By Lorie Lewis Ham
This year the Mennonite Aid Plan celebrates 100 years in business, and last month we took a look at their first 50 years. This month we are looking at the last 50 years. As mentioned in Part 1, they got their start in 1922 when a small group of Mennonite Church members from Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and California united 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.
During the ‘70s, Mennonite Aid Plan continued to see a lot of changes. Many of the changes that came over the next several decades involved the board and investments. The demand for liability policies was increasing and they decided that it was imperative that they find a way to meet that need. The number of policies was now over 3,000, with a total risk of almost $85 million. With the increase in policies, there was also a plea made to increase their two office staff members from part-time to full-time, and in 1975, the office space was expanded as well. In 1979, they became incorporated as a Nonprofit Mutual Benefit Corporation. With the incorporation, came a change in the board—they merged their boards and went from five to 12 members.
In 1980, the board saw even more change as the Advisory Board became part of the main board and was called the Advisory Committee and had nineteen members. However, the monthly meetings were held by the seven local members. The 1981 conference was held in Fresno. Another change to the board came in 1987 when the members residing in Central California became known as the Management Committee and started meeting monthly with a focus on reviewing claims. A major change in their office happened that year as well when they first started using a computer!
In 1983, the Aid Plan decided to do more than just meet the insurance needs of their community so they decided to start making charitable contributions. The ‘80s also saw an interest in investing in managed accounts at Merrill Lynch. By 1985, a little over $825,000 was invested in bonds and other dividend-producing accounts.
The 1990s saw more changes to their investing as they began to look for a more diverse method of investing their surplus. They started using John Dolan for managing their investments in Stocks and Bonds, and in 1991, they agreed to allow stocks to consist of up to 45% of their investments.
In 1992, California instituted regulations that effectively required appraisers to be licensed insurance agents. The mid-1990s saw some significant changes on the business side of things. Jeff Carter became their CPA and Ron Licata became the general manager. Ron was authorized to settle and adjust claims. Previously to that, the board and management committee had dealt with all claims. They also pursued forming an agency for one-stop shopping and continued to move more into the computer age by purchasing the Rural computing system for managing policies. In 1999, it was decided they should use a professional appraiser to evaluate farms, churches, and commercial and mobile homes.
The early 2000s saw more property changes. They purchased land next door to their office in Reedley to use as a parking lot and a new sign was installed at the front corner. By March of 2016, they still hadn’t been able to offer a reasonable liability policy, and they felt they were losing clients because of it. After much deliberation and prayer, they decided to hire a lobbyist in Sacramento and were able to present a bill that allowed them to write liability. The bill was passed and signed by the governor, and after almost 65 years of trying, they were finally able to start writing liability in 2018! Sadly, in 2001, they had to stop writing new business in Arizona as they did not conform to Arizona laws.
Like the rest of the world during the last few years, they have had to deal with the challenges of the COVID pandemic, which saw them working from their homes for a time. Some of their staff still work remotely. “At any one time, about half of the office staff are working remotely,” shares their current Chief Executive Officer Jerry Linscheid, who has been with the company since 2009. “For the foreseeable future, we expect that to be the way we operate.”
In 2021, after using the Rural software program for over 25 years, their data was converted over to the BriteCore system which will hopefully serve them for another 25 years.
In 2022, Mennonite Aid now has seven staff members and recently celebrated its 100 years in business with a banquet at Wyndham Garden Hotel at the Fresno Yosemite Airport. They have had a long and interesting history, here’s to another 100 years! If you have a story to share about a special experience with Mennonite Aid (whether as a staff or board member, or a client) we hope you will share it 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.