Most people will agree that local business is at the core of building a successful community, and few communities are more tightly bound than Valparaiso.
Among the many businesses which have helped to build and strengthen that bond is Valparaiso First Insurance, under the very capably leadership of Chuck Welter.
Born in Gary, Indiana, Chuck and his family moved to South Bend when he was a young boy. There he attended school from 5th grade through high school. Welter obtained his MBA at Notre Dame following his undergrad at Indiana University before returning to the Valparaiso area in 1974.
He says that the insurance business wasn’t his first plan, but rather was an outgrowth of his involvement with First National Bank of Valparaiso.
“I was the president of First National Bank of Valparaiso,” said Welter. “The insurance company was a part of that business. Eventually, the bank was sold. By that time, I had owned the agency since 1976 and it had become separate from the bank.”
He decided to continue his involvement with the insurance company as a way to commemorate his father, who had been involved with the business for many years.
“He had acquired the insurance company. After the bank was gone, I made the decision to continue working with the insurance agency as a sort of a tribute to all his effort. It was pretty much the last remaining asset which he and I had been involved in,” said Welter.
Although he takes his business seriously, Chuck has his priorities well in order and says that he likes to focus on spending time with family, especially his grandchildren.
“We have a lot of very capable young people there [at Valpo First Insurance],” said Welter. “Jason Schwerdt, Kyle Knutson, Richard Thompson and Cindy Faricelli - they’re all good people there. They do good work and really take care of our customers.”
When he’s not in the office or spending time with family, Chuck is no stranger to the golf course. In fact, to say that he’s an avid golfer may just be a bit on an understatement, having won several local golf tournaments over the years.
“I sponsor the Porter Amateur Golf Tournament,” said Welter. “It used to be called the Vidette Messenger when it started back in 1955. I won there six times, my son has won it five times. Over the years, we added a women’s division, a Senior Division and even a Super-Senior Division.”
Welter has also won the golf championship at the Valpo Country Club eleven times.
“I guess you could say I have a commitment to golf,” said Welter. “The game has been a big part of our investment in the community as well as in our family.”
Welter currently lives in Porter Beach with Donna Howell, his partner of 16 years. He has four children - Bill Welter who owns Journeyman Distillery in Three Oaks, Michigan, Elizabeth who is the owner of Granola Girl in Valparaiso, Jennifer who lives with her husband in Istanbul, Turkey, and Katie who lives in Colorado and is expecting her first child.
“They have a name already picked out,” said Chuck. “He’ll be named Henry.”
Welter has four granddaughters - Grace, 8 and Laurel who is looking forward to her fourth birthday, as well as Islay, 5 and Ayla Osburn.
“I’ve heard it said, ‘You live where you can make a living,’” said Chuck. “Over the years, our family goes way back in this area. My grandfathers both attended Valpo University Law school in the early 1900s. They then moved to Gary where my parents met, married and raised a family of 5. My father was an automobile dealer before he moved to Valpo and became involved with the bank.”
Chuck is a big fan of the Popcorn Festival.
“It’s been a wonderful thing for the community. That’s always been a wonderful event for the area. Also, the Halloween events are becoming a huge occasion. I’m amazed to see how many people turn out for that holiday - it’s becoming the second most popular holiday and a lot of people really put a lot of effort into it. Valpo is a wonderful community where people seem to be focused more on others rather than on themselves and that’s a wonderful thing.”
Chuck has been involved with several recent renovations contributing to Valparaiso’s gorgeous downtown.
“A few years ago, when Binder’s Jewelers decided to relocate out to Route 30, we decided that having a downtown presence would enhance our business, so we acquired the Binder building. We found some photos of what that building had looked like at the turn of the century. It was really quite wonderful, and we decided to commit ourselves to renovating that building in a fashion consistent with its appearance in earlier days,” said Welter.
So far, it’s been a significant project.
“There were things like stairways and balconies that had been eliminated over the years. There were other things too, like neighboring businesses which had been acquired by Binder over the years as they expanded,” said Welter. “We had to remove a lot of the exterior of the building, returning it to the original brick facade and exposing several windows and entryways which had been covered up over the years.”
“We’re pretty excited about what we’re doing. We often see people stopping to take photos now, in front of the building, and we’re quite flattered that people seem to like what we’re doing in taking that building back to the way it was,” said Welter.
“That effort on the building is something that we are happy to give back. We’re doing it without asking for any special considerations, tax abatements or otherwise. We’re just happy to give back to the community as a way to say thank you to all those who have supported the bank and insurance company over the years.”
Giving back to the community builds a stronger bond. It’s a lesson that Chuck Welter and his coworkers at Valparaiso First Insurance understand very well, indeed.