Blooming where he was planted

Dale Bartelt seemed destined to become a farmer. Born and raised on a 480-acre dairy and hog farm near the small town of Titonka, Iowa, he had generations of Bartelts to look up to for living the agricultural dream. Of his five brothers, only two went into farming, but all the Bartelt boys grew up milking cows, grinding feed, baling hay, and doing field work alongside their parents when they were growing up in the 50s and 60s. Bartelt had no doubt he’d follow in his dad’s footsteps.

But even the best laid plans sometimes go in unexpected directions. With his newly minted high school diploma firmly in hand, Bartelt found himself headed to Iowa State University, and one Ag Business degree later, he was ready to talk shop with his father.

Instead, Bartelt Sr. advised his son to find a job before embarking on a lifelong farming career — he’d already helped two of his sons get their farms off the ground and believed he was too old to foster a third. So, Bartelt did what any college graduate would do and started pounding the pavement for a job.

The stars align

Luckily, Bartelt found himself considering several offers, all of which involved sales. Although he didn’t think he’d be a particularly good salesman, he narrowed the jobs down to two positions, one as a sales representative for a livestock feed company and one as a field representative with Grinnell Mutual.

Once again, Bartelt turned to his father for advice.

“He told me that people always need insurance — in good times and in bad,” Bartelt said. “He was right. I took the job with Grinnell Mutual.”

In 1970, field adjusters, reinsurance claims supervisors, and field representatives worked out of service offices scattered across Iowa. Bartelt was assigned to the Fairfield office and not only handled reinsurance alongside county mutual managers, but also the direct side with agents.

In 1976, Bartelt left Grinnell Mutual for the Eland Agency (Mediapolis, Iowa), which he purchased in 1980. He signed on as president of DMC Mutual that year and in 1984 was elected to the Grinnell Mutual board of directors. He became chairman of the board in 2012.

Going out on top

Board members can’t be nominated for re-election after their 67th birthday, but Bartelt was ready to retire in 2017, regardless of the rule.

“It was time to turn it over to someone younger,” he said. “I’ve had my time in the sun. It’s someone else’s turn to shine.”

Bartelt has countless memories from his 47-year insurance career, but the two that stand out revolve around two similar situations that happened to occur 20 years apart.

“In 1990, Grinnell Mutual lost approximately one-third of its surplus in one year,” Bartelt said. “Management wasn’t concerned, but the board members were. We didn’t set out to change the leadership, but to avoid financial fallout, we moved to replace the president of the company. In 2011, President and CEO Steve Crawford became ill, so I needed to guide the board of directors and the company through the arduous process of replacing him — and that process needed to be fair.”

The replacement was current President and CEO Larry Jansen.

“Dale began his tenure as chairman of the board right about when I was coming on as president and CEO,” said Jansen. “We became what I like to call a ‘dynamic duo’ and restructured our farm mutual reinsurance programs together. With the help of countless others, we turned this company’s future around. I remain very proud of that, and I know Dale is proud of that, too.”

Reflections and road maps

Now, fully ensconced in his much-deserved retirement — aka “when every day is Saturday” — Bartelt is looking forward to spending time with his family. He and his wife Julie have two children (Shannon and Robert), and six grandchildren, all of whom live relatively close by. He also plans to continue his services as secretary and director of the Sperry Union Store, a local grain elevator, and both he and Julie are Des Moines county representatives for the Iowa Barn Foundation.

“We’ve restored an 1875-era Pennsylvania bank barn and a 1906 Iowa cattle-feeding barn on our farm,” Bartelt said. “Other than that, I don’t have many other hobbies besides collecting antique farm equipment and automobiles.

“Our focus will be travel. Several years ago, while visiting St. Louis, I picked up a 400 National Parks and Monuments map. We put it on a cork board at home and now have around 200 pins stuck in it — the goal is to have a pin in each national park and monument represented on the map.”

Bartelt is thoughtful when asked about what he wants his legacy to be. He believes it’s up to others to say how history will view him.

“A person’s legacy isn’t often what the individual wants it to be,” he said. “It’s what other people decide it’s going to be. I hope I’ll be remembered as a person who did the right thing when it needed to be done, no matter the consequences.”