Purves, J.J. Heimsness, Francis Hall and Hiram Winslow. "Residents of the Town of York were P. McCracker and M. Mensink. "Residents of the Town of Forestville" were B.K. Ingalls, D.K. Michener, A.L. Sheldon, Charles Graling and C. Richardson.

The first board of directors were D.K. Michener, president; H.O. Larson, secretary; W.A. Hall, treasurer; and M. Mensink, A.R. Hungerford, J.E. Wilcox, B.K. Ingalls and C.L. Avery.

History

The history of the company, written by Erwin Ruesink in 1987 on the occasion of its 100th anniversary, outlined that it is not known what prompted the 29 men to organize an insurance company.

"They were individuals representing the townships of Bloomfield, Beaver, York and Forestville. They apparently had no common bond such as a church. Many of the early companies had their origin in a church or a nationality. There were insurance companies already operating in the area, similar to the proposed company.

"It is interesting to note that although there was representation from four townships, the name for the new company was 'The Farmers' Mutual Fire Insurance Company of the Town of Bloomfield.'"

The business was organized in March of 1887 and began operating May 1, 1887.

"The original policy of the company covered the perils of fire and lightning only. A maximum coverage on any one risk was limited to $3,000 and additional premium charges were made when buildings were built closer than 75 feet from each other.

"In the organization of a new company, there were many legal requirements, and in some of the correspondence with the Insurance Department, it was noted that the company started writing considerable insurance before they were legally recognized as a company...the first charter of the company was for 30 years, and the organizers of the company had to collectively own $25,000 of insurable property."

More information taken from the 100th anniversary history noted, "The company continued a gradual growth and made changes as they became logical within their conservative and careful management practices. The territory was enlarged to include Spring Valley, Fillmore, LeRoy, Bennington and Frankford townships."

The company name was changed to Bloomfield Township Mutual Fire Insurance Company in 1921.

Early policies of the insurance company covered cars and trucks. "This coverage was deleted in 1947. Our greatest growth in insurance in force and coverages provided by the company, as well as the area we serve, took place after the late '40s ... the company had operated on a post assessment basis since its organization. The assessment amount varied according to the losses incurred. The advance premium method of payment was adopted in 1957."

Also, in 1958, Bloomfield added coverage for "theft, vandalism, overturn and collision of machinery," and started writing blanket policies. In 1961, it started "broad livestock coverage as part of the policy," developing a program "of using veterinarians on livestock claims ... the intent was to get a professional diagnosis for the benefit of the policy holder, and it became so popular that it was adopted statewide among the mutual insurance industry."

In 1976, Bloomfield established a fire, wind and liability package policy, in cooperation with Grinnell Mutual and Spring Valley Tornado Company. Having spent its first 91 years being operated from the home of the secretary of the board of directors, the insurance firm's move to its own building on South Section Avenue in 1978 was monumental.

Bloomfield today

Bloomfield is among several other mutual insurance companies in the area that are marking their 125th anniversary, including those in Austin, Lanesboro, and one in Cannon Falls that is marking its sesquicentennial.

Webb related, "We'll have a celebration in July at the community center, a dinner and music for the policy holders. Irene Mathison made a nice quilted wallhanging for the anniversary."

The business has supported the community over the years by donating to the Mower and Fillmore county fairs and buying ribbons from the livestock auctions, providing scholarships for five local school districts, contributing to various school functions like post prom parties and FFA, and school sports in the Kingsland district.

Bloomfield Mutual gets its staying power from its conservative practices, Webb stated. "We've always offered property insurance since back in the '50s, and then we started offering personal liability and property insurance as a package together. That's what we offer today. It was always a very conservative company within this area, and it remains conservative today.

The company's investment philosophy includes being prudent with its earnings so it can continue. Webb noted, "Our board of directors has always been one that's had a lot of forethought for the future.

"One thing we stress is accuracy in service to the customers. It's been a big piece of our philosophy for a long time."

Perhaps the reason that the insurer remains viable and thriving today is that its staff and board of directors have dedicated many years and hard work to the company.

"I've been here 25 years - I was the adjuster and inspector for 20 years, and I've been manager for the last five years. Every day, there's quite a variety of tasks, processing policies to underwriting and setting up claims.

Webb added, "Everyone who works here is a person of many talents. Joyce Arneson has been here 25 years as well, and she's our office manager, processor, bookkeeper, accountant. Brian Bernard is an adjuster, inspector, processor and substitute bookkeeper. He's been here five years. Former managers who made it all possible have been John Deatsch, who was here from 1982 to 2007, and Erwin Ruesink, who was here for 32 years before John ... people stick with the business once they get into it."

Webb noted, "Some of the board members are the real backbone of the company, particularly the board of directors. Three have been here over 20 years. The longevity of the people has to be a testament to what we're all about."

Bloomfield Mutual Insurance presently covers farms and homes in a nine-county area of southeast Minnesota. It belongs to the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies and the Minnesota Association of Farmers Mutual Insurance Companies.

Webb concluded, "We're quite conservative, so the growth of our company is in a stable financial environment. We're hoping to continue our strength and stability into the future."