Achenbach truly a ‘good neighbor’ for 48 years as insurance agent

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Dean Achenbach (left) retired on Aug. 1, after nearly five decades in the insurance business. Succeeding him is his grandson, Ben. (Photo by Correne Martin)

By Correne Martin

 

Forty-eight years to the day after being selected as the State Farm insurance agent in Prairie du Chien, on Aug. 1, Dean Achenbach officially completed his career with the same company.

He still remembers his very first customer pitch: “If I could get you a better deal on your home and car insurance, would you be interested?”

In fact, Dean swiftly recalled an exchange he had with a customer from his very first day on the job—one that is funnier today than it was at the time. Growing up working for his mother on the Achenbach farm outside of Prairie du Chien, he was used to rising around dawn. So, he got to work bright and early, ready to give the above, well-practiced pitch. About 7 a.m., he stopped by a woman’s house. She came to the door, looking disheveled and unamused. In response to his question, she asked, “Sure, but can we talk about it a little later?”

An uncertain Dean promptly headed back to his desk and called his grandfather, Noel Daugherty, who was a State Farm agent in Boscobel at the time. When he explained the story, his grandpa reminded him that not everyone wakes up at the crack of dawn. From then on, Dean still made calls between 6 and 8 a.m., but only to farmers.

Though, to this day, that woman and her husband are still customers of the business.

When Dean entered the insurance field, on Aug. 1, 1974, he benefitted from a lot of good advice from his grandfather, who was in the business from 1949 until a few years after his grandson started.

Now, Dean has retired and passed the torch down to his own grandson, Benjamin Achenbach, who was also appointed the Prairie du Chien agent recently by State Farm. 

Ben came to his grandpa about three or four years ago, while in college, and broached the idea of taking on the agency. Dean had pondered retirement but decided to hang on until Ben could take the reins.

“In January of 2021, I had a health issue and Ben took over. He did quite well frankly. He has great management skills,” Dean stated. 

So, on Aug. 1, 2022, the next generation assumed the duties. 

Things are much different than they were when Dean stepped in almost five decades ago.

He graduated from UW-La Crosse with a business management and finance degree. Then, it happened that there was a position open in Prairie du Chien. Tom Rink was the departing local agent. 

Dean said it was the good reputation of the company and the desire to help people solve problems that lured him in. 

“There were four other insurance agencies in town: White-Gates, American Family, Rural Insurance and Sutton Insurance,” he noted. “I took the advice of another, and on the first and second days, I went and introduced myself to the others. They were all wonderful and said to call them if I needed any advice. It’s kind of cool to have cooperating competitors who are very respectful of each other.”

Originally, Dean’s office was on the front porch of their home on the same corner where the State Farm office is today. It didn’t take long for the interference of customers with family life to become more than he and his wife, Connie, could bear. But the location was perfect for the agency. So, the house was moved to South Dousman Street and a separate office was built in its place. There, he’s remained for his entire 48 years. 

What insurance agents do for their customers has not changed much over the years, in Dean’s opinion. “That is to help people manage the risk of everyday life,” he said. “But, the tools we do it with have changed a lot.”

For example, small rate cards for auto, fire, life and health insurances, as well as client folders and later microfiche, have been traded in for smartphone applications that record and display those details for customers at the click of a button. Most of the time, agents gave quotes right inside their customers’ homes, and interaction with the company was done by mail. Nowadays, phone conversations can be had, and oftentimes, customers can finalize their rates and services online almost instantly. 

“Changes in our technology have made things easy and convenient, but I always tell people to let us help them. We like to do that,” Dean said. 

Products and services have expanded with time too, of course. Dean said the company now offers financial planning, opportunities to invest in securities, assistance with retirement distribution planning, and limited banking products, etc. 

Dean feels as though he’s been successful for 48 years because he’s been blessed with numerous longterm employees.

“My team members have provided excellent customer service,” he commented. “I’ve also made a conscious effort to hire people who will bring in the 20-30 year olds. Years ago, I hired older employees who more easily brought in older clientele.”

Still, the primary State Farm customer base remains hard-working, middle class Americans. 

Dean also feels lucky to have had lots of support from other businesses in community. He said that’s been vital to his business as well as theirs: “We all live here together.”

Now, he’s looking forward to retirement, in which he’ll likely continue some of his volunteer work with the Rotary Club and St. Peter Lutheran Church. He also plans to support the Villa Louis Carriage Classic, which he started many years ago. Additionally, he was one of the original founders of the Prairie du Chien Little League, he was a Jaycee when the Prairie Villa Rendezvouds started, he was on the Children’s Ranch and La Riviere Park committees, and he was there in the beginning of the Town and Country Jamboree. 

“It’s hard to turn in your resignation,” Dean said. “I’ll miss the daily interaction with customers.”

But he knows the State Farm agency is in good hands locally. Ben has been with him since June 2020.

“I just want to say a big ‘thank you’ to everyone. And, when I see you, I’ll thank you in person,” Dean added, in words to his customers. “The best thing about this was getting to help people and the freedom to manage my own business, which allowed me to prioritize work and family.”

Dean also shared his appreciation for his wife, Connie, and their sons for their patience over the years. Sons Denton and Aaron are both State Farm agents in Ellsworth and Madison, respectively.

A retirement open house in Dean’s honor will be Friday, Aug. 19, from 2 to 7 p.m. at the building along East Blackhawk Avenue. All are welcome.

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