Warner and Co. marks century of helping area pick up the pieces
FARGO - Fargo-based Warner and Co. insurance agency will turn 100 years old next month. Over the course of those years, many of the biggest moments in the history of the independent insurance agency have also been some of the toughest for the region.
FARGO - Fargo-based Warner and Co. insurance agency will turn 100 years old next month.
Over the course of those years, many of the biggest moments in the history of the independent insurance agency have also been some of the toughest for the region.
There was the 1957 tornado that devastated a huge swath of north Fargo.
The flood of 1997 tested the entire Red River Valley and swamped a Warner and Co. branch office in Grand Forks.
Brian Hayer and his sister, Denise Magness, who are continuing a tradition of family ownership at the agency, speak with pride about the way Warner and Co. handled both disasters.
"When we lost that office (in Grand Forks), what we did was forward all the calls to Fargo so we could handle the claims. Then our employees from Grand Forks came here," said Magness, the agency's executive vice president and COO.
She said within a half-hour of the Grand Forks evacuation order, the agency was taking care of clients.
Grand Forks employees were put up in hotels and temporary housing for 18 weeks.
Also, Magness said, "we were very proud of how our insurance companies stepped up."
The same was true for the '57 tornado, according to Hayer, the agency's president and CEO, who said the agency's insurance companies paid out $2.5 million.
"At the time, that was a huge amount of money," his sister added.
Hayer and Magness grew up in the insurance business but say they never felt pressured to follow in the footsteps of their father, Harold Hayer, who joined Warner and Co. in a leadership role in 1964 and purchased the agency 10 years later.
Harold Hayer retired in 2008.
A third generation of the Hayer family recently joined the business with the hiring of Magness' daughter, Jessica, who will be selling home and auto policies.
Hayer and Magness say they share their father's passion for an industry they describe as exciting and challenging.
One thing that makes it so is the connections they enjoy with clients, Magness said.
"What I get to do almost every day is share their personal excitement: the buying of a special anniversary ring, or they're buying their first home.
"We get to share in a lot of happy moments and then be prepared to share in the sad moments, too," she said.
"It's helping people in the toughest times of their lives, whether it's life insurance or helping a business get back on its feet," he said.
Over the decades, the agency has acquired more than a dozen other agencies, with the branch offices serving as consolidation centers.
"With our branch offices, we've always left one of the local names. We've always honored that connection," Magness said.
In Grand Forks, the branch office is Thompson Insurance. It's Kramer Insurance in Bismarck and Schiller Insurance in Detroit Lakes, Minn.
The family frequently gets offers from companies wanting to buy Warner and Co., which has 50 employees across all of its branches.
"I get calls all the time," Brian Hayer said, adding: "We love this community, and we have no plans of selling to somebody in New York. We like our independence."
Hayer said on a national level, the insurance industry is under stress from this year's high number of disasters, ranging from wildfires to tornadoes and other types of storms.
"We've had one of the most catastrophic years ever," he said. "I think we'll be seeing, nationwide, increases in premiums and rates."
Important events and dates in the history of Fargo's Warner and Co. insurance agency:
- October 1911 - Raymond D. Warner, with only two years' experience as an insurance salesman, founded the agency with partner Alonzo Rupert. Within four years, the agency - then called the Rupert-Warner Agency - moved from shared office space at 609 NP Ave. to larger quarters.
- By 1920, Rupert had sold his interest in the company to Raymond Warner and Warner's two brothers, Fred and Clifford, and the agency had moved to new digs in the new Merchants National Bank Building.
- 1930 - The agency's name changes to Warner and Co. A year later, the company moves to what was then the newly built Black Building.
June 1957 - A deadly tornado causes heavy damage to parts of Fargo. Insurance companies represented by Warner and Co. pay out more than $2.5 million in tornado claims. Raymond Warner would later say that because of the way losses were handled, the company made many lasting friends.
1960 - Warner and Co. moves to its current location in the 300 block of Broadway. The building is so large Warner and Co. initially rents much of it to other businesses. The agency now uses all of the space.
Also in the 1960s, Warner and Co. is the first agency in the nation to write a comprehensive business policy that covered a number of major categories of insurance in one tidy package. The agency keeps the original in a framed display.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555