White Knoll, SC (Paul Kirby) For White Knoll area State Farm Insurance agent Mark Rouse, Jr., who believes that insurance is more than a business, it’s an important relationship that should grow as your life changes and you mature. Mark looks at his job as a responsibility to help his customers protect themselves from the unforeseen emergencies in life. He also wants to help them prepare for a time in their lives when things slow down, those golden years, when you should have time to enjoy yourself and your family more.
Mark never actually planned to be an insurance agent. His real passion has always been music. He’s an accomplished trumpet player who began playing in high school and still plays regularly in a jazz band to this day.
He grew up in North Augusta where he went to high school and first picked up an instrument. After high school, he went to college at USC-Aiken where he studied biology, chemistry, and geology; not fields of study that prep you for a life of selling insurance or playing jazz, soul, or big band music for sure.
After graduating college, life began to happen for Mark as it does for most of us. He realized he needed to make a living, so he worked in construction first, later sold clothes for big men at Sears, and along the way he learned he liked to be around people, work in customer service, and solve problems.
Later, Mark put his hard-earned degrees to use as an employee of a chemical company where he worked in the quality control lab. He knew fast he didn’t like working the late shift; he still enjoyed his music, and the late shift interfered with his love of the classics he’d first learned to play. He blew the trumpet and played some great music like the hits of Cab Calloway, Glenn Miller, and more.
He found the love of his life 42 years ago and he and Janice got married. He went to work for Southern Bell back in the days when the men strapped on boots, spikes, and climbed poles and worked on the telephone lines. He even learned to splice cables, looking at these as big puzzles where every piece came together, and you literally had 1,000’s of pairs of wires that had to match up perfectly to make things work properly. Later, when Southern Bell was consumed in an acquisition, he went into sales, marketing large PBX phone systems.
He and Janice had begun a family. First Ivy, now 41, then Stanley who’s now 35, and later their youngest Brad, who's just 32. They moved their family to the Irmo area of the Midlands, where they’ve lived ever since.
About this time, State Farm was looking to recruit a more diverse group of agents. The race and heritage of their current agents at that time didn’t necessarily reflect the racial makeup of the areas or the customers they served. As the south became more integrated, State Farm worked hard to do the same. Mark was recruited by an agency manager to start his own State Farm agency. It was an excellent opportunity and one he’s never regretted.
On June 1, 1988, Mark opened his own State Farm Agency off Augusta Road in a small strip-mall. He had a small, but dedicated staff, and began to build a customer base in that area. He began making those relationships with customers that have stayed with him until this day.
As the business grew, Sally Edwards, his manager at the time, began to talk about the benefits of moving closer to the fast-growing Lexington Community. They rode to the area and looked at several locations before venturing out to the community most often referred to as Red Bank. This was an area that had a rough, tough reputation, sandy soils, fields of broom straw, a few businesses, and lots of hardworking folks who lived in mobile homes or small houses.
Some thought Mark was crazy to even consider the area. White Knoll High School was just being built and the community hadn't really taken off yet. Where some saw a black-hole for a business, a virtual sure loser for a small firm, Mark saw the potential, the opportunity, and an area poised to explode and grow. As it turns out, Mark was right!
Mark first moved into the strip center near the Food Lion. His first neighbors were Rick and the crew at Buck’s Pizza, a package shop, and a few other small businesses between his office and the grocery store. As he got established, things began to happen. The school was completed, some apartments came to the area, and houses began to sprout like weeds. New churches followed, a Walmart and a Lowe’s were planned and built, and suddenly, everyone who thought Mark as crazy when he came west, began to see the wisdom in his business planning.
At some point, Darren Wiseman, then the area’s resident deputy for the sheriff’s department, began to talk with Mark and other business and community leaders about the need to organize to promote the quality aspects of the area. These leaders include people like Derrick Gardner of Lifesprings Church, Rick Gangipan of Buck’s Pizza, Betty White at the BB&T, Tim Ivey of the UPS Store, and several others. Eventually, the group banded together, formed the white Knoll Business Coalition, and began to meet quarterly. Mark was elected as their president and began to show his leadership skills with that group. Since its inception, the coalition has undertaken several projects to make White Knoll a better place, including an annual 5-K run that provides scholarships for students at the high school.
Now, as Mark has prospered and his agency has grown, he has three employees working in his office. His youngest son Brad is working with him, and there may come a day when Brad has an agency of his own. In a recent interview, Mark said, “That’s the joy of building something like this, having the ability to share the knowledge of growing a business with my son.”
Mark still enjoys playing the trumpet with his small jazz band. They play Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and some Dizzy Gillespie, among others. He recently said, “If music is in you, it will find a way to get out!” Whenever, and wherever he can, that’s just what happens; the music makes its way out as he performs for others.
He and his wife Janice still live in Irmo after all these years. They are active at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, where they raised their family, members for the past 34 years. He enjoys getting on the golf course every chance he gets, and he’s still in the office on South Lake Drive regularly. When asked when he planned to retire Mark said, “God is going to tell me when it’s enough.”
Until then, you can find Mark doing what he does best, building relationships with those who need the protections that insurance can offer. He believes in those relationships, in customer service, in advocating for the people who do business with him.
After a customer has a fire, you’re apt to see Mark at the home, making sure everyone is okay, even though there are adjusters who will come out later to check the extent of the damages. This is the way he believes business should be done, not always over the phone, by text, or e-mail.
He enjoys seeing the children of long-term customers becoming customers themselves. To him that’s a vote of confidence in his ability to give advice, sell the products they need, and steer them clear of the pitfalls of a complex business that he knows well and enjoys immensely.
You can find the Mark State Farm Insurance Agency at 1925 South Lake Drive in White Knoll, right across the street from the Hardee’s. You can reach his office by phone at (803) 957-9001 or find him on the internet at http://www.markrouse.org.