011318-blm-loc-1statefarmworkers

An unidentified mail delivery clerk at State Farm wears roller skates while working in the downtown building circa 1945.

COURTESY McLEAN COUNTY MUSEUM OF HISTORY

BLOOMINGTON — Back in the mid-1940s, the most efficient way to deliver mail at State Farm headquarters was on roller skates.

Mary Kauffman, then 16 and a high school sophomore, spent the summer of 1944 gliding up and down the sixth-floor aisles of the Art Deco building at 112 E. Washington St. She got the job after one of the regular skaters broke her ankle.

Kauffman, now 90, and 94-year-old Doris Bielfeldt, who also worked at the building in the mid-1940s, were disappointed to hear State Farm no longer will have employees at the building after Jan. 31. Bielfeldt hopes she'll have a chance for a last visit.

"It made me sad to think that no one really knows what's going to happen to that beautiful, big building," said Kauffman. "It was a pretty busy building full of employees when I was working there."

Bielfeldt's son, Paul of Anchor, said State Farm founder G.J. Mecherle came to his grandparents' farm when his mother was a young girl, asking them to invest in the new company. But the stock market crash of 1929 hit, and the family had to concentrate on saving the family farm.

Years later, Doris Bielfeldt became a State Farm employee. One of his mother's fondest work memories is of the girls who delivered the mail on skates.

"It was during (World War II) and a lot of the women who worked there were married to servicemen, so they were so anxious to see if they got mail from their husbands and boyfriends," recalled Kauffman, of Normal. "I would skate down the aisles and put mail in their inboxes, and I can remember how excited they would be when they got a letter from their husbands and boyfriends."

When she returned to school after summer break, Kauffman (then Mary Walsh) continued working at night and on weekends, typing policies and filing.

Bielfeldt worked at the headquarters for three years, typing and filing, until she quit to get married.

"If you worked at State Farm, you were kind of looked up to," said Bielfeldt. "I enjoyed it. It was a nice place to work. It was a big place. It was modern. It had all of the latest things."

She stayed with an aunt and uncle in Bloomington during the week and traveled home on weekends to the family farm, where she still lives. 

Paul Bielfeldt remembers hearing his grandparents, John and Dorothy Reinhart, talk about Doris working for State Farm "because that was a big thing to have a job working at State Farm."

Kauffman is proud she never had a skating accident when she delivered the mail.

"I just thought this was more efficient. We could deliver mail quicker. It worked out so well because instead of walking all that distance, you were on skates. You could go lickety-split."

Follow Maria Nagle on Twitter: @pg_nagle

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