Wilfred B. Gasche

WILFRED B. GASCHE, One of the best known figures in fire insurance circles of Kansas, and, in fact, of the West, is Wilfred B. Gasche, president since 1900 of the Alliance Co-Operative Insurance Company of Kansas, president of the Kansas State Association of Mutual Insurance Companies for the same length of time, and president of the National Association for two terms. Mr. Gasche was one of the earliest promoters of mutual insurance in the Sunflower state, and has steadily advanced in this connection until he is today a national figure in this line of indemnity against loss. He is a native of Ohio having been born on a farm in Fulton County, February 3, 1859, a son of Jacob and Elizabeth (Pelton) Gasche, and has been a resident of Kansas since 1886.

Jacob Gasche was born in Witzlar, Prussia, and there received his education. He became a thorough linguist, speaking French Spanish and German fluently, and also being able to translate and write English, although not able to speak the latter language until after he came to America. In his young manhood he adopted the vocation of educator, and until he was twenty-seven years of age was engaged in teaching schools in the vicinity of his native home. At that time his parents, becoming dissatisfied with the congested conditions which existed in their native land and hearing of the opportunities offered in America, decided to come to this country, and after a voyage of six weeks on a four-masted sailing vessel, arrived at New York. From there they made their way to a farm in Wayne County, Ohio, where they resided a few years, and while in that community Jacob Gasche was married. With his bride he moved to what was then the wilderness of Lucas County, Ohio, but which later became known as Fulton County. There he erected a small log house, seventeen feet square, which was cut from the virgin forest, and in the construction of which not one nail was used. The gable ends were "cobbed off" (built with logs), each succeeding one shorter than the one beneath it. The roof was made of clap-boards, some four feet long, split from the native trees, these being supported by small logs extending the length of the house and held in place with smaller logs or poles placed on top of each course. The floor was constructed of puncheons (slabs split from logs), while the door was made of the same material, hanging on wooden hinges, with wooden strips crosswise and wooden pins attaching these strips to the slabs or planks. A wooden latch was on the inside of the door and a leather string was attached thereto, extending through a small hole in the door and projecting outside, so that the visitor could "pull the latch-string" and enter.

It was in this humble log-cabin home that Wilfred B. Gasche was born. The nearest flour mill was twenty miles away, on the banks of the Maumee River, with only a bridle-path for the greater part of the distance, and the journey was a very dangerous one owing to the wild beasts which infested the forests. The round trip required two days, and the return of the husband and father was always a matter of grave concern to his loved ones. Here Jacob Gasche labored industriously and untiringly in clearing his land from the timber, in draining it and in putting it under cultivation, and his labors were finally crowned by success in the developing of a handsome and valuable property. Mr. Gasche was a man of peace, who was held in the warmest affection by all with whom he came in contact, and whose counsel and advice were sought by all in trouble of any kind. He became a power in his community, and for a number of years served capably and with absolute fairness in judicial offices. In 1882 he brought his family to Kansas, settling on a farm in Coffey County, where he continued his agricultural labors until his death, which occurred near Hartford, Kansas, June 30, 1887. In Kansas, as in Ohio, Mr. Gasche was held in highest esteem. Mrs. Gasche was born at Chester, Meigs County, Ohio, January 13, 1824, the daughter of David and Betty Pelton. She died at Stryker, Ohio, January 6, 1914, at the advanced age of ninety years. Mrs. Gasche was a woman of the sturdy, pioneer type, who worked side by side with her husband, reared her children to lives of usefulness and was an unfailing aid to her neighbors in times of sickness and trouble. She bore her husband five children, of whom two are now deceased.

Wilfred B. Gasche attended the district schools of Ohio, but in his youth his health was poor and he was advised by physicians not to confine himself to too much study, so that the greater part of his education has come from the school of experience. As a youth he was associated with his father in the work of the home farm, and he continued to be thus engaged until after his marriage and the birth of his first child, when, in 1881, he moved to Nebraska and opened up a claim. He resided on this homestead until 1886, when he removed to Lyon County, Kansas, and there took up his residence on a farm. From that time forward he was engaged in agricultural work and carpentry until 1900, when he was elected president of the Alliance Co-Operative Insurance Company, of Topeka, Kansas, an office which he has held to the present time.

Mr. Gasche was engaged in farm work at the time of the invasion of the Farmers' Alliance Association into Kansas, and with others, succeeded in the formation of the first Alliance at Hoosier Creek Schoolhouse. Mr. Gasche was made the first secretary of this association, and when the Lyon County Alliance was formed he was elected as delegate to the convention from his local. He subsequently served as both president and secretary of the county organization for one term each, and was also sent as a delegate to the State Alliance. In this body he served in various capacities until his election as president, in which position he acted for two years. In the meantime the question of economy and safety of securing insurance of farm property was being agitated, and July 13, 1895, the Alliance Co-Operative Insurance Company was organized, with its home office at Topeka. At that time John F. Willits was president of the state body and J. B. French held the post of secretary, each of these gentlemen serving in the same positions in the newly-formed company for the first year. In the early days of the organization it required the sacrifice of personal interests, time and money on the part of those holding official positions. The only capital at its organization was the energy and co-operation of its members. Insurance was written on the assessment plan, with only a small portion of the premium paid in advance. The greater part of this limited income was consumed in paying losses soon after the organization was effected, thus leaving very little indeed for salaries and expenses. Following Mr. Willits in the office of president were: Benjamin Evans, who served two years, and George A. Troudner, who acted one year. From the time of its inception Mr. Gasche had been a member of the board of directors, and his good judgment, keen perception and thorough knowledge of the subject, eminently fitted him for the office of chief executive. In 1900 he was induced to accept the presidency of the association, and through seventeen years he has directed its policy in such an able manner, and with such excellent results, that there has been no serious thought of a change, every election coming by unanimous vote. That the farm mutual companies in Kansas occupy a very important place in the great co-operative movement is shown by the following figures: Twenty years ago the stock companies in Kansas were writing insurance in Kansas on farm property, five years combined, at 5 per cent, on the installment plan, 1 per cent to be paid each year. Today this rate is almost unheard of, and the stock company's cash rate for five years' combined insurance is 3 per cent. This is the basis rate used by nearly all Kansas mutuals for insurance written on the assessment plan. The stock companies formerly collected the full 5 per cent. The farm mutuals take a premium note at 3 per cent, collect in assessments what is needed, and on expiration of the term cancel the unpaid portion and return the note to the member. This would mean that the farmers of Kansas are obtaining their insurance for approximately 50 per cent of what it cost them a score of years ago.

A man of force, who accomplishes anything he sets out to do, Mr. Gasche has been frequently honored by the people with whom he is associated. For two years he was president of the National Association of Mutual Companies, and he still remains as a member of the executive and legislative committees of that body. He is the proud possessor of a gavel made of nine kinds of wood secured in this and other countries, which was presented to him by the State Association of Oregon when the convention of the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies convened there in 1909 with Mr. Gasche as president. His information is not limited to the business with which he is connected most intimately, for he is well posted on general subjects. Kind, affable and approachable, with an inexhaustible fund of humor, he numbers his friends by the hundreds, and is a popular figure in any body in which he is found. In politics he is a democrat, and in 1910 was an aspirant for the Kansas Legislature, but was defeated in a strong opposition district, and since that time has not engaged actively in public affairs. Fraternally, he is affiliated with the Knights and Ladies of Security, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and the Ancient Order of United Workmen, and he and Mrs. Gasche are consistent members of the Presbyterian Church.

On July 21, 1878, Mr. Gasche was married to Miss Sarah E. Geer, and to this union six children have been born, of whom two died in infancy. The others are: Carrie, who is the wife of R. O. Gardner, a prosperous farmer of Lyon County, Kansas; Ralph Ernest, who is engaged in farming in Finney County, Kansas; Grover W., engaged in operating the old home farm in Lyon County; and Miss Ruth, who resides with her parents.


A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written and compiled by William E. Connelley, Secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka. Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, copyright 1918; transcribed 1997.
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