SIDNEY — Jan. 1, 2021, marked the 135th anniversary of the inception of a local insurance company with humble roots. Ruese Insurance Agency Inc. has been around the block a few years – quite literally! For more than 100 years, Ruese has held its offices within the courthouse square in downtown Sidney, despite moving location several times. Currently, their offices reside within Courtview Center on the east side of the courtsquare, only a few blocks from the building in which their parent agency began.
A young man by the name of Lafayette Merrick Studevant arrived in Sidney a short while after moving to Anna with his parents from Indiana in 1875. He began his career as an apprentice in the local newspaper office before moving to Columbus Grove in 1879 where he spent a year publishing a newspaper. In 1880, Studevant entered into a commerce school in Lima, and upon graduation he accepted a position as bookkeeper for an Allen County bank. He briefly spent time as a cashier in Ridgeville, Indiana before returning to Sidney and becoming the bookkeeper for the Philip Smith Manufacturing Co.
On Jan. 1, 1886, L. M. Studevant began a business venture into fire insurance. He called his fledgling company the “People’s Insurance Agency.” Its office was located on the second floor of the Hickok building at 103 N. Ohio Ave., currently home to Simply Cozy Co. It was in this same office several months later that Studevant met with a group of like-minded individuals to organize another building and loan establishment in Sidney.
On Oct. 1, 1886, the same group of citizens met again, this time in a courthouse assembly room, to produce a state charter and solicit stock. Officers were elected alongside a board of directors, with L. M. Studevant being selected as secretary. By Oct. 23, Studevant announced that the books for the company were open to membership out of his insurance office on Ohio Ave. In the fall of 1887, the People’s Savings and Loan association offices moved north to the J. C. Royon building to occupy the “Carey Bank Room.”
As his insurance agency and fledgling savings and loan grew, a larger space was required to conduct their business. On the southeast corner of the square, the newly constructed Robertson building seemed to be the perfect choice. 1899 was a busy year for Studevant, as this was when he helped organize the First National Exchange bank. Rumor is he grew tired of traveling to Piqua in order to make deposits with a federally funded bank so he helped to establish one here in Sidney. Peoples Insurance Agency also expanded to include farm and property insurance alongside fire insurance. William Kingseed joined the insurance venture as well, giving it the brief new name “Studevant & Kingseed Insurance Co.”
Shortly after the turn of the 20th century, Herman Theodore Reuse began his own venture into becoming an insurance agent. Ruese was born on a farm just outside of New Bremen near Schwaberow Cemetery on state Route 274 in 1874. He started his career as a school teacher before turning to the insurance business. According to the 1908 Sidney directory, he had his own office at the Amos building on the south side of the courtsquare. Also in 1908, H. T. Ruese was named Shelby County Auditor, a position in which he served two terms until 1912. It was around this time (1910) that the Peoples Insurance Company was composed of the following types of insurance companies and policies offered:
• Accident: Aetna Accident Ins. Co. of Hartford, American Fidelity Ins. Co. of N. Y., Fidelity & Casualty Co. of N. Y., and Hartford Insurance Co. of Cincinnati
• Automobile: Columbia Ins. Co. of N. J. and Insurance Co. of N. A. of N. Y.
• Bonds: Fidelity & Casualty Ins. Co. of N. Y. and Fidelity & Deposit Ins. Co. of Cincinnati
• Fire & Cyclone: Aetna Ins. Co. of Hartford, American Central Fire Ins. Co. of St. Louis, Atlas Assurance Co. of London, Cincinnati Underwriters of Cincinnati, Columbia Ins. Co. of Dayton, Commercial Union Fire Ins. Co. of Chicago, Connecticut Ins. Co. of Hartford, Cooper Fire Ins. Co. of Dayton, Fidelity Fire Ins. Co. of N. Y., Fire Association of Philadelphia, Franklin Ins. Co. of Phila., Georgia Home Ins. Co. of Columbia, Ga., Glens Falls Ins. Co. of N. Y., Hanover Fire Ins. Co. of N. Y., Hartford Ins. Co. of Connecticut, Insurance Co. of N. A., Michigan Fire & Marine Ins. Co., Minster Mutual Ins. Co. of Ohio, Ohio Farmers Ins. Co. of LeRoy, O., Orient Ins. Co. of Hartford, Pennsylvania Fire Ins. Co. of Pa., Philadelphia Underwriters Ins. Co. of Pa., Queen Ins. Co. of N. Y., Royal Exchange Assurance Co. of London, Scottish Union & National Ins. Co. of Eng., Shawnee Ins. Co. of Topeka, St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co. of Minn., and Sun Ins. Co. of England
H. T. Ruese eventually became the manager of Peoples Insurance Agency, and in 1923, he and Jesse L. Dickensheets purchased the agency, which by then had moved to the Woodward building at 119 S. Ohio Ave. Around 1927, the Peoples Insurance Agency moved to the Mathers Building next to the Monumental Building at 125 ½ S. Ohio Ave., just a few buildings south of its previous location. On July 18, 1929, it was announced in the paper that H. T. Ruese, his sister Florence, and only son, Lloyd Ruese, were the incorporators of the newly named “Ruese Insurance Agency Inc.” Lloyd had been helping his father since two years prior to its incorporation, most likely after the retirement of Jesse Dickensheets, who later passed away due to his failing health in 1931.
In 1934, H. T. Ruese became the first manager of the state liquor store in Sidney, a position he held even after retirement from his insurance agency. By 1940, Ruese had retired from his position as manager of the Ruese Insurance Agency, Inc., leaving the family business to his son, Lloyd. H. T. Ruese passed away a few years later on October 29, 1946. As the years went by, the “family” part of Ruese Insurance Agency Inc. expanded yet again when Robert Dunham, Lloyd’s son-in-law, joined the agency in 1953. By 1960, the business moved from the Mathers building to the other side of the court square at 116 S. Main Ave. Dunham then progressed to part-owner of the venture in 1964, when a secondary articles of incorporation were filed. In 1978, Lloyd Ruese was honored by the Westfield Insurance Company for 50 years of continuous service with the Ruese Insurance Agency, Inc. A short time later, Lloyd retired, passing the company to Robert Dunham, before he passed away in 1982.
Paul Gahagan joined Ruese Insurance Agency in 1969, helping to make Ruese one of the largest multilined agencies in the area, and became part owner of the firm just three years later in 1972. On January 1, 1975, the Belser Agency, Inc., one of Shelby County’s larger agencies, merged with Ruese Insurance Agency, Inc. Joseph Belser, their owner, became vice president alongside Paul Gahagan under Bob Dunham’s presidency. Mark Dunham, Robert’s son, joined Ruese Insurance Agency in 1980 after graduating from Wittenburg University and completing his five month training course through Westfield Insurance Co. Robert Dunham retired from the company on March 31, 1987, leaving Paul Gahagan the sole owner of Ruese Insurance Agency, Inc. The following year in December, their articles of incorporation were dissolved and in January of 1989 Ruese Insurance Agency merged with Phelan Insurance Agency, Inc., each keeping their respective names and offices. That same month, their offices were moved into the newly constructed Courtview Center, which had been built on the same site as the previous Ruese office building. Also in 1989, Rudy Keister, began working for the agency after his graduation from Wittenburg University as well. In June 1995, a new Articles of Incorporation were filed yet again and the following year, in 1996, Mark Dunham and Rudy Keister purchased the agency and became its new co-owners.
Over the last 20 years, the Ruese Insurance Agency Inc. has experienced several more mergers with local insurance groups. 2001 was a significant year for the expansion of Ruese Insurance Agency, Inc. In January of 2001, Ratermann Insurance Agency in Fort Loramie merged with Ruese Insurance Agency Inc. of Sidney to expand their products and services to their clientele while retaining their same locations and staff. A wider selection of insurance carriers such as Cincinnati Insurance Company, Westfield Group, Indiana Insurance Company, Motorist Mutual, Utica National, Monroe Guaranty and Progressive was then available to policy holders not just in Shelby County, but several of the surrounding counties as well. Only a few months later, in April of 2001, the Bennett Insurance Agency Inc. also merged with Ruese Insurance Agency, Inc. With the actions of this seamless merger, the two oldest agencies unified underneath one banner to serve the citizens of Sidney and Shelby County. On Feb. 1, 2003, the Ruese Insurance Agency purchased the McColloch-Baker Insurance Service in Piqua, which became their first office location outside of Shelby County. Five years later, in January 2008, they acquired their second Piqua office: M. J. Koon and Sons Insurance, thus even further expanding their reach and range of services.
Ruese Insurance Agency Inc. to this day provides insurance for many individuals and corporations throughout Shelby County and the surrounding area. Thank you for 135 years of service and here’s to hopefully many, many more!
This article was written by Jane Bailey, curator of the Shelby County Historical Society, with information provided by Rudy Keister and Josh Ross of the Ruese Insurance Agency Inc. and Deb Geuy of Peoples Federal Savings and Loan Association.