HOMETOWN: Ellenburg Depot, New York
FAMILY: Husband Allen (deceased), adult children Amy and Chris, and three grandchildren
EDUCATION: Attended Northern Adirondack Central School and pursued coursework in insurance and to become a mobile notary
OCCUPATION: Former owner of LaBarge Insurance Agency, currently serves as a mobile notary
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Past president of the Ellenburg Kiwanis Club, member of numerous Catholic organizations, board member Ellenburg Housing Authority, and member Town of Ellenburg Zoning Board
Andree LaBarge grew up in the small town of Ellenburg Depot and never left. Her life story illustrates how creating a fulfilling family and professional life right in your own backyard is possible no matter where you start. She married a local man, raised her family and ran a successful insurance agency in “The Depot” for over three decades. As a young wife and mother, LaBarge worked at Harris Bindery Systems for 13 years. Shortly after her late husband decided to buy the local insurance agency, she left Harris to focus on the family business. The success of the agency led the couple to purchase a second location in Mooers in 1981.
With two teenagers at home and a successful family business in place, the LaBarge family built a strong foundation for a stable future. Unfortunately, fate had different plans for them. Tragedy struck the family in 1983 when Allen LaBarge was killed in a car accident. LaBarge abruptly became a widow burdened by grief, while taking on sole responsibility for raising two children and shepherding the expanding family business through a difficult transition. “I had no formal training or experience in the insurance business,” she recalled, “And all of a sudden I was expected to be out in front.”
Andree considered walking away, but met with such support and encouragement from the local business community she decided to double-down and assume leadership for the two agencies. She found herself in urgent need of education to learn the ropes so she could quickly get the licenses needed to sell insurance.
In the 30 years since, LaBarge has made a lasting impact on her community, including the honor of being the first woman president of the Ellenburg Depot Kiwanis in the 1980’s. Currently, she is semi-retired. She sold the LaBarge Insurance gency to her son Chris in 2018 and now enjoys staying active in the business community by providing mobile notary services throughout the North Country.
Following are excerpts from Andree LaBarge interview with Strictly Business.
SB: What is a mobile notary and how did you become one?
AL: A mobile notary is a service that is usually offered by title companies as a convenience for their clients. There is so much that is done remotely today. Instead of a client having to go and find a notary, the title companies hire a mobile notary to meet the client at their home or business. It is a unique program and there are very few of us in this area. I was a general notary as part of my business. I knew I wanted to continue to meet with people after I retired, so after I sold the agency, I put the energy into becoming a mobile notary signing agent.
SB: What was it like to be among the first women in Kiwanis?
AL: When I took over the business, Kiwanis was a male club and women were not invited to be members. When I asked to become a member, it was about business. The club was made up of business people, and it was meant to give service back to the community. I felt that I could be an asset to them. I joined the Kiwanis in 1983, the year they opened for women. It turns out I was right, because the next year I was named president. I believe Nancy Church became president of the Plattsburgh chapter at the same time I did.
SB: What important lessons did you learn early in your career?
AL: Through years of experience working with employees and clients, I learned that when you listen to people you can take the actions needed to meet their needs and that kindness will always be rewarded.
SB: What does success look like to you?
AL: It means staying focused on obligations, networking, learning to relax during stressful times, and staying positive. It is important to continue to learn so I always take time to focus on me and appreciate where I am in life.
SB: What habits do you have that contribute to your success?
AL: I always wake up early, I listen to the morning news and organize my priorities so I am ready to achieve the goals I set for each day. I also make a point of expressing a professional image by dressing well and being well-groomed.
SB: If you could start your professional career over again, what would you do differently?
AL: I would attend college so I could expand my knowledge in the insurance industry, and become a specialist in one designated product. I had to learn everything because I was an independent insurance agent who sold all kinds of insurance.
SB: What are you most proud of professionally?
AL: I am most proud of keeping a successful presence in the insurance industry for 38 years. I am proud of being respected by the community while working in what was traditionally a man’s world.
SB: What is your favorite quote and how does it speak to you in your life?
AL: “Love many, trust few. Paddle your own canoe,” by William Shakespeare. I love this quote, it inspires me.
SB: If you could have dinner and spend an evening with any well-known person, living or dead, who would you choose and why?
AL: Katie Couric is someone I admire and respect. She and I have travelled a similar path in life. We were both widowed at a young age with children to raise while still taking care of our own career goals.
SB: What do you do in your free time?
AL: I like to unwind listening to music and podcasts. I take the time to enjoy a game of golf. I also enjoy wine tasting, cooking, relaxing with family and friends, and the beauty of the North Country by the lake.
SB: When you find yourself having an off day, what do you do to get back on track?
AL: I regroup myself to focus on what matters most. It helps me to think about who my best friends are and to remember that one of them is me.
SB: What do you believe the North Country community should do today to ensure a prosperous future?
AL: It is important to work with the younger generation in the community to get them involved and become leaders and serve in public office and community services. A great example of this is the Kiwanis Key Club that helps gives kids a great foundation to learn how to become civic leaders.