By Alexandra Cash, JTV
In March of 1923, in a storefront on South Jackson Street in downtown Jackson, two Grass Lake brothers started a business that would serve the community for more than nine decades. Rafe and Merrill Craft were the founders of The Craft Agency Inc., which celebrates its 95th anniversary of business this year. Throughout the generations, numerous Craft men have provided the leadership for the agency to remain the strong entity that it is today.
“It’s a tremendous privilege to carry on a tradition and to deal with the same businesses and families in many instances that we have dealt with for generations, literally. We feel a strong sense of pride and obligation to this community,” said David Craft, Executive Vice President.
Rafe and Merrill worked hard throughout the turbulent times of the Great Depression and World War II. In the 1950s Merrill’s two sons, Robert and James, joined the business as the second generation of leadership. Following the passing of Rafe in 1955, Merrill and his two sons continued to run the business for many years, expanding services and developing deeper relationships with clients.
The third generation of Crafts joined the business after college and obtaining work experience in other fields as per Bob’s dictate. Rick Craft was the first to join, followed by Bob (Jr), Jim and David. James Sr. retired in 1998 and Bob turned the business over to his sons in 2000. Bob never really retired and literally worked until the day he died in February 2010. The “boys” together ran the business as they expanded market share, developing niche programs sold here in Jackson and across the country.
In 2005, The Craft Agency moved to Spring Arbor Road after completion of their new headquarters. Having come from a former home on “Mansion Row” on Michigan Avenue, the new building was quite a change of pace. Business grew and more employees were added, but still The Agency remained family oriented. Rick retired at the end of 2017 and the business continues to be family owned and operated by Bob and David.
Community involvement is something that The Craft Agency places a large priority. Their commitment to giving back is deeply rooted in the fabric of their company. They actively support several of Jackson’s most beloved institutions including the Jackson Symphony Orchestra, the Michigan Theater, Ella Sharp Museum of Art and History, and Spring Arbor University.
“The Jackson community has always been very good to us and we feel that we need to always be cognizant of where our support comes from and to pay it forward,” said David Craft.
In addition to the company’s community passion, Robert and David Craft personally “walk the walk”. Robert and his wife Debbie formed the inaugural Walk to Cure Juvenile Diabetes in Jackson in 1999. Since that time, the Walk has raised over $3.3 million from the greater Jackson community toward the cause.
David has been involved with many community organizations and initiatives including Big Brothers Big Sisters (former Big Brother of the Year), the Ella Sharp Museum Board of Trustees, the Board of Trustees of the Jackson Symphony Orchestra and the Henry Ford Allegiance Health Foundation Board along with many other civic organizations.
Over the past 95 years The Craft Agency has remained flexible to contour with the needs of the community. When Rafe and Merrill began the business they worked with real estate, bonds and general insurance. Upon Rafe’s death, the company focused solely on insurance services. Throughout the decades, the company has provided products ranging from personal protection like auto, homeowners and life insurance to commercial insurance programs for unique businesses such as archery retailers and manufacturers, tanning salons, race teams and food processors.
From Rafe and Merrill to Robert and James and now to Bob and David, the Craft family has been there for much of Jackson’s history, insuring that other Jackson families are protected. The mutual support that the community and they have with each other is clearly evident in their endurance of nearly a century.
Alexandra Cash is a Jackson native with a passion for world travel, culture, lifetime learning, and adventure. Visit her website to read stories of her adventures at alexandracash.com or view her videos on YouTube at Alexandra Cash – Cash’s Corner.