Real estate, postal service, dry goods, and insurance—Lansing’s oldest family business is still insuring Lansing families
by Carrie Steinweg
This article is part of a series featuring businesses that have at least a 50-year history in Lansing. To submit a local business for consideration, email The Lansing Journal.
LANSING, Ill. (January 23, 2018) – Family businesses that go on from generation to generation are a rarity anymore. And those that succeed do so with a combination of hard work, family dedication, loyal customers, and an ability to adapt with the times.
Lansing has a few such businesses that have enjoyed longevity and continuous operation by family members. The one to do it the longest is Walter W. Schultz Insurance Agency. Founded January 23, 1923, Schultz just celebrated 95 years in business—all at the same Torrence Avenue location.
The business originated under the name Charles C. Schultz & Sons. The building originally had two entrances, with different portions of the business on each side.
It was nearly 20 years before an employee outside the family joined the business. Millie Ogborn was hired July 9, 1942, and she still lives in her Lansing home near Lan-Oak Park. Ogborn would walk from her home every day to her job, where she started out as a postal clerk in the summer after her high school graduation.
She explained that Walter Schultz ran an insurance and real estate business in the south portion of the building as well as overseeing the Oak Glen Post Office and serving as Postmaster. It had been decades since the community of Oak Glen had been incorporated into Lansing, yet it still had its own post office until the 1950s, which was located in the Schultz building until 1951 and then moved down the street to Hatfield’s Delicatessen. Originally the north portion of the building was a dry goods business run by his brother, George, that later transitioned to bottled gas and relocated.
Focusing on insurance
In the late 1960s, the real estate business was discontinued, and the business concentrated fully on insurance. It was operated by Walter Schultz and his wife, Cherrie. Following Cherrie’s death in 1991, the business was run by their daughter, Diane Abbott, and son-in-law, Norman Abbott. Today the business is owned by Norman and run by their daughter, Cheryl.
Cheryl began working at the business when she was 16 and started out doing the mail. Today she does all the accounting for the business as well as handling the computers/information technology. “I like working for myself and continuing something that my grandfather started,” she said.
She’s seen the insurance business change quite a bit from when business was handled primarily on paper to everything being entered into computer. “The last ten years everyone wants to do everything online,” she said.
Ogborn also saw big changes over her 37-year career at the agency. When she started, mail was dropped off by train at the Grand Trunk rail station in Oak Glen at 10:15 in the morning and brought back to her for sorting. She recalled people from Ripley’s Believe It or Not visiting Lansing to record the only village of its size with two post offices.
In 1979, as computers were just being introduced in the business, Ogborn said that they initially complicated the work that she’d been doing. She could foresee that computers would be a big part of her job, and so she decided to retire.
“Wonderful and generous”
She regarded Walter Schultz as “the most wonderful and generous boss anyone could have,” describing him as having characteristics similar to George Bailey in the classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life. “He was so generous and helped so many people in town to go into business by loaning them money to get started. He and his brother and Gus Bock donated the property for the 20-acre Lan-Oak Park,” Ogborn said.
Cheryl Abbott said that the busy agency offers auto, home, life, health, and business insurance. “We’re an independent agency. We can quote with five or six different companies, and some have better rates than others do,” she said. “We shop around for the customer and give them different options.” If none of those options fit what the customer is looking for, then she says Schultz agents aren’t pushy.
The business currently has a staff of eight. Two of the agents have been with the company for four decades. Dan Derks has been employed by Schultz Insurance for 40 years, and Jim Janssen has been there for 41 years.
“We are happy to celebrate our 95th anniversary,” said Norman Abbott. “My father-in-law’s focus was always service to his customers. And we wouldn’t be here without our longtime customers. We are really looking forward to getting to our 100th year. Not a lot of companies can say they’ve done that. It’s kind of a monumental thing to say that a family business has been around for 100 years.”