By Lorie Lewis Ham
This year the Mennonite Aid Plan celebrates 100 years in business! They got their start in 1922 when a small group of Mennonite Church members from Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and California united to sign up for the first $400,000 in risks as a goal to organize a Pacific Coast organization for property insurance. They originally formed as a way for the brotherhood of believers to care for their own. The motto of Galatians 6:2, “Bear ye one another’s burdens and so fulfill the Law of Christ” was adopted and remains the official motto today. The group organized by electing a Board and elected Henry Dallke to serve as the General Secretary (Manager) to set up the proper records. Later, J. S. Bergthold was elected to serve as the Treasurer.
Times were simpler in 1922. The main concern was in assisting an individual when there was a loss or damage to their homestead. The Aid Plan quickly found that it was successful and broadened their coverage to other areas such as barns, sheds, and crops.
During the first eight years, the business was conducted in the home office of Henry Dallke and he stored documents in the office safe of Reedley Lumber Company. Sadly, due to a fire at the lumber company, records for those early years were destroyed. Attempts were made to restore the early records from some of the early appraisers in other states in an effort to at least preserve some records for that first period.
From 1930 to 1940, business was conducted in the office of Citizens Lumber Company (the former Western Lumber Company) in Reedley. In 1934, they asked if they could use the lumber company’s fireproof vault for their records to help ensure there wouldn’t be any further loses. From 1940 to 1959, business was conducted in the home office of General Manager August Schroeter.
In the 1940s, the California Department of Insurance started to take an interest in their organization. They didn’t quite know what to do with them because they were a religious organization that was offering what looked to CDI like insurance. In 1949, at the suggestion of the insurance commissioner, the board consulted an attorney to look into requirements for forming a mutual insurance company.
The 1950s saw a lot of change for Mennonite Aid Plan. It became apparent that an interim board was necessary to provide direction between the conferences (the conferences were taking place every three years). The seven members of the continuing board were called the executive board. They met 12 to 14 times a year and decided the outcome of claims. The executive board looked to the interim board and to the conference for policy decisions.
Also during this decade, there was a continuing concern that they operate properly within the law, but the law was vague concerning religious organizations and the insurance commissioner often didn’t have any answers for the group. So in 1954, the Aid Plan sponsored legislation to define them as a religious organization. It was adopted into the Department of Insurance Code and they began operating under this code.
By 1960, they had grown to the point where it no longer worked for them to be based out of someone’s home office, or the offices of other businesses—they needed their own office building. One was constructed and dedicated on September 17, 1960. At about the same time, the executive Board was renamed the Board of Directors and the Interim Board was renamed the Interim Advisory Board. The Board of Directors were given authorization to invest funds and perform all business and legal matters during the interim. By the late 1960s, the conference reorganized so that only trained appraisers would serve as delegates. The conference also changed to meeting every other year rather than every three years.
In 1966, decisions were made to expand services into Alaska and Arizona since the California Department of Insurance had no objections, however the expansion into Alaska never ended up coming together.
In 1973, the Mennonite Aid Plan celebrated 50 years of service with a banquet and special speakers. Those first 50 years of “bearing one another’s burdens” saw a lot of changes as the business continued to change and grow. Much more change was to come over the next 50 years! Keep an eye out for part 2 of their story! In the meantime, we would love to hear stories from you about how Mennonite Aid/Mennonite Insurance has helped you over the past 100 years! Please share with us on our Facebook page.
Note: The information for this article came from the following articles- From 1922 to 1973 written by board member at the time Earnest Enns, A Report After 73 Years written in 1995 by persons unknown, and Mennonite Aid Plan: 100 Years of Bearing Each Other’s Burdens written by current board member Jim Brandt.