Our Legacy – Earl Carney Insurance
The Earl Carney name is synonymous with insurance in Iredell County and rightly so, since Earl Carney Insurance has been around for more than 37 years. Before 1980, Earl was known as “The Footstomper” and insurance was the last thing on his mind.
In 1958, Earl Carney was a radio DJ in Lexington, Tenn., exactly halfway between Nashville and Memphis. He received a call with a job offer to help start a new radio station in Statesville NC , WDBM AM & FM which has since evolved into what we know today as WAME. Earl moved his young family one state to the right and became WDBM’s morning announcer, waking up Statesville at 5 a.m. everyday with a mix of bluegrass, gospel and down home conversation.
His youngest daughter, and current proprietor of Earl Carney Insurance, Saundra Carney, remembered that her father was a popular voice.
“They used to have a Fiddler’s Convention in Union Grove every year, and Daddy was always the emcee of that,” said Saundra. “And he and mom produced gospel music concerts in Winston 5 to 6 times a year. Plus dad had a gospel TV show every Sunday morning on WXII.”
It wasn’t until 1980 that Earl decided to change careers and moved into the insurance business. Don Carney, the second oldest of Earl Carney’s five children, had begun working as a Nationwide agent and convinced his dad to try it as well.
“He loved it,” said Saundra. “He said if he would’ve known how much he was gonna love working with insurance, and with Nationwide Insurance, he would have done it a lot sooner.”
Earl was 47 at the time, but jumped into Nationwide Insurance head-first, working at the district manager’s office for three years before opening Earl Carney Insurance. His office was located on Davie Avenue in a small shopping center where Walgreen’s now sits. Saundra was in her early 20s and working as an x-ray technician in Greensboro.
“In the beginning of 1986, my dad asked me if I’d be interested in coming into Earl Carney Insurance with him,” Saundra explained. “It was just himself and a girl named Robin. And I guess since I’ve always had that entrepreneurial spirit, I got my insurance license, and I left Greensboro in May and started with Daddy in June.”
But the timing was off, according to Earl. After two days of working with his daughter, he took Saundra to lunch and told her she should go back to Greensboro. “You’re not happy. You’re not ready for this.’” he said.
Saundra worked for Earl Carney Insurance for one month in 1986, and then returned to her x-ray tech career. Having loved animals her whole life, she started on a pre-veterinary degree about a decade later with plans to spend the rest of her days caring for pets. It was then, in 1998, that the timing for her to join Earl Carney Insurance was right. Earl suffered a bout of cancer in 1994 and his eldest daughter Sissy joined the agency then to help him out. As he neared retirement age, Sissy talked Saundra into giving insurance another shot.
“It worked out good. I enjoyed working for my dad, and if Daddy wouldn’t have had some health issues, he wouldn’t have retired in 2002. He would have kept on plugging along,” said Saundra.
Though he retired, Earl kept an office at the agency, even when Sissy and Saundra moved the outfit to its current location on Brookdale Avenue in 2006. He was in the office on Christmas Eve in 2009 writing Christmas cards to employees shortly before he passed away. To say Earl Carney was appreciated by both his employees and his customers would be an understatement.
“His office is the one out front,” said Saundra. “He loved coming in here, people loved seeing him, that’s why we put him up at the front. So everybody could see him and talk to him. People would come in just to sit and to talk to him, customers that had been here for 30 years.”
That’s one of the most beautiful parts of the business to Saundra– the customers that have been with them since the beginning.
“A lot of our customers are generational,” she explained. “My dad got the 16-year-old, and then he became a father, and got his children, and their children and so on. That’s how the agency has grown the most, is just within itself because our core customers have been here a long, long time. We’re very blessed in that respect.”
Another joy for Saundra is the satisfaction of caring for people. She said that it means everything to her to be able to give someone a check that will help them through a difficult time, whether it’s a small auto claim or a family dealing with the loss of a parent. She related her medical experience with being an insurance agent: “my whole life I’ve taken care of something. Whether it was the dog at the house, or my cat and dog, or older folks in the hospitals, or my grandfather… I think if you take care of something for somebody, then you’re helping them. So, for me, it’s making sure that our customers are well-protected.”
Earl Carney Insurance has received rewards proving that they go above and beyond making sure of that. Last year, they were among the top 15 Nationwide agencies in the country, and Saundra was the number one female agent. They are also one of the largest agencies in North Carolina, with additional offices in Troutman and Yadkinville.
Saundra’s sister, Sissy, retired in 2015, but her sons, Nick and Jay Martin are a part of the business now, too. Nick works out of the office in Statesville while Jay is in Yadkinville. Saundra suspects that the Earl Carney name will live on for a long time.
“Daddy was ‘Big Pop’ to them, so it means a lot to them to carry on the Earl Carney Insurance name. And to do business like Daddy taught us how to do it. I know that they’ll continue to keep the same dream alive that Daddy started with,” said Saundra, adding, “And they do take care of people. They’re good caretakers as well.”