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Kanawha Insurance celebrates milestone

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By Johnathan Ryan

Kanawha Insurance Co. recently celebrated a milestone – 50 years in business.

Col. Elliott White Springs, chairman of what is now Springs Global, founded Kanawha Insurance Co. in 1958 to help Springs' employees provide more financial security to their families. He encouraged employees to participate and most did.

In naming the insurance company, Springs followed the practice he established of naming cotton mills after family members. The company was named after an ancestor of Springs, Thomas "Kanawha" Spratt, who was born in 1731 in the mid-Atlantic while his parents were on their way from northern Ireland to the Carolinas.

Spratt lived an exciting life in the frontier days. His friendship with the Catawba Indians was of benefit to early settlers of this region. It was his association with Catawba Indians that led to his nickname, Kanawha. Spratt died in 1807 in Fort Mill.

Birthday celebration

Kanawha Insurance Co.'s birthday was celebrated on May 22, with an employee and retiree luncheon in downtown Lancaster. The celebration had a 1950s theme, with some employees donning fashions of the day (such as poodle skirts) and dancing to karaoke performances of song titles of the period.

Mayor Joe Shaw presented the company with a proclamation, recognizing the milestone.

About 400 people work at the company's headquarters in downtown Lancaster.

Kanawha was sold by the Close family, descendants of Col. Springs, in 2004, to KMG America, a Minneapolis-based firm that was created for the express purpose of buying Kanawha and its subsidiaries.

Health-insurance giant Human Inc. bought KMG America for $187.7 million last year.

Kanawha enjoys a culture of longtime, loyal employees, said Dale Vaughan, president of Kanawha.

"We're really like a family here," said Vaughan, who has been with the company for 21 years.

Positive outlook

With public ownership, Kanawha is now more susceptible to the expectations of shareholders, but it's in a good position to meet those expectations, Vaughan said.

Kanawha is still autonomous and is small and flexible enough to turn the right profits, he said.

"There's more structure than what we had before, but we can still move quickly," Vaughan said.

Vaughan said the future for Kanawha looks bright.

Kanawha will seek to create new business for its products, and Kanawha will fill gaps in Humana's business line, Vaughan said.

"They'll be selling our products to their existing customers," he said.

Vaughan said it's critical that Kanawha be ready for the expected increase in customer volume with a capable and ready workforce. He anticipates a need for additional Kanawha's offices here.

Kanawha plans to maintain its downtown Lancaster offices, but might expand in or just outside Lancaster, Vaughan said.

"We'll continue to have a good presence in Lancaster," he said.

Contact reporter Johnathan Ryan at jryan@thelancasternews.com or (803) 416-8416