Mentored by local insurance agents in Wadena over 60 years ago, a young Toby Pierce took a chance at starting a business in Wadena, leaving behind his farming background.
It was a risk that's paid off well for him and his family.
Operating out of his home in 1959, he and his wife Jeanette started Pierce Insurance Agency, gradually moving from Second Street, then 10th Street and eventually to the current location at 16 Dayton Ave. SW in 1998. That same year, one of his five children, Erin came on board as an insurance agent as well. She eventually bought the business in 2014 and this year, the business is excited to keep going after 60 years.
Growing up on a farm east of Wadena, Pierce knew that farming was not right for him.
"Cows want to be milked twice a day, every day," he said. It didn't seem like the right fit.
While he didn't continue the farming tradition, his work ethic and desire to always be doing something was apparent as he began to build his business and to pour himself into the community. Pierce recalls going door-to-door in those early years, making cold calls and getting to know every dairy farmer in the area. Back then, they were everywhere.
The agency became known for the fact that they are an independent insurance agency that sought to create relationships with their customers. It's something the business still holds firm to.
Erin still hears about those relationships from the kids of the parents that did business with the agency. Many of those kids are now clients and recall a special treat on their birthday, a card and stick of gum for everyone under age 10.
"I meet people to this day that are 50,60 years old that say 'oh when I was little it was my birthday, I'd go to the mailbox, you could just smell the gum, you knew it was in there,'" Erin Pierce recalls.
"They were so excited to get that gum and they were also sad when they turned 11 and they no longer got gum."
Eventually Toby grew the business to where he earned clients through reputation and the business still totes his name because of that reputation.
The 60 years of business was celebrated with a community lunch and supper from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on June 6. It was not a retirement party. But a beautiful day brought great crowds to share in the celebration.
"He's not retiring," Erin said, emphasizing that Toby doesn't like to hear about retirement. She shared that while she feels she's slowing down, she feels her dad is speeding up. While he is semi-retired, he still comes in daily to share his vast knowledge.
"Most people are smart enough to get out before 60 years, I didn't figure that out in time," Toby said.
Toby's been on the Wadena city council, Elks, Lions, community center board, Jaycees and more. He said he started the park board and was instrumental in getting a community center and a sledding hill in town.
"I think I helped Wadena," Toby said of his service to Wadena while being a husband, father, referee and business owner. He still serves on Rising Phoenix and Wadena HRA boards. And because he's spent time in public office, and has had his fair share of criticism, he takes advantage of opportunities to light a fire under certain members of the community in an effort to keep his community looking good. He's been known to prune branches of trees throughout the city in order to maintain the looks of Wadena. It's clear he has a passion to see the community flourish and he feels that Wadena is setting up for a great future.
Toby doesn't share his age, but he does state on the record that he started his business when he was 5.
He managed to graduate from high school, attend college at the University of Minnesota, join the Army and get married in those extensive five years. His wife, Jeanette, passed away in 2012 from Parkinson's disease. Erin said her mother was the rock in the family. Erin and Toby both shared how much they missed having her in their lives.
While Erin owns the business and serves as the health insurance specialist, she is joined by Katie Uselman, who has worked with the agency since 2008 and currently serves as commercial and personal lines specialist. Also holding the office together is Brittany Evans, Health Insurance Specialist and Personal Lines Specialist.