In early summer of 1977, Hotel California by the Eagles and Rumours by Fleetwood Mac were at the top of the charts, and the first Star Wars movie was the number-one film in the country. It was also when Earl Schuster opened the doors to his new insurance agency in Edmonds. A month after opening his business, Earl’s wife Lisa learned she was expecting their first child.
“This was not the best timing,” says Schuster. “We’d been married for almost nine years when I decided to go into business for myself.”
Schuster was born in Wiltshire, England, to a U.S. GI and a London-born mom. He was 4 years old when he first saw his dad. After the war ended, Schuster and his mom crossed the Atlantic and made their way to Everett, where he grew up. His dad was a logger, and Earl vividly remembers the red plaid jacket and cork boots his dad was wearing when they met.
Before insurance, Schuster went to grad school at the University of Washington and was a teacher for three years. He taught English, journalism, poetry and creative writing, in addition to being the head swim coach at Kentridge High School. Local educational levies failed at the ballot box and new teachers, which included Schuster, were inevitably laid off. Instead of waiting for the next round of levies, Schuster cast his net wide for another teaching job.
Haines, Alaska, was looking for an English/history major with possible experience as a coach. Earl and Lisa bought a brand new 1975 Ford pickup, packed their belongings and made the 800-mile drive to the Alaskan Panhandle via the Alcan Highway, now known as the Alaskan Highway.
Schuster speaks fondly of the couple’s time in Alaska, recalling the simpler life. They shopped for vegetables, which grew astronomically large in summer due to the rich soils in the area, went duck hunting, and took a jet boat to get beers and dinner. In winter, the Schusters cross-country skied to work; she, at a bank, he, at the school. There was only one local TV station, and news from the rest of the world arrived usually two weeks later. Weather permitting, a plane brought movies that had previously been released for the station to broadcast to the locals. The world moved in slow motion, and it was too slow for a young couple.
Schuster taught one year at Haines High School. As the school year drew to a close, Earl and Lisa decided to move back to the Lower 48. As a souvenir of his time in Alaska, Earl offered to pay one of his artist students, Roy Ray Peterson from the Tlingit Tribe, to make a wood chip carving for him. With his new wood chip carving and memories of their great experience in the Last Frontier, Earl and Lisa made their way back to Kent, where his former high school welcomed him back eagerly. Halfway through the next school year, another levy came up. That’s when he decided there had to be a different career that offered better stability and reliability.
“I wanted to be in control of my future and State Farm offered a great opportunity,” Earl recalls. “When I first started out, it was just two of us in my office as I could only afford one staff person during my first five to six years.”
By his sixth year as an agent, the Schusters had two children. After their second started school, Lisa was able to begin working in his office. Their office has been in the Westgate Shopping Center for almost 40 years. The office is serviced by Earl, Lisa,and two additional team members, Karen and Melissa — one of whom has been with them over 20 years and the other, 10 years.
Earl and Lisa have been married 53 years and have two children and four grandchildren. Schuster insures many of his original policyholders’ children and some of their adult grandchildren, too. In 45 years, Schuster has seen technology move his office into the future which has enabled him to provide better service while maintaining relationships with his customers.
“I will never retire,” says Schuster, looking toward his half century with State Farm as the company celebrates its own 100th anniversary this year. “I like the interaction and socialization with our policyholders, many who have become friends, and I enjoy helping people. I am grateful and humbled by all the people who have entrusted me with their insurance needs for the last 45 years.”
His connection to the past? The magnificent chip carving Schuster bought from his student all those years ago, still hangs on the wall of his State Farm office.
— Story provided by State Farm Insurance.