Second generation of Sams family keeps State Farm tradition alive

By Bob Robinson
Star Staff
brobinson@starhq.com

   State Farm and the Sams family have been synonymous in Elizabethton since 1948. That's when Elmer, Gene's father, hung out his shingle and began selling State Farm Insurance from his office at 604 E. Elk Ave., where Lingerfelt Pharmacy is located today.
   In 1964, State Farm District Manager Fred Hoss hired Gene. When Elmer retired in 1977, Gene took over the business. Today, Elmer, 91, a resident of Hermitage Nursing Home, keeps tabs on his former customers through Gene.
   In 1982, the office was relocated to its present location, 1000 West G St. Gene and a staff of three, Debbie Penix, Dianne Nelson and Angi Perry, provide auto, life, fire and health insurance to 2,500 families in Carter and Washington counties.
   Gene Sams State Farm Insurance Agency is one of 18,000 State Farm offices in the United States. State Farm is the largest writer of auto and fire insurance in the U.S. and in the top 20 in life insurance.
   In Tennessee, agents are required to pass separate exams for each line of insurance they handle.
   "It is a pleasure serving customers. I wouldn't trade jobs with anyone. I feel the same way I felt when I started in the insurance business 37 years ago. At the moment, I have no plans to retire," Gene said.
   When an agent retires, State Farm assigns another agent to their customer base. "The business grew some last year. In January, we added 50 car insurance policies to existing customers." A new Tennessee law, which became effective Jan. 1, requires motorists to have liability insurance and to carry proof of that insurance in the vehicle at all times.
   What technological changes stand out since he began in 1964? The changes evolved, gradually, from a paper office in the 1960s and 1970s to microfiche and then computers in the mid-1980s, he said. Today, State Farm agents have a paperless office.
   Another innovation is a Customer Service Center which customers can call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to get car insurance quotes, have insurance claims processed, or questions answered. The center can also relay messages to agents, such as Gene, via electronic mail.
   State Farm's Echo Computer System, designed by IBM exclusively for State Farm, allows agents to keep track of customer policies and files electronically.
   Gene is married to the former Sonja Young. The couple have two sons, Stacy, director of operations for First Express Trucking in Nashville; and Kevin, who works with State Farm in Murfreesboro; and three grandchildren, Ashley, Patrick and Alex of Murfreesboro.
   Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday, Gene Sams State Farm Insurance may be reached by calling 423-542-2168. The e-mail address is gene.sams.b131@statefarm.com.