It all started in 1914 in a small schoolhouse in Brunswick, Missouri. Farmers came together to organize the Missouri Farmers Association, a business cooperative to buy supplies and provide an outlet for products.
In 1946, the farmers saw the need for reliable vehicle insurance, and thus, the MFA Mutual Insurance Co. began, according to the company.
From there, the company expanded and opened its new corporate headquarters building in Columbia. The company started offering life insurance in 1959 and also expanded into other states, including Arkansas and Kansas.
In 1981, MFA and what is now Shelter Insurance broke apart, and Shelter became its own company, choosing to remain in Columbia.
Jay MacLellan, director of public relations at Shelter, said that during all of the company’s change and expansion, its roots in Columbia have remained strong.
“The whole time, even as MFA, it’s been tied to Columbia,” MacLellan said.
There are approximately 1,200 Shelter Insurance employees in Missouri. In the company’s 21 other operating states, there are an additional 800 employees located in branch offices, according to MacLellan.
The office complex on Columbia’s west side is considered the hub of Shelter’s national operations. In Columbia, there are software developers, IT staff, human resources, training and investments specialists, as well as other behind-the-scenes departments that help keep the company running.
“When you think about everything that’s going on in our operating territory, right here in Columbia is where our employees are trying to help support and maintain what we do for the insurance that we have throughout our 21-state operating territory,” MacLellan said.
Shelter Insurance offers many different types of insurance for Missourians and people around the country including car, life, home, farm and business insurance. The biggest percentage of insurance services is auto, according to MacLellan. The second biggest offering for the company is property insurance.
Shelter Insurance has four principles that guide the company’s mission and actions. The first is the commitment to selling insurance. Second is to provide the best possible service to customers. Third is to be good stewards of the community. The fourth is to do the right thing. The third pillar, serving the community, can be seen through Shelter Insurance’s involvement in Columbia.
“We are community-minded, and so by that I mean we live and work in the communities where we are as a company. We have a lot of people in Columbia ... and we tell them to get involved,” MacLellan said.
Shelter Insurance employees can be found volunteering at local food banks, the Boys and Girls Club, the Ronald McDonald House and other places.
The employees’ commitment to the community is similar to their commitment to each other. MacLellan described the company’s employees as “one big family.”
This family mentality has stayed strong throughout the company’s history and the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the start of the pandemic, the majority of Shelter Insurance’s employees have been working remotely.
As of October, 80% to 85% of Shelter’s Columbia-based employees were working from home, according to MacLellan.
Even throughout the pandemic, one thing has stayed consistent: the serenity of Shelter Gardens, next door to corporate headquarters on West Broadway near Stadium Boulevard. The gardens get scores of daily visitors and are a popular backdrop for prom and wedding photographs. The gardens were built in 1974 and have been updated through the years. During the pandemic, they have been popular among employees and others who want to be outdoors.
“In 1974, they said we need to build a garden that can be a centerpiece for citizens here in Columbia, and what a centerpiece it’s been,” MacLellan said.
The garden features seven different areas intended to make you feel as if you’re in different parts of the world. When employees are working from the office, many will spend their break time in the gardens.
Inside the garden, the focal point is the schoolhouse in the center, which pays homage to the beginnings of Shelter Insurance in Brunswick. Anyone can visit the schoolhouse and learn about the history of Shelter Insurance and its beginning as Missouri Farmers Association.
Leading into Shelter Insurance’s 75th anniversary in 2021, Shelter Gardens will get a new section called the Inspiration Garden. It will feature a memorial plaque with the 75th anniversary logo and a wall listing employees and agents who have died. Other events are being planned for the anniversary.
During its 75 years, Shelter Insurance has won numerous awards. Most recently, Shelter Insurance placed first in the J.D. Power Central Region for auto insurance for its commitment to customer service to policyholders. The company won this award in 2016, 2018 and 2019. From 2017 to 2020, Shelter Insurance was named one of the best places to work in insurance by the Best Places to Work Group.
MacLellan said he believes the honors show the company’s dedication to its customers as well as its employees.
“It shows, number one, our desire to give the best customer service, and that was voted on by customers saying that we have done that obligation to them,” MacLellan said. ”And in terms of best places to work, that goes to our employees, and they certainly appreciate the fact that we have the company that we do and take care of them, and they enjoy their time working for us.”