Insurance agent has been in Burnsville since day JFK was shot

Photo by John Gessner

Pictured outside his office building in Burnsville, State Farm agent Emmett Zweber retired Dec. 31 after nearly 58 years in business.

Zweber retiring after nearly 58 years with State Farm

Emmett Zweber remembers well what he was doing the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. It was a big day for Zweber, who was moving his fledgling insurance office from Prior Lake to Burnsville.

“I was just moving furniture and it come over the radio,” said Zweber, 85. “There wasn’t much TV at that time. I was moving stuff in and it come over the radio that President Kennedy got shot.”

Fifty-six years later, Zweber is finally retired from the State Farm agency he launched on March 1, 1962, in his mother’s dining room. Two months short of 58 years in business, Zweber finished his career on Dec. 31, 2019.

“The guy’s on his way now to take my sign down,” Zweber said in a Dec. 27 interview at his office building a block south of Highway 13 at Nicollet Avenue and Travelers Trail. “They’re taking it down in another hour.”

Zweber wasn’t down in the mouth about it.

“I’m all ready to go,” he said. “I’m not going to miss it at all. I’ll just miss the people I work with. I won’t miss the insurance business.”

Lifelong Burnsville resident Louis Gramsey, a client for nearly four decades, is amazed at Zweber’s longevity.

“Very nice,” he said of Zweber. “That’s why I stayed with him all these years. Dependable, reliable, and he was always good to his clients.”

Zweber won many awards and recognitions from State Farm for being a high-producing agent, according to his family. The industry hasn’t changed much, Zweber said.

“I’ve always been involved in the business, on the phone, talking to people, selling,” he said. “And I always had two gals working. I’ve been pretty active in the business all those years.

“I enjoyed it. And I like dealing with people.”

Born and raised south of Burnsville in New Market, Zweber grew up on a farm and graduated from New Prague High School. An uncle who had a small State Farm agency in New Market died, and Zweber took it over. He started in his parents’ farmhouse, moved briefly to an office in Prior Lake and came to Burnsville in November 1963.

“Prior Lake wasn’t really growing. I knew Burnsville was going to grow,” Zweber said. “So I moved out there and had a good friend by the name of Bob Daly — he was the local attorney — and he convinced me to move into the new Warrior Building.”

Still standing on Travelers Trail west of Nicollet Avenue, it was the second office building in Burnsville, Zweber said.

“I don’t think the (Burnsville) Parkway was even built when I moved into Burnsville in 1963,” Zweber said. “There was no Parkway. All farm.”

He established lasting friendships with some of Burnsville’s movers and shakers, including Daly and his brothers, River Hills housing developers Clyde Pemble and Bruce Thompson, developer Gene Happe and the Ames brothers of Ames Construction, including the late founder Dick Ames.

Zweber said he still has a standing weekday breakfast appointment at 6:30 a.m. with Ron and Butch Ames at the Perkins in Lakeville.

“Dick Ames built Nicollet Avenue three times,” Zweber said. “The first time was kind of like a gravel road. Then he rebuilt it. Ronnie and I were talking about that this morning at breakfast, about Nicollet Avenue in Burnsville.”

Zweber said he bought the Warrior Building after eight or nine years of renting there. He sold the 10,000-square-foot building in 1987.

“It was a headache,” Zweber said. “Dealing with tenants, they’re never satisfied. It’s either too cold or too hot, or the sidewalk wasn’t shoveled, or something. I said, that’s it — I sold it and built this building.”

Zweber’s new building at Nicollet and Travelers Trail was 2,400 square feet, half of which has been rented to Mosaic Dental. Now the dental office is buying the building, he said.

A resident since 1965, he’s owned a couple of homes in Burnsville, the first on Penn Avenue and the second on Oliver Avenue near Neill Park.

He and wife Ruth raised three children: Jon, Jason and Jennell. Jon is a State Farm agent in Lakeville.

“I have no complaints,” Zweber said. “When I moved into Burnsville I was the only agent in Burnsville, Apple Valley, Eagan — I was the only State Farm agent. There’s six of us now in Burnsville, and there must be five or six in Lakeville. In Eagan there has to be 10, 12. But I was the only agent for seven or eight years.”

Until now, he contemplated retirement only once.

“I was going to quit maybe eight, nine years ago when my wife passed away,” Zweber said. “I thought, well, what the hell am I going to do now? I’ve got to have something to do. So I stayed. And the company didn’t care. As long as I don’t get my fingers in the cookie jar, I could stick around.

“I slowed down quite a bit. I’m not out pounding doors. But they’ve been good to me.”

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