All in the family: That’s been the Mitzel Agency way for the last 100 years.
Established in 1923, four generations of Mitzels have run the insurance-based company. The Macomb-based agency – which was originally located in downtown Detroit and had a 25-year run in St. Clair Shores – specializes in surety bond services, and provides insurance services and solutions to both individuals and businesses.
It all started with Frank G. Mitzel, who after founding the family-run company, became president of the American Bowling Congress in the 1950s. He eventually gave way to his sons, Frank and Ken Mitzel, both of whom graduated from De La Salle Collegiate. Frank graduated from De La Salle in 1942, while Ken last walked the hallways of The Collegiate in 1945. Frank and Ken’s brother, Don, ‘43, also attended De La Salle.
The Mitzel Agency’s ties to DLS don’t come close to ending there, either.
Ken’s pair of sons and fellow Pilots alumni, Rick and Ron, each joined the family business upon graduating from the all-boys preparatory high school.
Rick, a class of ’75 graduate, and Ron, a class of ’78 graduate, have since been joined at the company by Ron’s son, Kevin.
Kevin, ’11, started working at the agency in March of last year.
Quite literally, it’s been all Mitzels, all the time, at Mitzel Agency for the past century. Ron Mitzel, for one, believes it’s what separates the insurance agency from the rest of the pack.
“I think the thing that sets us aside is people call up and talk to one of us. You don’t get a service center,” Ron said. “A lot of these larger agencies, you’ll call and get an ‘800’ number or some service center that doesn't know you from Adam.”
Mitzel Agency offers a personal touch that many of the larger insurance companies can’t lay claim to. It’s similar to what the faculty and staff of De La Salle provide to its students.
De La Salle won’t ever be mistaken for having one of the biggest high school campuses in the state of Michigan. Yet, that doesn’t matter at The Collegiate. It’s because the DLS difference is all about the hands-on learning and mentoring that the teachers, through the school’s small class sizes, are able to offer to Pilots students.
For nearly 100 years, it’s helped the school remain a premier source of secondary education for young men in the Metro Detroit area.
And, it all plays into the parallel that is undeniable between Mitzel Agency and De La Salle, according to Kevin Mitzel.
“We’re not the biggest agency in town. De La Salle’s not the biggest school in town,” Kevin expressed. “But, they both have a name that sticks. They have a reputation. And, that’s what they maintain: a quality reputation.”
For DLS, it’s a reputation of “building” boys into men, which has readily been existent since the school first opened its doors in 1926. The Christian Brothers have had a major role in that, too.
During Rick and Ron’s time as Pilots students, they had the chance to be taught by a variety of Christian Brothers, including the iconic Br. Robert Deary, FSC, ’61, and Br. George Synan, FSC.
Br. George, who served two separate, lengthy stints at De La Salle, also taught Rick and Ron’s father, Ken, during the 1940s. He proved to be a very influential figure in the lives of numerous Mitzel family members.
“He (Br. George) had an incredible memory. Not only would he know you and the year you graduated, but he would know your entire family,” Ron recalled. “He would ask, ‘Is your sister (Linda) still at the Bon Secours?’ She was a nurse at Bon Secours. I mean, he met her probably once. His memory was just unbelievable. I have a hard enough time remembering how old my kids are, let alone when they graduated.
“He (Br. George) was the most amazing person I think I ever met, and I tremendously enjoyed his European History classes.”
Br. George, whom De La Salle's Planned Giving Society is named after, was also known for being a constant presence at funeral homes – and for anyone associated with DLS (despite the fact that he didn’t drive a day in his life).
“I once passed him on Gratiot, by 6 Mile or whatever. He was by the bus stop. When I passed by, I said, ‘Oh my God, that’s Br. George.’ So, I said to myself, ‘I’m not going to let him sit at the bus stop. I’m going to turn around and pick him up,’” Ron said. “I went around the block, and by the time I came around, he had gotten on the bus. He would sit on the bus, and just go to funeral home after funeral home. If there was any connection – like I said, brother, sister, aunt, uncle – to a De La Salle alum, he’d show up.”
The Mitzels have stayed actively involved with De La Salle since graduating.
Rick Mitzel served as the Pilots freshman football coach for a number of years, beginning in 1977. John Maronto was the head varsity football coach at the time, and he hired Rick to lead the freshman team.
Rick, as the result of being part of the football program, had the chance to work alongside a variety of notable past Pilots coaches: Ray Barr, Gary Buslepp, Mike Jolly, Bill Meldrum, and Dennis Shubnell, ‘69, to name a few. Mitzel also coached along with current DLS football assistant Mike Szatkowski, ‘73.
Rick remembers those years fondly.
“It was a lot of fun staying involved, even after high school,” Rick said. “At that time being in Detroit, a lot of the kids came from all over the place. You know, if you go to a St. Clair Shores school, they’re there. They’re from there. They stay there. But, at De La Salle, you had kids from all over the place. You had kids from Roseville, Utica, you name it. There was nothing like coaching at De La Salle.”
Meanwhile, Kevin and his brother, Brandon, a class of ’14 graduate, each compete in the DLS alumni golf league at The Orchards.
Rick, Ron, and Kevin have also stayed closely interconnected with the DLS community through their line of work. They’ve written the insurance policies for a multitude of Pilots alumni and faculty and staff members over the years, including former DLS French teacher and assistant principal Evo Alberti.
Alberti was one of Ron's favorite Pilots teachers.
Interestingly enough, Mitzel Agency was in charge of the insurance plan for the commercial knife-sharpening business that Alberti ran on the side.
Through their various ties to De La Salle, Rick, Ron and Kevin have each formed lifelong relationships with numerous individuals who have been affiliated with the school at one point or another.
For instance, Ron – still to this day – meets with fellow members of the class of 1978 on the last Thursday of each month. Meanwhile, Rick, for the longest time, would get together with classmates of his on a near monthly basis to play cards.
Ron attributes the long-lasting bond he has with his classmates to the shared appreciation they have for the sacrifice their parents made to send them to DLS.
“All those guys have that same appreciation, knowing they could’ve gone to school for free but their parents decided to pay for their education. And, it’s not always easy to make that sacrifice, especially nowadays with the cost of tuition,” Ron expressed. “So, I think that has something to do with the tight-knit nature of the alumni base, too. Kids appreciate what their parents do for them, sending them to a school like De La Salle.”
You don’t have to be in Michigan to realize the strength of the DLS alumni base, either. The De La Salle brand is one that truly transcends time and place.
Just ask Rick Mitzel, who had a chance encounter with a DLS alum all the way in Glendale, Ariz., while attending the College Football Playoff national semifinal game between Michigan and TCU.
“My son (Steven Mitzel) and I were standing in a long line of people, and the guy behind me and I just struck up a conversation. We started talking about where we each lived. I said I lived in St. Clair Shores, and he told me he lived on 13 (Mile) and Harper. He proceeded to then ask me where I went to school, and I told him De La Salle. And, he went, ‘So did I,’” Rick commented. “So, here I am in Arizona, at a game of 100,000 people, and the guy next to me says he went to De La Salle.”
The reach of the De La Salle network is certainly significant, and it carries plenty of value for years after one graduates from the school.
“In the real world, when you run into someone and conversation comes up that you went to De La Salle, sometimes I feel like that’s more impactful than saying you went to the same college together,” Kevin said. “Because of being a De La Salle grad, you’ll instantly form a connection. It’s just a different community of people that you deal with through the De La Salle network.”
The De La Salle community is a close-knit one that looks out for one another and has a genuine care for each other's best interests. And, the same can be said about Mitzel Agency and how it treats both its smallest and biggest clients.
It's helped the insurance agency thrive for 100 years. And, with the guarantee of the Mitzel family personal touch, there's little-to-no doubt that the family-run business will continue to succeed headed into the next century.