Long-time insurance man Rick Girdler to retire April 1

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Carla Slavey, Commonwealth Journal, Somerset, Ky.
·5 min read
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Mar. 25—"I've always told my kids, do what makes you happy. Not everybody's made to do the same thing."

That advice seems to have served Rick Girdler well, as he has stuck with the insurance business for 43 years.

And though he is retiring in the next few days, Girdler seems pleased to have secured one of his close family members to take over his Shelter Insurance business — his son-in-law Jason Weatherford.

That's not to say Girdler had full control over the decision. He explained, "Shelter's been kind enough to let me retire. Then on top of that, they have hired my son-in-law to take the agency."

Those who don't immediately recognize Girdler from being a long-time insurance agent may have heard the name through his other job — that of being a state senator.

Girdler was quick to clarify, "I'm going to stay with the senate."

His retirement only applies to his insurance position, and he's hoping the entrance to retirement goes smoothly.

"I've got five more days till April 1, and we've got big storms for tomorrow," Girdler said when interviewed Wednesday afternoon.

"So, if I can go through tomorrow without any claims or very few claims, I won't have to worry," he laughed.

Girdler began his career with Commonwealth Life, during a time when he would have to go door-to-door and write receipts by hand to get payments from clients.

"That was the best education in the world," he said, adding that it gave him the training to be successful in the insurance business.

In 1983, he struck out on his own with Shelter Insurance.

He is in the second term as senator of District 15, covering Pulaski, Lincoln and Boyle counties, and he said that while he enjoys both, trying to keep up with Frankfort and his local business has been a challenge.

He credited office managers Cindy Pumphrey and Martina Davis with helping him out, saying they played a big role in keeping the agency going while he is away.

He also gave credit to a long-time employee, Jenny Renner, who started out with him in 1983 and worked with him for 20 years. She may have moved away, but she was a big influence on him throughout his life, he said.

"She was the backbone of my agency the first 20 years," he said. "...She kind of piqued my interest in politics, too. She was very politically motivated. A very conservative lady, and she was precious."

Girdler has a head for numbers and dates, he said — referring back to the advice to his children to "do what makes you happy."

He grew up in a farming community, and as a young man he was used to helping out on neighboring farms, whether it was through setting tobacco, hauling hay or mowing yards.

"I learned at a young age, that I could work my mouth better than I could work my arms and my back," he joked.

Being led into the insurance business was a blessing, he said.

"It's allowed me to use some of my better strengths," he said, such as talking to people.

"I'll miss the people greatly. ... One of my reasons for success of winning two elections has to do with my friendship with a lot of people, whether they are clients or not clients of mine."

In looking back over the years, Girdler talked about some of the memories that stood out most for him, one of which was the hail storms of 2001 and 2002.

"We had hail balls as big as softballs. And then on top of that, some of the hail balls weren't round, they were just like knives," Girdler said.

"I remember going out and looking at barns, and from the outside you couldn't tell there was any damage. You'd go inside and look up, it was just like someone had took a knife and cut holes straight across." The hail had split the metal roofs of those barns, as well as causing damage to homes and cars.

The new Shelter Insurance guy, Weatherford, has been working with Girdler for the last several months. Some around Somerset may know him from his time as the Parks and Recreation assistant director for the city of Somerset.

He will not only be taking over the clients, but will remain in the same building, Girdler said.

Girdler called Weatherford a hard-working man. "Shelter jumped at the chance of putting Jason in the agency, knowing I wanted it to stay in my family."

And Girdler admitted he was thrilled that a family member is now in charge. Girdler has three children — his son Brandon Girdler who lives in the Mount Juliet area of Tennessee and who has his own insurance business there, and two daughters, Kelly Barnes and Megan Weatherford, both of whom are psychology teachers at Somerset Community College.

"Neither one of those would quit their teaching job at the college to take this. Don't blame them," Girdler said.

Kelly's husband, Levi Barnes, is a successful insurance agent in his own right, and Girdler said that he would have had to start over from the ground up to take on the Shelter business.

That leaves son-in-law Jason, who said he was excited to take over.

"It's just another way to serve the community," Weatherford said.

His degree is in parks and recreation, and he has spend nine years with Somerset's parks department. "I'm going to miss it. It was great. It was fun. This was a thing that I was given the opportunity for, to take what Rick has created over the years and worked so hard for, and continue growing it. I couldn't pass up the opportunity."

When asked what drew him towards changing careers, Weatherford said it was due to being around his father-in-law, observing how he handled the insurance business.

"I've seen where he was in positions to really help out people and make a difference their lives, through insurance and personal matters. You're essentially going to be there for people in some of the toughest times of their lives," he said.

He said he's dove into the business "head first."