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High standards, adaptability, variety mark Sandeen Insurance’s 100 years

John Fehr, Kay Sandeen and Kay’s daughter Meme Fehr in the reception area at Sandeen Insurance’s Second Street office in Hudson. (Hudson Star-Observer photo by Chuck Nowlen)

Ask Meme Fehr, her husband John and her mom Kay Sandeen about what’s set the family insurance agency apart for a century, and the first thing they talk about is high standards.

“It’s a reputation of honesty and integrity,” agency Vice President John Fehr said in a weekend interview at Sandeen Insurance’s downtown Hudson office. “You have to have both or you won’t make it for 100 years.”

High standards start with the people who serve the agency’s customers, of course: the Fehrs, Cindy Jahnke, Heidi Robbins, Vickie Harris, Jennifer Dreawves, Cori Michaelson and newcomer Cathy Munnekin.

Together, they represent more than 130 years of community leadership and insurance excellence –- and that’s no accident.

Wisconsin and Minnesota, for example, require all insurance agents to be licensed and to attend continuing education classes to keep current, but the Sandeen agency takes it a step further: All employees are encouraged to pursue official National Alliance for Insurance Education and Research certifications in addition to state requirements.

Company President Meme Fehr notes proudly that she and two other Sandeen staff members –- Jahnke and Robbins -- are Certified Insurance Counselors through the National Alliance.

“It’s a very rigorous education program. We’ve stressed industry education to the maximum,” she explains.

“It allows us to stay current on trends and coverage in the industry. It allows us to tackle complicated risk and give people the best advantage for their coverage. … When loss happens, the most important thing in the customer’s mind is that the coverage is there.”

Back in the day

Sandeen Insurance is celebrating its 100th year of continuous service this year with a new motto -– “celebrating the past and embracing the future.” Kay Sandeen, whose husband Bob bought the agency in 1954, knows a lot about that.

She started in the office “just to help out a bit” after Bob took over from Russell Hennington, whose father founded the agency in 1914. She worked there for another 40 years, becoming a licensed insurance agent early on.

“I never had any intention of being an insurance agent, and I worked until 1994,” Kay says. “So things do change -– and I must say I had fun doing it.”

Ah yes, change. It’s a constant in the insurance business.

In the old days, there was no such thing as a package policy. Home insurance was limited to fire and smoke. If a customer wanted windstorm, vandalism and/or malicious mischief coverage, separate policies had to be written.

Commercial-property insurance involved a complicated rate formula that Kay and Bob mastered. Competitors often called on them to figure out the rate for downtown Hudson buildings.

“I typed up fire and auto policies in our office,” Kay recalls. “We typed them up on an old manual typewriter.”

The U.S. mail was the necessary official communication method. Large, thick envelopes passed often -- and slowly -- among customers, the agency and its many insurance carriers. Now much of it happens by email and download.

Industry trends have also changed dramatically every few years with customer needs, premium-price fluctuations with the stock market and ever-expanding legal requirements.

“Twenty years ago, the buzzword was 'pollution liability,'” Meme remembers. “Today, the buzzwords are ‘employment practices liability’ and ‘cyber liability.’ Those didn’t exist 20 years ago.”

Changing with the times

Sandeen’s emphasis on high-quality continuing education has been paramount in staying on top of it all. Same with the agency’s independent status, which gives customers more options in a fast-evolving market.

Sandeen Insurance has always been independent. Today, it has access to more than 35 insurance carriers, including Travelers, Auto Owners, West Bend, Blue Cross Blue Shield, General Casualty, AAA, Hartford, Selective, Progressive and many more.

The company also uses an insurance brokerage firm with “global exposure” so “if we don’t have it, we can find it,” John notes.

He explains the customer value of independence this way: “Not everybody wears a size 13 triple-E shoe. But if you’re only working with one company, you have to fit the customer to what you have.”

Adds Meme: “We have a super group of carriers that can handle all of the risks we encounter. So once we analyze the risk, then we can determine the carrier that fits the customer’s needs best, both in coverage and in price.”

All along, Sandeen Insurance has been a pillar of the Hudson community. Current staff members, for example, are active in the Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau, the YMCA, the Hudson Hope

Foundation, United Way of St. Croix County, the Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts, Habitat for Humanity, The Phipps Center for the Arts and many other local groups.

In 2004, the agency was named the Chamber of Commerce’s Business of the Year.

The first hundred years? Well, that’s just the beginning.

“We’re looking at the next 100 years, and I hope I’ll be around for most of it,” John laughs.

Sandeen Insurance is located at 605 2nd St. For more information call (715) 386-5825 or go to

Chuck Nowlen

Chuck Nowlen joined the Star-Observer team as a business, township and general-assignment reporter in April, 2014 after a three-decade career in newspapers and magazines, and as a newsroom-management/business-planning consultant.

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