JoAnn Kuschel was asked three times to join Boeuf and Berger Mutual Insurance Company in 1973. She said no all three times.
Now, 45 years later, Kuschel is retiring as the company manager and has served on the board of directors for the company.
Kuschel grew up in Hermann on a farm. Her father was a schoolteacher.
In 1955, he decided to purchase a Western Auto franchise in Downtown New Haven.
The family continued living in Hermann and drove into New Haven every day.
“At that time I was 12 years old and they decided they wanted me to go to the New Haven school because they wanted me to help them work downtown,” Kuschel said.
She helped out at the store as much as she could. There she learned how to count back money and write up receipts.
While she didn’t enjoy cleaning and dusting the store, Kuschel loved talking to customers and checking off toys.
Kuschel remembered instead of being dropped off at school, her dad would have her watch the store while he went to the bank in the mornings.
“So sometimes I would need to go down there for a while and then I’d walk up the hill, up those awful steps across the railroad track from downtown and walk the rest of the way to school,” she said.
Kuschel graduated from New Haven High School in 1961.
Shortly after graduating from high school she got married and started having a family.
Kuschel stayed home with her six children and eventually ran a day care in her home.
“Over the years I wanted to spend time with our children,” she said. “I thought that was important rather than going out and having a job. Our family was more important than that and we were able to do that.”
Kuschel said she had 87 different children come through her day care.
“It was a source of income at that time for me,” she said. “That was my work.”
That was until Henry Gerdes started calling.
Taking the Job
“In 1973 I was contacted by the board president, (Gerdes), from Boeuf and Berger Mutual,” Kuschel said.
Gerdes offered her a position as the secretary/treasurer.
Back then, the company didn’t have an office so the secretary/treasurer would host the meetings in their home.
“When he asked me, I refused,” said Kuschel.
She didn’t want to take the position due to being happy with her day care.
The first no didn’t stop Gerdes from calling back though.
“Well, I told him no three times,” Kuschel said. “Three times. Three different times he called and I always said no.”
One Sunday morning Kuschel remembered her parents came to her house.
“This gentleman had called my dad,” she said.
Her father convinced her to find out what the job entailed and what the job description was.
When Kuschel called the lady who was the secretary/treasurer then, Kuschel asked if there was anything she didn’t like about the job.
The lady replied that the company gets a lot of bad checks.
“I thought wait a minute I know what they are because once in a while we’d get one at Western Auto,” Kuschel said. “Years ago that was kind of a problem sometimes. People would write bad checks and they would bounce. Then Dad would have to track them down and try and get the money.”
Kuschel told Gerdes she didn’t want to deal with that.
Gerdes said he didn’t know anything about that and called the secretary/treasurer.
“Then he called me back and he said ‘JoAnn, I called her and she told me she might get one bad check a year,’ ” Kuschel said.
So Kuschel thought about taking the job.
The deciding factor was her father, who was serving on the board at the time.
“He said ‘I think that it would be a good thing for you and I think some day you would be glad that you did it,’ ” Kuschel said. “One thing that I knew about my father was that he had good insight about things. I thought maybe I should listen to this.”
Kuschel finally accepted the job.
“As it turns out, it has been one of the best things,” she said. “It’s been a good experience for the most part. There’s been bumps in the road just like every other position.”
Kuschel’s husband had to finish a room in the basement so she could provide a meeting room for the board of directors.
Kuschel had to furnish all of the equipment.
“The only thing that they owned was a file cabinet,” she said. “That came to my house.”
During this time the company only had 350 policyholders. Now it has 3,641 policyholders.
“We were very small,” said Kuschel. “I mean that’s the way these mutuals started.”
Kuschel continued her day care and did her office work in the evenings and on the weekend.
Back then the office work consisted of sending out bills, paying bills and reviewing claims.
In 1985, Kuschel started attending meetings with the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (NAMIC) and the Missouri Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (MAMIC).
“I was learning a lot of things from those meetings,” she said. “I was meeting a lot of new people and found that in visiting with them a company needed to grow to exist. So I asked the board of directors if I could add some new agents and they were in favor of that. So I started recruiting agents and we started growing. It got to the point where I didn’t have enough room for any more file cabinets.”
That’s when she gave the board an ultimatum.
Kuschel told the board they either needed to rent or build a building.
“I said ‘Those are your options because my office is too small and we’ve grown too much,’ ” said Kuschel.
She began to realize she was starting to need help. So she had to shut down her in-home day care.
Kuschel was given the go-ahead from the board of directors to build a building on part of her father’s property.
He owned land where the current Save-A-Lot is in New Haven after moving his Western Auto to the highway.
Kuschel’s husband helped her draw up plans and design the building.
“He took measurements and I took pictures,” Kuschel said.
By 1986 the company had its own office building.
“Then I was going to work every day,” she said. “I used to stay at home and work, (but) not anymore.”
Kuschel said the company has grown a lot since she first started. “The only thing we (insured) when I first started were farms,” she said.
Now the company covers dwellings, farms, commercial policies and business, beauty/barber, churches, organizations, mobile homes, rental, vacant and seasonal properties and more.
“These are things that I’ve added since I’ve been here,” she said. “I found that other companies were doing all these things from going to meetings.”
Kuschel had a huge guide she worked with that contains everything the company covers and the rules for the coverage.
“You have to have rules for everything,” she said.
Kuschel’s husband designed their house in 1964 and they’re still living there.
They own a farm, but Kuschel doesn’t help out with that.
“That’s his baby,” she said. “We have grandchildren that like to help.”
The couple have 14 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
“Our grandchildren have sheep out there,” Kuschel said.
Aside from Kuschel serving on the board of directors for Boeuf and Berger, her father served from 1947 through 1986.
Then before that, her grandfather was one of the founding fathers of the Boeuf and Berger company, which was established in April of 1908 in Stony Hill.
“I hope they’re looking down and smiling,” Kuschel said. “I wouldn’t want to let them down.”
In 2001, Kuschel was elected to serve on the NAMIC Board of Directors as the first woman to serve on that board.
In 1988, she was awarded a Distinguished Service Award through MAMIC.
Then 10 years later she was named the NAMIC Farm Mutual Manager.
Kuschel was named to the MAMIC Hall of Fame in 2007.
She then won a service award through the NAMIC Political Action Committee in 2008.
By 2009 she received her director certification for being a director for NAMIC.
In 2010 she received the highlight of her career. She was awarded the Professional Farm Mutual Manager of the Year.
“Out of 3,000 people they chose me that year,” Kuschel said.
After retiring from the company, Kuschel said she’s been keeping busy.
She loves to take care of her grandchildren and visiting her 96-year-old mother at The Homestead in Washington.
Kuschel plans to spend more time with her family and volunteering at St. Peter’s United Church of Christ, Washington, where she previously served two three-year terms on the church council.
“I’m sure I’ll find something to keep me busy,” she said.
She’s also interested in traveling more.
“I like the East Coast,” Kuschel said.
She named one trip in particular to Bar Harbor, Maine, as the best trip.
“I’m ready to go back,” she said.
She’s hopeful she can convince her husband to take her there.