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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The men of the Marsh agency

Monday, March 28, 2011

For many years the Marsh Insurance and Real Estate Agency was a familiar landmark in McCook. The four generations of the Marsh men who ran that agency were also some of the leading figures of our town, playing a conspicuous part in the business and social organizations of the town.

Frank Marsh, the patriarch of the family, and his wife had come to Southwest Nebraska in the 1880s when they established a tree claim on land between Culbertson and Trenton. It was in a sod house on this claim that Carl Frederic was born in 1889. He attended schools in Trenton, and upon graduation assisted his father in various aspects of a variety of businesses. In 1910 he and Margaret Cundall were married and eventually became the parents of three children, C. Frederic (Fred) and his two sisters. In 1911 Frank and Carl established the Marsh Insurance and Real Estate Agency, with their office in Trenton.

Agency business took young Carl in a wide circle around Trenton, and he became acquainted with a great number of people in the area, including McCook. By 1919 he and his father had decided that the business opportunities would be better with a change in their base of operations. By 1920 both men and their families had moved to McCook and both were active in the sale of insurance and real estate out of the McCook office.

Soon after arriving in McCook, the Marshes built a fine new office building on a site, on West C Street, which had formerly served as a livery/feed store. Very conservative by nature, the two built the building so that it could easily be converted to a retail store and rented out in case the insurance/real estate business did not go well. But the business did go well and this location proved to be a popular meeting place for business men. In McCook both men were well liked and almost immediately became a strong presence in town. Senator Norris kept an office in that building. When he was home from Washington he "held court" there and at those times, especially, there was a continual stream of people in and out of the office to greet the Senator.

Both Frank and Carl built houses (side by side) on the northern edge of the city -- houses that were severely damaged in the 1928 tornado. Carl joined the Methodist Church and for many years taught a Sunday School class at the church. Carl believed in the mission of the YMCA. He was a member of the original Y Board and strongly encouraged his own children and other McCook youths to take part in the Y programs.

Carl was an active member of many community projects. He was a charter member of the McCook Rotary Club and the McCook Chamber of Commerce -- both of which came into being in the 1920s. He served as President and in other offices in both organizations. He was very active in the various Masonic and Shrine clubs in McCook.

An active member of the Republican Party, Carl twice served as a delegate to the National Republican Convention. Even though he was a staunch and outspoken member of the Republican Party, his experience, coupled with his enviable reputation as a real estate appraiser was so strong that in 1933 Carl was appointed Senior Appraiser for the Nebraska PWA by the Roosevelt Administration, overcoming any disadvantage that his political affiliation might have brought.

The PWA was one of Democrat Franklin Roosevelt's pet New Deal programs. The program was designed to prime the pump, to "spend big bucks on big projects," with the goal of encouraging economic growth. There were some 34,000 PWA projects undertaken in the US between 1933 and World War II. Among these projects were airports, electricity generating dams, and aircraft carriers. Over 70 percent of the new schools and 30 percent of the hospitals built during these years were PWA projects.

Nationwide the program could be called a partial success, at best. Though affordable housing was to have been a key undertaking of the PWA, this may have been the agency's biggest disappointment, since only 25,000 units were built by the PWA. Even though more than $6 billion (1930s dollars) were spent toward the goal of returning industrial activity to pre-depression levels, achievement toward that goal was woefully short, and the level of unemployment was not significantly decreased. It was not until WW II began that economic activity and full employment (nationwide) reached the levels to which the Roosevelt Administration aspired.

In Nebraska the PWA did help greatly in giving work to a large number of factory and farm workers that had found themselves unemployed due to the Great Depression, and Carl Marsh played an important part in making the PWA successful here in the state.

As the lead appraiser for the PWA, Carl reviewed appraisals of land acquired by various government projects and he made recommendations concerning the acceptance or rejection of the offers made for those projects.

Carl was responsible for the approval of appraisals for needed government land in the Platte Valley, Loup River Valley and the Tri-County area, including the vast acres needed for the Kingsley Dam and Lake McConaughy, and of land condemned for Bridge and Dam Projects at Columbus, Sutherland, and South Omaha.

In due time Carl and his father, Frank, were joined in the Marsh Agency by Carl's son, Fred. Fred attended the McCook Schools and McCook College. He graduated from the University of Nebraska in 1938. Like so many in his age group, Fred had just nicely begun his business career when World War II came along. Fred served in the Army Signal Corps , as a cryptographer in the South Pacific, during the war. He was discharged from the Army in 1946, when he returned to McCook to be in business with his father.

Fred in turn was joined in the Agency by his son, Bill in 1972, after Bill was discharged from the Army after the Vietnam War.

In 1984, after some 65 years of service to the McCook community The Marsh Agency sold its assets to various individuals, leaving just memories of a respected business and the men who ran that business. Frank had died in the 1940s, Carl died in 1958, Fred, in poor health died soon after the business was sold, in 1985. Bill, who left McCook for a business career in Arizona, recently returned to McCook in retirement.

Source: Gazette Golden Anniversary Edition 1932; Gazette Centennial Anniversary Edition 1982

Trails West by Rutledge and Ray; Eleanor Roosevelt Historical Site

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Walt Sehnert
Days Gone By