After 45 years in the crop insurance industry, Jeanie Bonewitz has seen just about everything. Now at the start of her retirement journey, Bonewitz is ready to share her secrets to success and reflect on the journey it took to get to where she is today.
Getting started in the industry
In May 1975, Bonewitz hit the ground running after attending Kansas State University. She entered the crop insurance industry as a crop hail assistant office supervisor for an approved insurance provider. There was little need for any major adjustment period — after growing up on a farm, it was just like coming home.
“It’s in my blood and that’s what I knew,” Bonewitz said. “I couldn’t see myself working anywhere but in crop insurance. I fell in love with it.”
One thing she discovered right away, was that crop insurance takes a certain type of person to fill each role in the process.
“Early on in my career, I learned to set three goals for the year and one year a goal was to shadow a crop insurance adjustor on a farm visit,” Bonewitz recalled. “We ended up visiting a wheat field that sustained fire damage, and I knew right then and there in the summer heat and humidity of Kansas that crop adjusting takes a particular type of person.”
A more unexpected result of the job shadow was a feature story with the National Crop Insurance Association (now National Crop Insurance Services). Their magazine published a great piece all about her experience at the wheat field, with pictures to boot. She said it was an exciting way to learn about one of the many career paths that the industry has to offer even if she didn’t see herself in that role.
A cherished career with ProAg
After holding positions as an office supervisor, underwriting manager and later an MPCI underwriter, Bonewitz started the final leg of her career as a crop accounting manager at ProAg in August 2006. She has held the position ever since.
“When I started with ProAg there were around 90 employees, so it has been exciting to watch the company grow to over four times that,” Bonewitz said. “The company and the industry have evolved so much from when I first started and it’s been particularly exciting to see more women take prominence in the industry.”
Bonewitz will also be the first to tell you her role often overlapped with years when farmers fell on hard times with premium payments, a tough situation for anyone in the industry. Instead of letting those calls overcome her, she chose to go the extra mile to help.
“I took pride in working with farmers to help make that burden a little bit lighter,” Bonewitz said. “I did my best to provide customers with all of the tools and resources I was able to in terms of payment plans.”
Her compassion earned her a good reputation and she built great trust and loyalty among farmers. Growing up on a farm also really helped her connect and build relationships. “It was important to me that farmers were able to recall my first name and that they felt comfortable enough to call at me at home,” Bonewitz said.
Although she has found great joy working with adjustors and agents, Bonewitz says it was the policyholders that kept her in the industry all these years.
Bonewitz is beyond excited to begin her next chapter in retirement. She has plenty of family — including three married sons and six grandkids — to keep her busy. Plus, an endless stack of books to read and volunteer opportunities at the ready.
“I sincerely want to thank ProAg for all of the opportunities in my 15 years with the company,” Bonewitz said. “There really are no words to explain how the company has made me feel over the years. It’s been clear since day one that ProAg cares about their employees just as much as they want to provide a high level of customer service.”
It goes without saying the team will miss her in the office, but ProAg controller Ryan Bakke says they are all excited for her too. “Jeanie has given her all through a lot of change during her time at ProAg,” Bakke said. “She has always been extremely professional and more than willing to offer her wealth of industry knowledge to both internal and external customers alike. We appreciate the integrity and dedication she has shown our customers and wish her all the best in the future.”
Advice for new faces in the industry
For her parting wisdom, Bonewitz hopes to instill confidence into newcomers in the crop insurance industry – both young and old.
“Ask questions,” Bonewitz said. “Come to work every day with a willingness to learn something new and always go the extra mile. Don’t ever say ‘that’s not my job.’ You may not know the answer right away, but to best serve the farmers, put the work in to figure it out or connect with the right person.”
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