Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Insurance Man

Cover of an insurance policy taken out on me the year I was born. Photo by Robert C. Trube

Both my grandfather Trube and my father worked as insurance men for The Prudential for a time, my grandfather until he retired, and my father early in his working life. The policy pictured above is one I own that my dad took out on me the year I was born. He made annual payments on it for 20 years of $22.79 and then gave it to me. I took a loan on the cash value to buy my first car because the interest rate was so much lower than car loans. True confession time–I just paid off that loan this year. I had paid a yearly interest fee for many years of $17 and just decided, probably more in the interest of tidiness than anything, to pay it off.

It reminded me of a job that, for the most part, no longer exists, that of the debit insurance man. That’s what both my dad and grandfather did. Debit insurance is life insurance under which the payment is made weekly, biweekly, or monthly. It was a way that lower income families were able to purchase life insurance. My father sold insurance and collected debit insurance payments for an area that covered much of Youngstown’s lower West side. Many of his policyholders worked in the mills. Given the risks of working in the mills, life insurance was an important protection. I remember my father speaking of insurance payments to widows of men who died in mill accidents. It could not lessen the grief, but it was something.

My dad called the territory he covered “the debit.” Much of his work was to visit each of the policyholders and collect their payments. There were no automatic deductions or online payments back then. Many didn’t have checking accounts and so sending money to an office through the mail was risky. In the insurance business back then, the office came to them, and my father made his living on a tiny commission he received on each payment.

You can imagine that it wasn’t an easy life. My dad only did it for a few years. But I remember how much he enjoyed the people he visited, especially around the holidays, when he was invited in for a drink, or to have a bite of the holiday spread, or walked away with a plate of cookies. The rapport and trust he built led to referrals, allowing him to serve others on the lower West side.

Debit insurance is not the most cost effective form of insurance. Home collection and commissions added to the cost. Not all insurance agents were reputable. But it was the way many lower income people could buy life insurance. My father and grandfather felt they represented a reputable company (which still pays me dividends on that little policy) and that they provided an important service to their policyholders, celebrating with them when life was good, and grieving when it wasn’t. It was personal, dealing with things we don’t like to but must think about.

That policy? It now costs me nothing but isn’t worth very much in today’s dollars. As much as anything, it is a reminder of my father, who made this provision many years ago. It reminds me of one piece of my family history. And it reminds me of how much our world has changed.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

6 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Insurance Man

  1. This brought back memories of my mothers payments to the insurance man. Thanks for bringing back the past. My mom scraped to make the payments and did without the finer things in life to make this sacrifice.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t often comment, but I really do like these posts about your formative years. Insurance men are featured in a lot of novels, but they really don’t exist anymore in the same way, and its interesting to see how closely connected you are to them.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I remember those days. My parents had Prudential. My mom passed in 2018 and I went to the office on the westside to close it out. I was told then it was closing its office for good.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My Dad sold insurance, as well, in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s in Youngstown and surrounding areas. He would visit his policy holders to collect their monthly premiums and many
    times would come home with light bulbs, baked goods, chickens and other forms of payment. My Dad had big heart.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My grandfather and a few other relatives worked for Prudential through and/or after WWII. They had the same experiences as your father and had fond memories of the customers they came to know well. I have still the plaque my grandfather received when he retired. And, yes, I still have the policy he took out for me when I was born.


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