• Volume 18 Number 2
    Spring 2009

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12.
Frank Crohn, BS ’45
 Rhinebeck, N.Y.  •  Profiled: Summer ’96

Retired insurance executive

Frank Crohn has no trouble remembering his first job as a college graduate. It’s the pay he’d be willing to forget.Frank Crohn

“I made 80 cents an hour working for a subsidiary of Swift & Co. in their slaughterhouse along the East River (in New York City). Not exactly the place one would think an animal sciences major would go to look for work.”

The Big Apple took a bite out of Crohn. After six months on the job, he retreated to the rural Connecticut town of Bethel, bought a small chunk of ground and started raising chickens, pigs and cows.

“I quickly ran out of space for housing broilers, and as this was soon after World War II, no wood products or nails were available to farmers. To solve this problem, I bought a 10-year-old turkey house in Wilton, Conn., about 25 miles away.”

Crohn hired a couple of men, dismantled the turkey house with a chain saw and hauled it back to Bethel for reassembly.

“Slowly I began to dig the footings and put this 168-foot structure back together. After all this effort, I wish I could report some level of farm success,” Crohn says, “but it wasn’t there.”

Crohn thought a simple $100 bank loan would be enough to finish off the building. But with the country still short of everything in the wake of the war, money was tight. Crohn was denied.

Crohn may have known how to raise chickens, pigs and cows. And he certainly learned how to slaughter sheep and cattle in New York.

But a certain agricultural economist in West Lafayette told Crohn there was more to being a successful farmer: “Mr. Crohn, I’m afraid you don’t know much about agricultural economics.”

“Professor Earl Butz, who later became U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, was right,” Crohn says.

A high school friend suggested that the personable Crohn try the insurance business. That discussion has made all the difference.

“Over the years, at various companies, I rose from agent to assistant manager to agency manager. Finally, with a few friends, I started my own company, which eventually became a large and profitable publicly owned life insurance company that is now part of Citigroup.”

During his 50-year career in the life insurance industry, Crohn was president and CEO of two public companies in two states and was president of two insurance company associations.

So was Crohn a mismatch for a Purdue Agriculture degree? His father used to think so.

“My father once chided me, saying, ‘What good did it do you to go to ag school at Purdue and then spend your whole business career in the life insurance industry?’

“Plenty, Pop,” the younger Crohn replied. “If it wasn’t for Purdue, I wouldn’t have had the self-confidence to do what I did. Purdue gave me a foundation for the future and enabled me to go into unknown situations and believe I could accomplish my goals.”