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Berlin Mutual still in business after 137 years

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012 1:57 p.m. CST
Caption
(BCR photo/Lyle Ganther)
Harold Read is the secretary/treasurer of Berlin Mutual Insurance Co., while Phyllis Bill is the assistant secretary of the company that has been operating in Bureau County for 137 years.
Caption
(Photo contributed)
The board of directors in 1939 for Berlin Mutual County Fire Insurance Co. as it was known then were Elmer Lundgren (front row, from left), E.B. Anderson, Watts J. Harris, Carl J. Pierce, William Ioder and Charles Myers; John Schlund (back row, from left), L.D. Coulter, Lincoln H. Cass, F.E. Beatty, E.E. Zearing and W.S. Watson.

Editor’s note: This story in another segment in the BCR’s continuing series on area businesses that have served area residents for more than 100 years.

PRINCETON — Berlin Mutual Insurance Co. has been in existence for 137 years.

Since Bureau County farmers couldn’t get insurance on their property in the 1870s, they formed farm mutuals to pool their money together and formed this company in 1875. Berlin Mutual, formed in Berlin Township, expanded to neighboring Dover and LaMoille townships

“Many farmers insured their barns, not their houses,” said Harold Read, the current secretary/treasurer and manager of the company, “If a barn burned down, everybody involved in the company would help pay for it. Over time, the company built up premium money to cover those losses.”

The number of these companies has dwindled throughout the years from nearly 700 at its height in the United States with about 100 of them in Illinois. There are now 70-75 in Illinois and are county mutuals.

“It is harder and harder for mutuals to stay in business because of operating expenses and economies of scale,” Read reported.

Berlin Mutual now serves 30-plus counties in northern Illinois.

“The conservative nature of the board has helped the company over the years to control its expenses,” said Read. “They built up money over the years and invested it conservatively. Policy holders own the company, not stockholders.”

When Read took over in 2000, he was the only agent for the company, a practice that has stood the test of time since the company’s early days. Since then, Read has added agents to help the company’s growth and now is able to serve other counties to spread the company’s risk. Five agents in northern Illinois now are a part of Berlin Mutual.

Seven local people who must be policy holders serve on Berlin Mutual’s Board of Directors.

Florian Bangert was the company’s secretary/treasurer from 1969 to 2000 when Read took over. Myron Cass served in this position from 1954 to 1969. Under Cass’ leadership, the company was built up and grew, said Read, who grew up in Putnam County and still lives in Senachwine Township, the same township he was born.

The Berlin Mutual office used to be located at 315 N. Main St. in Princeton since the 1950s before it was moved to its current location in 2005. Prior to moving to Princeton, the company’s office had been in homes of the secretaries, starting in Berlin Township.

A group of interested citizens from Berlin, Dover and LaMoille townships met on Dec. 5, 1874, as reported in a book compiled for the company’s 100th anniversary in 1975. No minutes of that meeting exist, but one on Dec. 14, 1874, said that four men from Dover and LaMoille townships were appointed to solicit their respective townships in forming a new township insurance company with Berlin Township. The first policies of the company weren’t written until May 1, 1875, when applications exceeded $50,000.

The company’s earlier secretaries or managers were J.H. Westcott from 1875 to 1878, G.F. Carter from 1878 to 1905, Aaron Dunbar from 1905 to 1919, J.B. Allen in 1919, C.J. Pierce from 1919 to 1941, Myron Cass from 1941 to 1969 and Florian Bangert from 1969 to 2000. Read has been in that position since 2000.

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