For Joan Severtson, the insurance business has been a steady fixture in her life.
After today, she is saying goodbye to nearly 40 years as a State Farm agent in Flandreau and greeting her retirement.
“It was hard, but it’s time,” she says of retirement. With COVID-19 restrictions in 2020, the ways of doing business changed and became less personal in terms of customer contacts, she says. People could no longer just stop in in person.
Severtson, 66, missed that because she’s liked the people aspect of selling insurance.
“Everybody always says it, and it sounds cliché, but it’s the people that make it worth it,” she says. “I’ve been blessed with loyal customers. I’ve been able to help them when their house burned, and their child was sick or even if they’ve lost a loved one.”
Severtson started with State Farm in Florida at a regional office after graduating with an accounting degree from Jacksonville University. “I was their first ever female accounting supervisor,” she says. She stayed with the office for three years until she moved back home to Flandreau to marry her husband, Craig, who is a farmer.
“Rather than sending all the cattle down there, I came back up here,” she says and chuckles.
Severtson, the daughter of the late Harold and Ann Schmidt, is a 1973 graduate of Flandreau High School. When she first came back to South Dakota, she took over the State Farm Business in August of 1981 from Lyle Morrison and opened her office in a corner of her father’s business, Schmidt Implement, which was where the Napa store on Crescent Street is today. She eventually moved to what is now the Opera House Laundromat and was formerly Julson Motors, before ending up at her current office location on Wind Street.
Severtson has sold a menu of insurance products, including property and casualty, crop insurance, health insurance and life insurance.
During the years, she has seen a huge change in the way customers access their accounts and how records are kept.
“We went from having microfiche to computers. Technology, it’s changing all the time,” she said.
Because State Farm owns the business, decisions of whether to continue in Flandreau were made by the company. “Unfortunately, State Farm decided to not keep an office here,” she says. The company has reassigned customers to other agents in the area.
Over the years, the job has offered Severtson flexibility, along with financial security.
In her early days of business, when she started her family with sons, Beau and Bret, she took a couple of weeks off after their births and then took them to the office. She set up a pack-and-play crib for naps and appreciated help from her office assistant Judy Pulscher, who would pitch in and feed a baby, if needed.
For the past 15 years, Jackie Burggraff, who also is a licensed agent, has been her assistant.
“I’ve been so blessed to have women that I respect and who have helped me to succeed in my business,” Severtson said.
Burggraff said Severtson offered flexibility and was always willing to help out if her employee needed something. Once when Burggraff’s schedule unexpectedly changed, her boss filled in on her Meals on Wheels route for her. When Flandreau had a strong windstorm that left destruction about 10 years ago, Burggraff was out of town, and Severtson went to each customers house by herself, photographing damage and helping with any need they had, Burggraff said.
“She is the most wonderful, generous person I have ever worked for,” Burggraff said. “She’s a very wonderful person. She goes the extra mile for you if you need.”
Friend Colleen Cartwright has become a favorite golf partner with Severtson.
“We’ve known each other for 37 years,” Cartwright said. “She’s my BFF (Best Friends Forever). My grandkids call her Auntie Joan. She’s my sister away from my home.”
Cartwright, who retired in January as an educational technician at the Flandreau Indian School, said it will be fun to have Severtson jumping into retirement, too. She hopes the two can work on some health and exercise goals, which obviously will include golf.
“On the golf course, she’s very competitive. She’s a good golfer,” Cartwright says.
“She has a strong personality, a willed person, kind,” Cartwright says in describing her friend. “She would do anything for you. She would do anything to help to get anybody back on their feet.”
For Severtson, her days soon will be filled with grandchildren, golfing and connecting with siblings. Her twin, Jane Mydland, lives in Sioux Falls and they like spending time together, she says. She also would like to travel to see the family’s second set of twins, Trisha West and Mike Schmidt, in Jacksonville, Fla.
There’s also four grandchildren to love, niece Ashley Podhradsky’s children, Chloe, 7, and Hudson, 6, and son Bret and daughter-in-law Megan’s children, Beckett, 5, and Elliott, 2. Podhradsky is like a daughter because she lived with the Severtsons while attending high school and college.
But first, there are some tee times to set so Severtson can enjoy her free time on the Flandreau course.
“I want to do a lot of golfing,” she says. “I like being outside. I come from a long family of golfers. It’s something you can do no matter what your age.”