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The Campbells-Jewels and Insurance!

The Campbells-Jewels and Insurance! image The Campbells-Jewels and Insurance! image The Campbells-Jewels and Insurance! image
Author
Bill Nickels
Rights Held By
Ypsilanti Historical Society
OCR Text

Betty Campbell was born in the original Beyer Hospital which sat just north of the present Bortz building on South Prospect. Her friend Peter Fletcher was born at Beyer at the same time and Betty jokes with Peter that they shared a crib together. Betty's business life started at the age of 141/2 at McClellan's Dollar Store on North Washington while she was a student at Ypsilanti High School. She worked for William Hilbert who now lives in Ann Arbor and loves to stop and talk with employees from earlier days. When she was 17, her typing teacher got her a job with Earl Freeman who ran a real estate and insurance agency in the small Tudor cottage across the street from the Ace Hardware store at 120 Pearl Street. While she was employed, Earl took in his son-in-law Herbert Bunting as a partner in 1950. In 1955, the business moved to 103 W. Michigan (two doors west of Huron Street on the south side of the street) and merged with Ross Bower Insurance. When Ross' son Robert joined the business, it became known as Bower Freeman Bunting & Bower Insurance.

Jim Campbell was born in Cross Village and his family moved to Harbor Springs when he was very young. When World War II broke out in 1941, he joined the navy. He served four years on the USS Saint Louis in the Pacific. His ship was torpedoed once and he saw action at the Battle of Leyte Gulf, Guadalcanal, and Okinawa. After he was discharged as Pharmacist Mate First Class, Jim returned to Harbor Springs and took advantage of a Veteran Administration program sponsored by Western Michigan University at Pine Lake. He graduated from Western Michigan's watchmaker school and is a licensed horologist (watchmaker). Jim met Ypsilanti jewelers Abe Green and Cyrus C. Jenks at Pine Lake's placement center. His cousins invited Jim to Ann Arbor and C. C. Jenks offered Jim a job at his North Huron shop in 1947. They became partners in 1948. The Jewelry Shop moved from North Huron to 103 West Michigan and later moved to 107 West Michigan in 1955. This last move was to a fish market that required extraordinary effort to make the store front smell like a jewelry shop. In 1960, Cyrus C. Jenks became ill and “walked in one day and he handed me the keys. I earned half of the business while working for him and I did not know it,” Jim recalled.

When Betty and the insurance agency moved to 103 W. Michigan and Jim with the C. C. Jenks & Campbell Jewelers moved to 107 W. Michigan, the stage was set! Business was good at the insurance agency requiring lots of ink refills. Betty purchased the refills from Jim making round trips from 103 to 107. These trips led to their marriage on August 4, 1974. In 1978, Jim bought 107 West Michigan and he remodeled it completely to include a second floor home for he and Betty. Jim was the first business proprietor to live downtown near his business.

The sale of a special order $15,000 diamond ring was Jim's largest transaction while in the jewelry business. He said “I did a lot of watch repair, now we throw our battery watches away when they don't work. There were five jewelry stores in downtown Ypsi, and we all survived.” One day during lunch, two men entered the back door of Jim's jewelry store. One went to the diamond case and the second tied Jim's hands. His employees were ordered to stand against the wall while they cleared the display cases. The robbers were never apprehended. His front windows were broken five times during “snatch and run” robberies. Diamonds, watches, and women's jewelry were Jim's biggest volume items.

The most unusual insurance policy written by Betty was a liability policy for transporting an antique locomotive from Van Buren Township to Manchester, Michigan. The most unusual claim she paid was for raccoons wrecking the interior of a house. The claim was paid because raccoons belong to the bear family and not the squirrel family. Damage done by squirrels is not covered by most home owner policies. Freeman Bunting insurance had about 2500 clients, most of them local. Betty enjoyed writing policies for many kinds of businesses as well as personal accounts. Because of the contacts her agency made, Betty said “Freeman & Bunting was known as the second Chamber of Commerce.”

When the present Key Bank Building opened in 1975, Herb Bunting wanted a suite address, so the insurance agency signed a ten year tease. The rent increased dramatically when the eleventh year started and Herb decided it was time to sell the agency. Betty expressed an interest in buying the agency and Herb agreed as long as Carol Warner, another agency employee, would be her partner. Carol and Betty ran the agency together until Carol was tragically killed in a car accident at the corner of Hewitt and Ellsworth Roads in 1988. Betty bought Carol's interest and she became sole owner of Freeman Bunting Insurance Agency. Herb Bunting once sold policies provided by 17 different companies. Betty wanted to have just one provider of insurance policies and convinced Herb to reduce the number of providers to 5. As owner of the business, she reduced the number to one, the Westfield Insurance Company.

Jim acknowledges the Ypsilanti Jaycees for teaching him how to meet the public, run meetings, and operate a business. He joined the Jaycees when he was 26 and stayed “until they kicked me out due to my age,” says Jim. In 1982, he was co-founder of the Central Business Community, a committee of the Ypsilanti Area Chamber of Commerce. Jim served as its treasurer and Betty served as editor of its monthly newsletter. Jim was appointed by the Ypsilanti City Council to the Downtown Development Authority when it was first formed and served for 20 years. City Council also appointed Jim to the Ypsilanti Police and Fire Pension Board which led to another 17 years of service. From the beginning, both Jim and Betty were Ypsilanti Heritage Festival main stays. They spent their entire weekend working as cashiers in the gambling tent when it was sponsored by the Central Business Community. A 1986 Certificate of Appreciation acknowledged their efforts.

After operating Campbell's Jewelers in downtown Ypsilanti for 42 years, Jim decided to retire and made it official on September 30, 1988. Now sole owner of Freeman Bunting Insurance Agency, Betty took the opportunity to move the agency from the Key Bank Building to Jim's store front at 107 West Michigan. Jim teases Betty by saying she kicked him out of his business locations twice, the first time when he was at 103 West Michigan and the last when she “forced” him to retire by taking over 107 West Michigan. While remodeling the jewelry store to make it ready for Betty, Jim fell from a ladder as he cleaned an arch that was covered with more than 100 years of paint and mortar. The fall broke his neck and he was cut by a power saw he was using at the time. Stitches, a neck brace, and time led to a complete recovery.

Betty and Jim with Betty's sister Mary Lou Linke and Maggie Sell continued Freeman Bunting Inc. at 107 West Michigan until Betty and Jim (Jim for a second time) decided to retire together in 2005. The agency was sold to Cam Innes Thayer of Innes Insurance agency in Ann Arbor. The Freeman Bunting name will continue with Mary Lou as office manager and both Mary Lou and Maggie as licensed agents. Kris Reuter, new to the agency, is attending classes to become a licensed agent.

In addition to the Heritage Festival, Betty and Jim have volunteered for the Festival of Lights, Gilbert Residence Board, the Ypsilanti Historical Society, sponsored Meals on Wheels, Ypsilanti Community Choir, and the Ypsilanti Community Band. Ypsilanti City Council appointed her to the Ypsilanti Board of Ethics when it was first formed. Their volunteer time also extends to the First Baptist Church on West Cross. When the Ypsilanti Police Department offered its first Citizens' Police Academy, both Jim and Betty attended and graduated with perfect attendance.

Betty earned the Athena Award, presented by the Women's Council of the Ypsilanti Area Chamber of Commerce, in 1997. This award is presented all over the country and recognizes an Individual who has contributed most to women's business success in a community. Both Jim and Betty say they do what they do to make Ypsilanti a better place.

Traveling is their favorite retirement pastime. They have cruised with Princess, Norwegian, and Holland America cruise lines. Betty and Jim were on the Pittsfield Senior Center trip to Lake George this fall when the tragic boat accident occurred. They were on the second bus that took the second identical ship that sailed without an incident. Betty said, “Except for the reporters, the people at Lake George were wonderful and did all they could for the travelers.”

Jim and Betty continue to live upstairs at 107 W. Michigan surrounded by Jim's mother's trunk full of memories and dad's roll top desk that Jim has used continuously since he started in the jewelry business. They look forward to an Alaskan cruise and their continued involvement in Ypsilanti.

Photo Caption: Campbell's Jewelry operated in downtown Ypsilanti for 42 years and closed in 1988.
Photo Caption: 103 and 107 West Michigan Avenue in 1942.