Optimism and wealth are often associated with gold; and for one local family, today marks their golden anniversary in business in St Augustine — representing three generations of the Wiles family of financial services companies.
Herbert L. Wiles, now 84 years-old, first went to work selling property and casualty insurance for his father, State Farm Insurance direct-writer Randy Wiles, in 1945.
On Pearl Harbor Day, December 7, 1961, Herbie remembers opening his own agency, which, at the time, was located at 17 Cordova Street.
“I was working at WFOY radio part-time in the morning with Fred Schilling,” Wiles recalled this morning in an interview with Historic City News editor Michael Gold. “I’d open the office after lunch and be at the radio station early nearly every morning.”
Pat Bernard owned WFOY at that time and Fred Schilling, better known as “Pappy”, was the morning drive announcer. Herbie says he did all sorts of jobs at the station, including being on-air.
Recalling his competition at the time he opened his agency, Herbie said, “You’ll have to forgive me if I overlook anyone, but, I remember Thompson-Ryman, H.J. Manucy, Eugene L. Barnes, James Colee, Verle A. Pope, Wilton Davis, Curtain-Calhoun and Ainsley Hall.” Wiles explained that, at the time, it was common for real estate agencies to also sell property and casualty insurance — citing Thompson, Barnes and Pope as examples.
Besides the independent agents, Allstate, Nationwide and State Farm had exclusive agencies, as well.
“I still remember my first customer,” Wiles told Historic City News. “It was me.” Wiles remembered that he wrote a policy to himself through Auto Owners Insurance Company; one of the carriers that he represented when he opened.
Wiles says he’s always been in a house converted to office space as he grew. Since his son, Doug, has taken charge of the business, it grew to the point that “the house that trust built” had to be re-built as a commercial building specifically for the agency. Doug retains the look of the traditional “house” including a front porch that leads to the reception area. The former converted house was relocated to the Old Jail Museum on San Marco Avenue and has been preserved and used as part of their Old Store exhibit.
Herbie says that Cochran Keating came up with the “house that trust built” slogan as part of a local advertising campaign and he’s used it ever since.
Both Randy and Herbie served terms on the St. Johns County Board of Commissioners and Doug served three-terms in the Florida House of Representatives.
Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News staff photographer