Offering insurance to those that want to be able to weather the storms of life has been a part of Bill Stearns life for the last 42 years.

Stearns worked all those years in Wadena after hearing about an opening at a State Farm insurance agency there while living in southern Minnesota. He and his young bride Audrey picked up and moved to the town they knew nothing about and set down roots that kept them here and involved ever since.

“This is where the opening was at State Farm, so this is where I ended up,” Stearns said.

At the time, Audrey recalls thinking she was moving to the big city. And at the time, Wadena was bigger in some respects. The 25 year old gal could peruse seven women's clothing stores. But things changed. State Farm soon stopped offering health insurance. Soon after, Audrey entered the world of insurance out of their home and eventually with her husband, housed in the very same building across from Wesley Hospital.

At noon, Wednesday, Nov. 27, the day before Thanksgiving, Stearns sent off his final transactions and with family nearby, entered the world of retirement -- with no regrets.

Stearns turns 70 in January and felt now was a good time to retire to make room for those things he and his wife still want to do. One thing they plan to do soon is travel to the Rose Bowl Parade with backstage passes to the event in California. It’s been on Audrey’s bucket list for some time.

“You can’t work forever,” Stearns said.

Audrey and Bill Stearns stand at the State Farm Insurance Agency in Wadena shortly after arriving in town.
Submitted photo
Audrey and Bill Stearns stand at the State Farm Insurance Agency in Wadena shortly after arriving in town. Submitted photo

The bulk of Stearns’ clients go to a new agent in Perham, Jake Bothwell. As many of Stearns' customers come from East Otter Tail County, State Farm found it fitting to move operations to Perham. Bothwell is located at 127 E Main Street, Suite A in Perham, but maintains the Wadena phone number, 631-2999.

While Bill is off to a new strange world of retirement, Audrey remains working at Midstate Insurance Services. Bill's space in the building will likely be open for rent in the spring. At this time, Audrey said she has a great staff and has no plans of retiring soon.

“She wrote a lot of business I couldn’t write,” Bill said of his wife.

He recalls enjoying the customers and adjusters that he worked with, trying to make their difficult days better. The biggest event he recalls was the 2010 tornado. His agency paid out about $10 million in that event. A big chunk of change, but a fraction of the total damage done.

Many changes in the insurance industry were taken on by Stearns. Doing everything on paper, moved to doing everything on giant green screen computers and eventually laptops and cell phones. His first office, near the present day Pemberton Law Office, wasn't much larger than a pair of bathrooms, according to Audrey. Despite these changes Stearns said that the customer base hasn’t changed a lot, just gotten bigger.

“I’ve had customers that have been with me all 42 years,” Stearns said.

Stearns continues to serve on the Wadena County Commission and the Wadena Development Authority board. He has three years remaining in his term as a commissioner. Stearns has a history of public service in the community. He said continuing his work in those positions will help keep him busy doing something he enjoys.

His three staff members are entering other jobs. Rhonda will be working at the Perham office while two other staff are interviewing for other jobs, Stearns said.

Audrey said life with Bill retired isn't much different as he still gets dressed and heads out the door for regular meetings most days.

"He's a moving target," Audrey said.

She probably misses his staff the most as they helped her keep track of her husband's whereabouts.