Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Steve Copland of Seabury, Copland, & Anderson Insurance Agency, third from left, is joined by colleagues, from left, Vince Oberti, John Anderson and his son, John.
After first trying to humbly decline the honor, longtime insurance agent Steve Copland accepted one of the Madera Chamber of Commerce’s Lifetime Achievement Awards after getting chewed out by his daughter.
“I don’t think I’ve done out of the ordinary to warrant such a prestigious award,” said Copland, a partner with Seabury, Copland and Anderson insurance. “I think I do what everybody does. I’m very humbled by it, for sure.”
Copland, along with Dr. Mohammad Ashraf, Dale Evans of Evans Feed and Livestock Supply, Kay Rhoads of Peck Printery and memorial recipient Sal Perlongo of Perlongo’s Bakery, will be honored today at the Madera District Fairgrounds during the Lifetime Achievement Awards and Installation dinner. The dinner begins at 6 p.m. and tickets are $50 per person. For reservations, contact the Madera Chamber of Commerce at 673-3563.
“It’s got to be a slow honoring day,” Copland said of his honor. “It means I’m getting old. I really don’t know why I’m getting honored. I don’t know of anything of notoriety that I’ve done.”
Madera Chamber of Commerce CEO Debi Bray called Copland for a talk.
“I thought it was to talk about the Nishimoto tribute that we just pulled off,” Copland said. “Debi walked in and my daughter, Tricia, was right behind her. I thought what a coincidence. Debi told me I was selected for the Lifetime Achievement Award. I told Debi that I want to humbly and respectfully decline. I don’t feel comfortable on the stage. I want to do things behind the scenes. Debi said, ‘I knew you were going to say that. That’s why I brought Tricia. Tricia, talk to your dad.’ Tricia said that we were going to do this whether you want to do this or not. I finally said, all right. They had both of my arms behind my back.”
Copland is a lifelong Madera resident, except for a few college years in Fresno. The second generation Maderan graduated from Madera High in 1966. He is a regular at Madera football alumni events and played until he hurt his knee, which led to a photography business and work at the Aragon Hotel.
“I worked since I was 16 years old,” Copland said. “I was a night clerk at the Aragon Hotel, which my dad owned with some partners. I worked for a dollar an hour. I worked seven days a week. I’ve never had a car payment. I saved up my money and didn’t have a chance to spend it because I was working all the time.”
Copland, now 69, went to Fresno City College and then went to Fresno State. While going to college, he worked as a night orderly at St. Agnes Hospital and graduated with a degree in business administration. After he graduated, Copland was promoted to the St. Agnes accounting office and worked there for a couple of years before getting a job at an insurance company in Fresno.
“About five years there, my dad wanted to get out of the insurance business and wanted to retire,” Copland said. “He asked if I was ready to buy him out. After much deliberation, I took the plunge.”
Copland began work at Seabury, Copland & Anderson in 1977 and became a partner in 1978.
“I’ve been here ever since,” he said.
Copland’s father, John, started the company with Bill Seabury on Jan. 1, 1939.
“They formed a partnership on a 3X5 card that read, ‘I promise to be a good partner to Bill Seabury’ and Bill wrote, ‘I promise to be a good partner with Johnny Copland.’ They exchanged cards and ran it that way ever since.“
The old partners used to settle differences in the alley behind the business.
“When they had disagreements, they had two pair of boxing gloves,” Copland said. “They went to the back alley and the first one that fell down, lost. My dad brought these home and there were two sets. My brothers and I would box with them. The dog eventually got to the other set. That’s how they settled disputes in those days. It was a lot simpler in those days.”
Despite what Copland says, he has done many things to help clients that have needed to use his insurance.
“My dad used to have a saying that he would rather have a friend than a client,” Copland said. “If somebody came in looking for insurance and if we couldn’t do anything better or improve, he would be the first to tell him to stay where they are. Over the years, I’ve had people with fire losses. I had one on Christmas Eve. They had everything totaled. They didn’t even have a toothbrush. I had the adjuster out there on Christmas Day. I offered my house for them to stay. I have an extra room and the hotels were jammed. They had no money. They left, came back and their house was gone with everything in it. They had no presents for their two kids.”
Copland also tells a story about how Madera came to house pink cows for a few months.
“One year, I insured a cattle truck that lost control (on Highway 80) on a downhill grade,” Copland said. “On the bottom of the grade was a transport truck that was full of rodamine dye (used for paper, lipstick, cosmetics). The truck lays the trailer on its side and runs into this box truck. I’ve got dead cattle all over and the dye gets out and got all over the cattle. Caltrans went up to Donner and the Rodamine got into Lake Folsom, from which Sacramento gets its drinking water. The health department said that rodamine was not approved for human consumption. We had pink cattle south of town for six months.”
Copland has been a member of the Elks Lodge and many insurance organizations that have come and gone. He’s been on the Madera Downtown Association and will be on the board at the Madera County Arts Council.
“I’ve helped people, but I’ve tried to stay anonymous,” he said. “I’ve made donations to organizations anonymously. Youth sports, FFA, historical society and the list goes on-and-on with the donations. If it’s kids, I try to slip them something.”
Copland tells of little chores he has done for the community like helping clear up graffiti, picking up shopping carts and mowing neighbors’ yards.
“I’m flummoxed to even why I’m getting this award,” he said. “I have paint in my car for when I would see graffiti, I would stop and paint it out. My grandkids, we’ve gone on graffiti hunts. My grandkids would love it. I just do stuff like that. I pick up shopping carts with my truck and send it back. I don’t consider those things for any notoriety. It’s just things people should do like picking up trash.
“I’ve mowed the neighbors lawn who were ill or had surgery,” he said. “I had a neighbor across the street, Bobby Creamer, pass away. I told the family not to worry about the front yard. I told them I’ll take care of it until they figure out what you’re going to do. That’s just neighborly.”
When he’s not working at the insurance office, picking up shopping carts or covering graffiti, Copland likes to hunt, fish and go on long road trips.
“I like to take off with no itinerary, drive until I’m tired and see if I can find a place to stay,” he said. “I’m a sucker for any historical monuments. Want to see a big ball of twine, turn here. I’ll turn to see it and say that’s a big ball of twine. I like spending time with family.”
Copland is a divorced father of three. He was married for 35 years. His oldest daughter is Tricia Protzman, the human resource director for the Madera County Department of Education. His son John is a partner at Seabury, Copland and Anderson. His youngest, Christina, is a doctor in New Jersey. He has five grandchildren, ages 18-to-1.
“They were all raised in Madera,” he said. “Every Friday, I was a babysitter for the older grandkids.”
Copland is trying to cut back on his workload, but he doesn’t want to just sit still.
“I haven’t had a day off in two years,” he said. “I am going to start cutting back. I can’t sit still and read a book. If I didn’t have this job, I would be painting park benches or be a Walmart greeter.”
However, if Copland were to retire, he would get in his car and take off.
“I’ve done cross-country a couple of time,” he said. “I enjoy that and meet a lot of people.”