Church Mutual celebrates 125 years in the Merrill community
Company emphasizes roots, commitment to Merrill, and growth for the future
Founded by a group of forward-thinking Merrill citizens in 1897, Church Mutual has been celebrating its 125th anniversary throughout 2022. From its humble roots as the Wisconsin Church Mutual Fire Insurance Association, the company has grown to become the largest insurer of religious institutions in the U.S., as well as a premier insurer of nonprofits, schools, camps, and senior living facilities.
Starting with a single employee, the first Wisconsin Church Mutual Fire Insurance Association office was located above a drug store in downtown Merrill. In 1901, the company moved into a new building on East Main Street – now Trophy Bar. As the company grew, additional space was needed, leading to the construction of a new office on East First Street in 1927. Through several additions, that building served as Church Mutual’s headquarters for 50 years. That building was sold to the City of Merrill and is now Merrill City Hall.
In 1977, with approximately 100 employees, the company moved into the first wing of the current Home Office building on Schuster Lane.
Two, three-story additions to Home Office were opened in 1987 and 2005, bringing the facility to its current 180,000 square feet.
The expansion of the building was prompted by exponential growth in employment. Church Mutual currently employs about 700 people at its Merrill office. Nearly 400 other employees are located throughout the U.S. to serve customers in all 50 states. The company has additional office locations in Milwaukee, Madison, Denver, and Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.
Church Mutual opened a new office in Milwaukee earlier this year, as well. That space, which can accommodate up to 60 employees, will allow the company to attract employees, including diverse talent, who prefer to live in a bigger city. It is not intended to become Church Mutual’s main base of operations, Poirier said.
“We are not moving our headquarters to Milwaukee,” he said. “The vast majority of Church Mutual employees will continue to work from the Merrill office. Merrill is our home, and we will continue to attract and recruit talent to this area.”
The company’s first annual report in 1898 showed total revenues of $2,314. Fast forwarding more than 100 years, Church Mutual passed the coveted $1 billion mark in 2006 and, at the close of 2021, company assets stood at $2.4 billion.
“The growth of Church Mutual has been remarkable,” Poirier said. “That’s a testament to the solid footing established by our founders, and the diligence and foresight of those who have brought Church Mutual into the modern age.”
When the pandemic hit in 2020, Church Mutual put employee safety first and sent most of its office staff to work from home full-time, a situation that ended up lasting for more than two years. There was never a question whether employees would return to the office. But now, in response to a changing workforce, the company has adopted a hybrid model, with some days worked in the office and other days at home.
Church Mutual had leased office space, known as CM2, in the former Walmart building since 2016. With the hybrid work model on the horizon, company leadership determined that the CM2 space would no longer be needed. Church Mutual ended the lease in 2021 and employees who had worked at CM2 transferred to the reconfigured Home Office.
“Leaving CM2 was the hardest thing I’ve had to do as CEO,” Poirier said, “but it’s a new world where people want to work at least part-time remote. When we did the math, we didn’t need CM2 anymore.”
Church Mutual employees began returning to the office part-time in April 2022. Most are currently working in the office at least two days per week.
“We encouraged our employees to embrace returning to the office, either full time or part time, to support our business goals, collaboration, mentoring, and culture,” Poirier said. “We also felt it was important to reoccupy our office because we know it brings business to Merrill, too, supporting restaurants, retail stores, grocers, service providers, and more.”
The company’s support of local causes, events, and facilities can be seen throughout the community. For example, Church Mutual was a major benefactor of the Northwoods Veterans Post, donating the building site and making other donations and gifts to the project. Recently, Church Mutual committed $100,000 to become the foundational sponsor of a Boys & Girls Club program that began serving children at Prairie River Middle School this fall.
Church Mutual also offers a variety of scholarship opportunities to Merrill High School seniors each year, and sponsorships support a number of local causes.
Church Mutual employees pledge contributions to the United Way during an annual campaign week. The company matches employee pledges dollar for dollar. During the 2022 campaign, employees pledged more than $123,000 to Merrill Area United Way – with the company match, that’s nearly $250,000 to help nonprofits serve Merrill area residents. Since 2000, Church Mutual and its employees have contributed nearly $2 million to Merrill Area United Way.
Church Mutual encourages its employees to make a difference in their communities by offering paid time off to do volunteer work. Over the course of 2021, employees logged more than 1,200 hours, with the majority of those served in the Merrill area.
In 2021, Church Mutual committed to making Merrill Foundation, Inc., its conduit for charitable giving to the Merrill community. The company makes regular contributions and is the primary funder of the foundation, which was created to support programs in the greater Merrill area.
“We are honored to be able to contribute to Merrill causes each year through the Merrill Foundation, Inc., and through various gifts and sponsorships. Our company and our employees will continue to support Merrill both financially and through our spirit of volunteerism,” Poirier said.
The theme of the company’s 125th anniversary is “Deeply Rooted,” which symbolizes Church Mutual’s relationship with the Merrill community.
“Church Mutual is now a nationwide company, with employees all over the country, but Merrill is where it all started 125 years ago,” Poirier said. “We are deeply rooted in Merrill and committed to our hometown.”
Over 125 years, only nine individuals have served as president of Church Mutual, and just five of them held the position full time. Poirier took office on Jan. 8, 2016. He has announced he will retire in 2024, and the company is expected to name his successor by the end of this year.
“It has been my pleasure to lead Church Mutual the past eight years,” Poirier said. “I believe in this company and its purpose, to elevate the human condition. We do that every day by protecting organizations that serve and support their communities. I am proud of what we have achieved and have no doubt Church Mutual will continue to flourish for the next 125 years and beyond.”
To fully appreciate the scope and duration of impact Church Mutual has had on the Merrill community, watch their 125th anniversary story online at: https://www.churchmutual.com/index.cfm?ldp=125years. It’s a great way to really appreciate the history and the deep roots Church Mutual has in Merrill.
With the year-long 2022 celebration of 125 years in business and in the Merrill community, Church Mutual is focused on its deep roots but also on its commitment to growth for the future, especially right here in Merrill.