Commerce Founder's Retirement Marks End of Era  
Thursday, July 27, 2006

Make this a salute to Arthur J. Remillard Jr., founder, president, chief executive officer, and chairman of the board of Commerce Insurance Co.

Mr. Remillard will have a new title tomorrow: “Retired.”

He’ll surely do well as the insurer’s first former president and with a seat at corporate gatherings. So this is to examine the economic engine wrought by Mr. Remillard and others since Commerce opened with four employees in an East Webster storefront in 1972. To include a personal note, I’ve never bought stock in anything local, much less CIC, so this is to recognize what is good for the region and its economy.

The insurer is important to the Webster region because of the jobs it provides, the goods it buys, the impact of its payroll money — how it factors to promote service places, retail outlets and other businesses — and the real estate tax payments generated for the town.

Commerce Insurance Co. currently employs 1,850 people in its Webster properties, according to public relations director Patrick McDonald. Most live in this vicinity. Commerce owns nine office properties in Webster, three downtown, an emerging campus at Route 16 and Sutton Road with six office buildings, and a day care center for the children of employees off Bigelow Road. The buildings are valued at $31,318,900, according to town records, making the insurer’s current tax payments $530,793.02.

This reads: largest taxpayer in Webster.

A generators building, just completed, protects computerized service records, kicking in if a power failure occurs; and another office building will be started shortly on the site of the recently razed Gould & Eberhardt Gear Machinery Co. factory. These will add to the municipal tax assessments as early as next year.

Doing things right has been Mr. Remillard’s formula, and it carried to the administrative teams he helped to develop. Continuity will be assured when Gerald Fels and Randall V. Becker, time tested as the No. 2 and 3 officers, take over the top roles in the Commerce family tomorrow.

The motion here is: “Good luck.”

A couple of buildings on the former Bates Shoe Co. grounds in Webster were torn down recently.

One of the structures, once a boiler room, was at the approach to the original Bates plant on Park Street. To go way back and to pick up on an oft-related story, the building once housed the first Stanley Steamer seen on town roads.

Anyone who remembers when the late Francis J. “Frank” Steutermann ran the Point Pleasant Store on Thompson Road may have heard the story. His father was the boiler tender when A.J. Bates, founder of the shoe company, bought a steam car around 1900. Frank’s father had added duties as chauffer.

Mr. Bates kept the car in an ell of the stone boiler building. The vehicle was still a novelty when chauffeur Steutermann got permission to take his wife and young son for a short ride. The outing gave Frank a lifelong claim: He was the youngest person in Webster to ever ride in a Stanley Steamer.

The other building, known as the Myrtle Avenue Hall, was purchased by Bates or Wolverine World Wide, its successor, after the club closed. The shoemaker planned to open a day care center for children of employees, but things didn’t pan out.

It had a Myrtle Avenue address, but the hall, once property of the Slovak Catholic Sokol, backed to the Bates yard. The hall, with a bar for members, was used also for public gatherings.

Jeffco Fibers Inc., owners of the former shoe plant, is constructing an addition, and the boiler building had to be removed, judging from information filed at Town Hall. The Slovak Catholic Sokol lot will be “converted to grass,” the filing says.

Charles X. Kelley of Dudley, one of the round-table regulars at McDonald’s of Webster, tells a little story:

A long time ago in Ireland, his ancestors were known as O’Kelly,
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Telegram & Gazette

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