The History Of German Mutual
In 1867, German Mutual was established to serve the needs of the German farmers who had no other resource for insurance. This association operated on the assessment plan, premiums owed depended on losses incurred. It was named at that time, German Mutual Insurance Association of Henry and Defiance Counties.
The association was limited on what risks they could insure—namely dwellings, farm buildings, churches and township buildings. Perils covered were fire or lightning, smoke, windstorm, riot and falling and moving bodies.
The officers were a President, who conducted all meetings and a Secretary, who kept records of insured property, collected the assessments and paid the claims. A Board of Directors, who insured the property, adjusted losses and appraised or viewed the property every five years. When a loss occurred, the order given to the Secretary, was signed by two Directors, and paid by the Secretary.
The Association had a three-man Auditing Committee. They were given the duty to verify the numbers, assessments collected and claims paid. At the Annual Meeting, one member of this committee would read the names of the members that received payment for losses and the amounts paid.
Assessments could be paid at various local banks and the money remained in a savings account until the association had need of it. Directors and the Secretary would also collect assessments.
The Association held two Board meetings a year, one in the summer, the other in December. Directors were paid for their expenses at the latter meeting. When Directors insured property, they were paid one dollar per thousand and collected ten cents to be paid to the Secretary. In later years, Directors received five dollars for attending the meetings. They were also paid for adjusting claims.
Assessment notices were mailed to the membership on a penny postcard printed in German. In later years, the cards were printed in English. The notice gave the total amount of insured property and the amount owed. The assessments were due on the 10th of February. Since all those aforementioned people worked for the Association on a part-time basis, the assessment notices were mailed in the winter months, when they had time from their farming duties.
Every policyholder was to have a ladder to make small repairs and in case of a chimney fire, as most homes had wood shingle roofs. There was a ten dollar deductible on all storm losses.
Johann Hermann Benien was elected Secretary in 1912. A translation of his autobiography, which he wrote in German when he turned 73, also states he was the first Secretary in 1868 and that he came from Visselhovede to the distant westerly state of Ohio to the quite small town of Napoleon in 1860 at the age of 18. Benien changed the records from a ledger system to a card system. This system was used until the Association changed to a computer.
In the early 1900’s, John W. Knape, was elected Secretary and had the office at 1023 North Perry Street in Napoleon, Ohio. He served as secretary until his death in 1932. Martin Knape, his son, was then elected Secretary and moved the office to his home on the Adams Ridge Road, south of Ridgeville Corners, Ohio. In 1950, he moved to Napoleon and again the office was at 1023 North Perry Street.
In 1950, the Association began to insure property in towns and villages. They previously avoided the concentration of risks should there be a severe storm. In 1952, the limit on buildings was increased to $20,000. Directors’ pay increased to $10 per day, the Secretary to $12.
In 1963, the limit on livestock was increased to $50,000 to satisfy the needs of cattle feeders. In January 1966, Martin Knape retired and his son, Rupert Knape, was elected Secretary. The office was again moved to the home on Adams Ridge. Rupert worked part time and his wife, Lois, also worked in the office.
This is the first 100 years of the Association and there were only minor changes. Rupert recalls Directors’ meetings when losses were discussed and the rate was set for the assessment. Martin would treat with a glass of wine and a cigar. Smoke was so dense it was difficult to see across the room. Mrs. Knape requested that cigars be eliminated.
In 1966, the Association purchased reinsurance for catastrophe coverage to avoid having a special assessment in case of a severe storm.
In 1967, the Ohio Mutual Insurance Association of Bucyrus, Ohio provided the funds to establish a stock company, known as the United Ohio Insurance Company. At that time, the primary purpose of United Ohio was to provide coverage for certain perils, such as Liability, Theft, etc., which assessment associations could not cover. Paul McIntosh, Vice President of United Ohio Insurance Company, met with the Board of Directors of German Mutual, presented the details and purpose of United Ohio Insurance Company. At the meeting, the Board of Directors agreed to invest $10,000 in United Ohio Insurance Company.
In order to sell the coverages provided by United Ohio, the agent had to be licensed by the Insurance Department of the State of Ohio. Paul McIntosh held classes in Napoleon and most of the directors of German Mutual attended and became licensed agents.
In 1969, United Ohio developed a Farmowner and Homeowner policy which allowed the assessment mutual company to cover all the perils they could legally write, with United Ohio providing coverage for the additional perils. Before writing the Farmowner and Homeowner policies, the United Ohio Insurance Company and each assessment mutual company were required to make a filing with the Insurance Department of the State of Ohio. The filing for United Ohio and German Mutual was made and approved by the Insurance Department in 1969.
In 1971, the company records were programmed on a computer by Midwest Data of Celina, Ohio. Assessments notices were mailed with a return envelope and all payments were made to the Home Office. In 1972, Ron Hefflinger was the first director to attend a NAMIC (National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies) convention held in Denver.
In 1973, the name was shortened and “of Henry and Defiance Counties” was deleted from the name of the Association. Directors and Officers Liability insurance was purchased and also the association began the payment of commissions to directors and agents. In 1977, a NCR 499 computer was leased which could be located in the office. The storm deductible was increased to $50.
In 1978, an A-frame building was purchased at 1044 Chelsea Avenue in Napoleon. It was remodeled and the office moved to this location. In 1979, pictures were requested with all new applications.
In 1981, Penrod George CPA, replaced the Auditing Committee. A new computer was purchased from Nafziger’s of Archbold. They also provided software and service.
The new supplements and combination policies worked quite well for German Mutual Insurance. The major problem, which caused some confusion, happened when a loss occurred. Many times the insured had to deal with both companies in getting the claim adjusted. The “Director Agent” could not settle claims involving coverage provided by United Ohio. In June 1984, the Board of Directors decided to hold a Policyholder meeting for the purpose of presenting a plan for German Mutual Insurance Company to convert to an advance premium company, which would allow German Mutual to write all the coverages that other advance premium companies were writing. The policyholders approved the plan. Before converting to an advance premium company, The Insurance Department of the State of Ohio required a Policyholder Surplus of $2,500,000. The Ohio Mutual Insurance Company bought the United Ohio stock from German Mutual that gave them the necessary surplus to go advance premium. The actual conversion began in September of 1984 and the Insurance Department gave their approval effective January 1, 1985. Paul McIntosh joined the Company as Director and Secretary in 1984.
In 1985, new policies were issued and mailed to all the policyholders. A billing was enclosed allowing them to pay quarterly, semi-annually or annually. If they remained with the company, one-fourth of the past assessment would be forgiven. Nearly 100% remained with the company.
In 1985, the Company began writing a Religious Institution Policy; in 1987, Commercial General Liability, and in 1988, other Commercial policies were added to the products German Mutual provided. Paul McIntosh was instrumental in promoting these product lines. The company also began branding product lines with the Heartland trademark.
Seeing the need to provide personal automobile insurance for the customer as well as home and farm insurance, German Mutual filed to write automobile insurance in 1986 and Kevin Luster was hired as the automobile underwriter. The first automobile policies were written in January, 1987.
Beginning with renewals effective January 1, 1987 or after, policies were changed from nondeductible to a $100 deductible.
The company was growing with new agencies being appointed as it expanded its writings outside of Henry and Defiance counties. The current building at 1044 Chelsea became too small and a new building was needed. Additional land had been purchased beside 1044 Chelsea when it was bought. Greg Rupp of Pettisville designed the building, Vernon Wachtman constructed same, which is now the building at 1066 Chelsea Avenue.
In June of 1988, the company moved to the new office. Written Premium for the company was at three million. Phyllis Knape and Ned Giffey began working full time. Ned Giffey became Vice President Claims and the loss adjusting became his responsibility. Ron Sands joined the company in 1989 and became the Secretary. Ron performed the marketing duties and called on the agents throughout Ohio. An inflation guard plan was approved in 1989 for automatically increasing dwelling coverage.
The company held Monte Carlo contests for its agents in the 1990’s to increase premium writings. Play money was awarded based on business written which was used to buy prizes at an auction during a weekend at Sawmill Creek, Huron, Ohio. A new computer, 8550 Digital, with eight times the capacity of the old computer was purchased in 1991.
The Board of Directors gave the following individuals the title of Vice President at the March meeting in 1996. Robert Warren, Vice President & Comptroller; Jim Nafziger, Vice President & Systems Analyst; Phyllis Knape, Vice President of Underwriting & Assistant Treasurer; and Ron Sands, Vice President of Marketing & Secretary.
Toward the end of the 1990’s, the need was apparent for more office space. Land was purchased north of Napoleon High School, near the Route 6 and 24 interchange, on Westmoreland Avenue for this purpose. The Collaborative Inc. of Toledo, Ohio designed the building and Rupp/Rosebrock, Inc. was the builder. The new office was occupied in March of 1999.
A new computer, an AS 400, and software package was purchased in 1998. This began a project of converting policies from the current system to the new one. Homeowners was the first policy type to be issued from the new system in August of 1999.
In January of 2000, Philip Menzel, joined the Company as Vice President and became President in 2001. Rhonda Bockelman was appointed Treasurer.
In 2004, Rupert and Lois Knape retired after working for German Mutual for over forty years. Their years spanned a career helping Martin and Irene Knape at 1023 N. Perry (1960’s), having the office in their home on Adams Ridge Road, moving the office to Napoleon at 1044 Chelsea (1970’s), and building new offices at 1066 Chelsea (1980’s) and 1000 Westmoreland (1990’s).
The company has truly been blessed with good policyholders, dedicated employees and directors, good loss ratios and profitable investments. We sincerely thank those farm families who have remained loyal with German Mutual through the generations. With the success of the company, we truly believe we are insuring America’s Heartland.
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