TRAVERSE CITY — Frank Hagerty knew the insurance business, and he knew wooden boats.
Those passions led Hagerty to co-found Traverse City-based Hagerty Insurance, now the largest insurer of classic cars and vintage wooden boats in the world. Hagerty’s death today at 79 prompted recognition of both his business success and his penchant for kindness.
“He had a great sense of humor and a big vision of the world,” said Doug Luciani, president of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce. “A sense of anything is possible. He took a tremendous amount of pride in his kids.”
Hagerty died at his home after a battle with cancer. His son, McKeel, said in a statement his father taught his three children business leadership and the importance of giving back.
“He ... taught us the importance of taking care of the less fortunate,” McKeel Hagerty said. “He was incredibly generous to people even in his final days. The values he taught — the importance of preserving history, working hard and taking care of people — eventually allowed us to grow Hagerty from a single employee in the basement of my parents’ house to a team of more than 600 employees worldwide.”
Frank Hagerty was born in Detroit in 1934. He relocated to Traverse City in his early 20s and started an independent insurance agency, which he sold in 1981. He co-founded Hagerty Insurance with his wife, Louise, in 1984, after the couple couldn’t find insurance for their wooden boats. The company expanded into the classic car business in 1991.
The company recently said its U.S. sales are approaching $200 million. Plans call for the company to double in size in the next three to four years.
McKeel Hagerty said in a prior interview the business originally was viewed as a hobby business to help fund his parents' retirement.
“We always say that this business really started in the basement of my parents’ home, in the house that I grew up in out on the Peninsula," McKeel Hagerty said. "It was really meant to be more of a retirement business. It was never meant to be a big company by any stretch."