19 March 2014

In Memory of Frank Hagerty: Father, Founder, Friend

The world lost a great character on March 18, 2014. Frank Hagerty was born in Detroit on June 16, 1934, the only child of Frank and Evelyn Hagerty. He attended Cooley High School and graduated from Michigan State University. He began by studying agriculture with the idea of becoming a cherry farmer in northern Michigan, but ended up with a degree in business, followed by an insurance career in Traverse City.

As a child he loved to go to Hudson's with his mother and hide from her in the store, which forced her to put him on a leash. But even that didn’t contain him. On Sept. 10, 1955, he married Louise Kucera at Central Methodist Church … and it had a longer effect.

When Frank and Louise opened their own insurance agency in 1956, Frank literally knocked on every door in Traverse City, and his determination brought them success. That business grew and was eventually sold in 1981, but Frank and Louise weren't finished yet. In 1984, they dreamed up the idea of a specialty insurance program for classic wooden boats. The nationwide business they started out of the basement of their home became very successful and eventually spun off the now-predominant classic car program. Today, Hagerty is the largest insurer of classic boats and cars in the world. While not active in the business for 20 years, many of Frank’s original ideas are still in play today.

Frank’s life could be metered out through his passion for cars and boats. He loved to work on them and collected all sorts of car and boat memorabilia. His first classic car was a 1956 Ford Thunderbird, which he bought from a junkyard for $225. The car remains in the family today. Frank’s unknowable string of wooden boats remains a mystery, but it is central to his 50-plus summers in northern Michigan.

It was hard to tell whether he enjoyed cars or boats more, but he could fix anything and passed his love of cars and boats to many young people. The Hagerty family garage was the place to be for decades. Many cars were restored, many friendships cultivated, and life was full of automotive adventures. This continued until very recently when he rediscovered a 1948 Ford Sleeping Bear Dunesmobile and brought it home to northern Michigan. Dune Car #9 took First Place in the Beach Car class at the 2014 Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance event in Florida on March 9. Frank rode in the car to the award platform and was surrounded by his family as he soaked in the moment. His last ride in a collector car was to accept that award.

Frank was extremely industrious in work and play, and he often defended his pace by stating, “It’s hard to hit a moving target.” He had endless lists of projects and plans for things to build, fix or do. Whether it was practical jokes with his many dear friends or creating the ultimate Northern Michigan man-cave – filled with cars, boats, trains and countless hand-built models – Frank always had a vision for cool stuff, cool places and fun things to do.

His greatest gift was his ability to be present with people and to make them feel special in a conversation; he always made people feel like he was listening intently. This led to many strong friendships across the country — he seemed to have friends everywhere he went.

The Detroit boy’s long list of projects is now complete, his infectious laugh silenced, his endless stories are now memories. His only regrets at the end of his life were those few great cars that got away and that he didn’t have more time to spend with all of you.

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