Willshire Neon Sign Shines Once Again

If you lived in or near Willshire about 60-70 years ago you may remember this neon sign.

State Auto Insurance sign (2024 photo)

This beautiful sign once shone brightly in the window of a home-based Willshire business on Green Street, the Hoblet Insurance Agency.

Today it is a predominate feature at the State Auto Insurance Headquarters in Columbus, Ohio. 

State Auto sign & plaque, Columbus, OH (2024 photo)

I want to thank Kyle Anderson for sharing the story of this neon sign. Kyle is the son of Rev. Gary Anderson (1945-2013) and his wife Mary Lou. Pastor Gary was Zion Chatt’s minister from 1978-1993. He baptized our son Jeff in 1982 at Zion Chatt.

Kyle is an Assistant Vice President, in Marketing and Communications at State Auto Insurance. Their corporate headquarters is in Columbus, Ohio.

In 2021 one of Kyle’s State Auto colleagues learned that her neighbor had a neon State Auto sign in their attic, and State Auto could have the sign if they were interested. State Auto Insurance was celebrating their 100th anniversary at the time and Kyle was responsible for the centennial activities, so he jumped at the opportunity to obtain the sign.

Then Kyle learned that the sign had once hung in the front window of a home-based agency in Willshire! What a surprise!

State Auto/Kyle received the sign in 2022 and had it completely restored. The Columbus State Auto headquarters building was being renovated at that time and there was no good place to hang the sign right then. But late last year the sign was mounted in a prominent location off the lobby. A few weeks ago they mounted a plaque next to the sign. The plaque details the background and history of the sign:

Inscribed on plaque near neon State Auto sign, Columbus, OH (2024 photo)

According to the 1950 census, Vernon Hoblet, 47, was an insurance salesman in Willshire. Vernon’s wife Wilma C, 45, was the other person in the household. [1]

Prior to 1956 the State Auto sign hung in the window of the Vernon Hoblet home on Green Street. From 1956-1967 it hung in the home of his daughter, Phyllis Bollenbacher. 

This Hoblet Insurance Agency ad was in the 1957 Willow, Willshire School’s yearbook:

Hoblet Insurance Agency, Willshire, 1957 Willow

This ad was in the 1964 Almega, Parkway Local School’s yearbook. Note that their telephone number has changed:

Hoblet Insurance Agency, 1964 Almega

State Automobile Insurance Company was formed in Columbus, Ohio, by Robert Pein in 1921, the first home-office casualty company. Pein wanted a new kind of insurance company with reasonable rates and prompt, fair claim service. State Auto offers insurance in 33 states through approximately 3400 independent agents and agencies.

Neon signs are beautiful and have been around for some time. The first neon signs date back to 1910 and they became popular in the United States in the 1920s through the 1950s.

Thank you, Kyle, for sharing the photos and the story and for preserving a piece of Willshire (and State Auto) history.  

[1] 1950 U.S. Census, Ohio, Van Wert County, Village of Willshire, ED 81-38, sheet 282 (stamped), Vernon Hoblet; Ancestry.com.


    • Linda on January 26, 2024 at 1:01 pm
    • Reply

    Wonderful . Wonderful, Always fun to read about historic artifacts being restored and on view for future generations. Growing up in the area I knew Hoblets and Bollenbachers. Thanks again. Great information.

    1. Yes, it certainly is good to know that vintage items are being saved and restored. Thanks for writing!

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