Porter Insurance celebrates 75th anniversary with open house Tuesday

Gene Deason Special to the Bulletin
Members of the Porter Insurance staff today are, from left to right, top, Jeana Fulfer, Kathy Day, Amy Hamrick, Nancy Lackey, Mayra Mares, Brenda Hicks, Stephanie Blackburn, Betty Knight and Elva Cantu; and bottom, Richard Porter, Robert Porter and Warren Blesh.

A sideline loan business for S.F. Porter had grown to the point that the accountant/bookkeeper for Weakley-Watson decided to leave his “day job” in 1940 and open his own company in Brownwood.

The business he formed — S.F. Porter Company, today known as Porter Insurance and managed by two of his grandsons — will celebrate its 75th anniversary with an open house this week at its downtown Brownwood office, 100 North Fisk. The public is invited to join the celebration from 3 to 6 p.m. Tuesday.

“While we enjoy a great legacy, we cannot take our success for granted,” agency President Robert Porter said. “We have to continue to earn that trust every day.”

“We want to thank our many loyal clients over the past 75 years,” Vice President Richard Porter added. “We appreciate the confidence they’ve shown.”

The two brothers said such confidence is importance in their business, because they’ve found that the best advertising is one satisfied client telling someone else about the company.

S.F. Porter moved from Decatur to Breckenridge in the 1920s, living there for 18 months before settling in the town of May in 1926. In 1929, he began working as an accountant/bookkeeper for another storied family-owned business, Weakley-Watson.

“While he was working there, he started making small personal loans to area residents for vehicles and household purchases,” Robert Porter said. “It grew to the point that in 1940, he formed S.F. Porter Company. He obtained his insurance license and opened an office next to Hotel Brownwood,” at 210 Fisk.

“Even to this day,” Robert Porter said, “many people tell us that S.F. Porter made them their first car loan. They would have to be in their 90s now.”

Their father, Gene Porter, worked at the agency on a part-time basis while attending college at Howard Payne. He left to join the U.S. Army, and marched across France and Germany, fighting in the Battle of the Bulge and serving with the group that liberated the German concentration camp at Dachau.

After the war, he returned to Brownwood and Howard Payne, and was married to Bernice McCuistion, whom he had met as a freshman.

After graduation, he began his full-time insurance career. It was just S.F. Porter, Gene Porter and one secretary in the office.

S.F. Porter died at age 61 in 1958, and Gene Porter continued leading the agency. In 1965, the company purchased its current Brownwood location at 100 North Fisk, remodeling it and occupying half of the building. At that time, the other half was rented to Landmark Life.

Through the years, the client base grew, and other agencies were acquired. In 1966, Gene Porter bought the Lyle, Forbes and Denman agencies.

Robert Porter joined the agency in July 1975 after obtaining an accounting degree from Baylor University and serving 3 1/2 years in the U.S. Navy. Richard Porter joined the agency in 1977 after earning an engineering degree from Trinity University and working for GTE four years.

As Porter Insurance continued to expand, the North Fisk facility was remodeled, Landmark Life moved to a nearby downtown location, and Porter Insurance occupied the entire building.

Gene Porter died Oct. 1, 2002. Bernice Porter Paul died March 20 this year.

Porter Insurance added the Wall Agency in 2006, and its Early branch was created.

From S.F. Porter’s three employees in 1940, the company has grown now to 10 employees plus the two Porter brothers.

In February 2005, the agency joined a group of other agencies in an association known as Combined Agents of America.

“The purpose is to share insurance markets and management ideas,” Robert Porter said. “It’s a formal networking opportunity that’s grown from 34 to 52 agencies in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. It helps us improve efficiencies, learn from other agencies and adhere to management best practices. It opens doors to a lot of insurers, and adds many opportunities for better premiums and coverage for our clients. We are an independent agency, and offer many different lines of insurance — commercial, home, auto, life and health.”

Several employees have had lengthy tenures with Porter Insurance, and they have been instrumental in providing the high quality of service the agency provides. Among them is Ethel Adams, who worked at Porter Insurance for 44 years before retiring at age 86 in 2010. She was hired by Gene Porter after he finalized the acquisition of the Forbess Agency in 1966. She had previously worked for two other insurance agencies here, Smith Bell and the Cravens Agency.

Other long-time employees include Rita Beakley, 26 years; Elva Cantu, 25 years; and Doris Anderson, the secretary when S.F. Porter opened the agency in 1940.

The brothers, Robert and Richard Porter, said they have had a congenial relationship combining business and family for almost four decades.

“For 38 years, we’ve just enjoyed a great partnership as we worked to build the agency together,” Robert Porter said. “We enjoyed the opportunity of doing that every day with our own father for 28 of those years.”