State Farm agent

After 47 years as a State Farm agent, Bob Burns retired this year.

The smartest decision he made was to move to Abilene, said retired insurance agent Bob Burns.

“Absolutely. Absolutely. The smartest move I’ve made is staying,” he said.

Moving to Abilene in 1973 as an agent for State Farm Insurance, Burns had many opportunities to move up in the ranks at State Farm. But he chose to stay in Abilene.

Here he enjoyed life and a group of friends.

“I have a great nucleus of friends,” he said. 

He had the opportunity to be a regional manager with the company and to also join State Farm’s main office at one time.

“I thought to myself, ‘You are happy out here. If you get up there, you are going to hate it,’” he said. “I just stayed where I was. We’ve had a good life here.”

Burns started working in the insurance business in the claims office in Wichita after he got out of the service.

“They wouldn’t talk to me about going into an agency until I was married,” Burns said. “I fully understand why they did that.”

The company finally agreed that Burns, after his marriage to Karen, should go to Abilene and apply for the agency position where agent Frank Engle was retiring.

“I was up here the next day and stayed,” Burns said.  

He said he and Karen had a difficult time finding a home when they moved here in 1973. They ended up on Spruceway where they became acquainted with lifelong friends. 

“We’ve had such a great time with the people in this town. It was just a godsend for me to come up and find people to work with,” he said.

His friends will agree that Burns always has a good story to tell.

He said he bought his daughter Emily a new four-wheel drive vehicle he thought would be safe for her to drive.

“I told people after owning that for about a year, it was the only vehicle I ever owned that got 13 miles to a gallon whether it was parked or running.”

Memorable Claims

Burns said it seemed like every year there was a fatality accident on Old Highway 40 between Chapman and Solomon.

“They finally got smart. They finally quit drinking and driving . . . at least most of them did,” he said. 

He said Old 40 now has expanded shoulders which has reduced the number of accidents.

One of his first catastrophes was a house fire in which two kids were killed.

The Chapman tornado in 2009 and back-to-back hailstorms in 2011 and 2016 had some big claims. 

Burns said he was out of town when the tornado hit Chapman.

He said a roof on a local church was a $450,000 claim. Another storm created a $500,000 roofing claim.

He said insurance fraud is rare but often is easily detected.

“Most people have so much of an investment in their property, they can’t afford to let it deteriorate,” he said.

After working in a tiny office downtown, he said it was time to make a move in 1978.

“We had 14 file cabinets and they were all full,” he said. 

He built the building on northwest 15th street.

“I didn’t want to do it all myself,” he said. “At the time I was seeking a tenant, I heard the fire sirens going off.”

There was a fire above the office of Abilene dentist Frank Holtz on Second Street. 

“What a great guy he was,” Burns said. 

“Frank, I’m thinking about building an office. Would you have any interest in that?” Burns asked Holtz at the time.

Holtz jumped at that opportunity.

“We never had an argument. He was a great guy,” he said.

School board

Burns was a member of the Abilene School Board for several years and served as president.

He was on the board in 1989 and 1990 when the district went from neighborhood schools to grade level attendance centers.

“We were getting hate calls at our homes,” he said. “But we had really quality people on that board.”

His fellow board members included Michael Bolton, Gary Boyd, Dale Emig, Paul Hettenbach, Glen Shank and Doug Sheern.

“The grade level attendance centers turned out to be the smartest thing we ever did,” Burns said. “We were having problems with class enrollment all over town.”

The neighborhood school situation often created problems of creating combination grade classes in some buildings and overcrowding for those same grades in other school buildings.

Burns fondly recalls Marlin Berry as assistant superintendent of schools and Bill Neuenswander as superintendent. Berry went on to be the superintendent for Abilene, Olathe and in Arkansas.

Berry was named Superintendent of the Year in 2013.

Insurance interest started early

Burns said State Farm Insurance has been a part of his life, even as a child.

“When we were growing up in Girard, Kansas, the next door neighbor was a State Farm Agent working out of his house,” he said. “I absolutely idolized the man.”

He said the agent, Bill Schuler, would always give the young Burns something to do. 

“He made me feel important,” he said. 

Amanda West now is the State Farm Insurance Agent and Dr. Mike Robson is in the same building where Holtz was when the building was built.

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

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