By Deborah J. Larsen
When Tom Klix and his sister, Connie Klix Mercer, head to their offices at Whims Insurance each morning, they take a literal walk down memory lane. The company’s offices are on the second floor of the Mitzelfeld building at 322 S. Main Street. The municipal parking lot behind the building sits on property that was once the home of Klix and Mercer’s grandparents, Leslie and Lyla Whims.
The two siblings now run the insurance agency their grandfather founded. They treasure happy childhood memories of time spent at the Whims home on East Street, and ice cream socials held in the yard. Those memories greet them each day as they leave their cars and head into the office, walking a path to the building that was once their grandparents’ driveway.
Rochester businessman Leslie Whims founded Whims Insurance in April 1917. He was operating the Nash auto dealership on the east side of Main Street when Vern Moulton, who had just founded Auto-Owners Insurance, walked into his store. Moulton convinced Whims that selling insurance was a good corollary business to his auto dealership, and made him one of the first Auto-Owners agents. Today, Whims is the third-oldest surviving Auto-Owners agency in the United States.
Leslie Whims was a man with his fingers in many pies. The Rochester Era newspaper described him this way in 1935: “L. L. Whims is one of the busiest men in Rochester. He operates an extensive farm machinery depot, handling the famous John Deere tools and machines. He also runs in connection a feed grinding mill … He is the local Nash motorcar dealer and sells Auto-Owners car insurance. In the basement of his Main Street outfit, he carries on the Rochester Recreation Bowling Alleys. In addition to his other activities he finds time to look after a good sized farm north of town.”
The various Whims enterprises were always a family affair. After completing his military service in World War II, Whims’ son-in-law, Herman Klix, joined the firm. Klix specialized in other insurance lines that expanded the products and services of the Whims agency. Klix’s children, Tom and Connie, joined the company in the 1970s and now represent the third generation of the family in the business.
Whims’ grandchildren remember that he was a stickler for doing a job properly, a lesson he instilled in them from an early age. As children, both Tom and Connie worked as pinsetters in the bowling alley and did odd jobs in the insurance agency.
As the years went by, Whims Insurance changed locations, but always stayed on the east side of Main Street. After Leslie Whims’ death in 1968, the agency moved from 432 South Main to a pair of converted houses on North Main near the Spartan Motel. The North Main location was ill suited for the growing firm, and in 2005, the office moved to its current location in the Mitzelfeld building.
Today, the company prepares to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its founding. Tom Klix credits the staff’s commitment, expertise and steadfastness for the agency’s long success. “Rochester is a great place to do business. We’re very lucky – we’ve grown the business mostly through referrals,” he said recently. “And so did our grandfather,” Connie Klix Mercer added. With a fourth generation of family coming up in the business and a loyal customer base keeping the company on an upward trajectory into its second century, Leslie Whims is no doubt smiling.