If you want to know about skiing, you could ask Marie Kerlin. If you want to know about music, you could ask her brother, John. If you need insurance, either will do.
Both Kerlins now run their father’s one-time State Farm office at 134 Nassau Street, though John just moved here from Roszel Road a few months ago. This is the same office David Kerlin founded when he moved the family from Washington, D.C. and, with four other agents, established State Farm as a New Jersey company. On the wall of this office, opened in 1972, still hangs the very first State Farm policy written in New Jersey.
Neither Kerlin set out specifically to follow in their father’s tracks. Marie went to the University of Colorado because she wanted to ski.
“If you’re not going to Princeton, Harvard, or Yale, it doesn’t matter where else you go,” she says. So she picked a place full of powdery mountains and worked toward her bachelor’s in communication between runs.
She graduated in 1974 and found little opportunity in the job market. “People don’t remember, but the economy was really in a ditch in 1974,” she says. With no jobs and no career promises in skiing, Kerlin headed back to Princeton to take a sales job at Prince Manufacturing. From there she moved to Johnson & Johnson, where she says she got some heavy-duty sales training.
All the while, her father had been plugging along with his State Farm agency on Nassau Street. He was the entrepreneurial type, she says. A man fond of saying things like “Why work for somebody else if you can work for yourself?”
Kerlin decided that she wanted to be her own boss and started in the insurance game in Pennsylvania. When David Kerlin retired in 1995 (he died in 2008), Marie stepped in to take over the business. But that was after she had proven to State Farm that she could do it.
“There is no nepotism at State Farm,” she says. If you want to pass your agency onto your kids, they will have to pass all the same tests as anyone else before the company allows them to hang a State Farm shingle.
John Kerlin decided to give insurance a try too. He had been a working musician, a guitar player who goes by his full name, John Buck Kerlin, but not a particularly wealthy one. “Music was pretty hand-to-mouth,” he says. But he did enjoy his time as a professional player, here and in Arizona.
“I started playing in 1964 and managed to stay on the road until 1985,” he says.
In 1985 he started working with his father on Nassau Street and found he had become addicted to the benefits of a steady paycheck. The inclination to provide for his new family also encouraged him, he says. He opened his own State Farm office at 13 Roszel Road in 1994. The brother-and-sister act lived what Marie calls “the perfect marriage,” separate but integral to the company.
Last year they started talking about merging. They both worked for State Farm, they both worked in Princeton, and they were paying separate rents.
So they figured out their compatibility and differences and were surprised to find out that they complemented each other as if, well, they were related.
Marie, it turns out, is more comfortable in the sales end, while John is more comfortable in the administrative end. “We both do it all, and John is excellent at sales, but it works great,” she says. “I just don’t know why we didn’t do it sooner.”
John, who earned his bachelor’s from Thomas Edison State College, moved his office to Nassau Street earlier this year, and the two firms now employ eight, including the Kerlins. And he still plays music.
In fact, Kerlin says he is able to do more as a musician now, with a steady income, than he ever could as a young dreamer. In his Upper Freehold home he has a digital studio, which itself is the successor to an old school Tascam 24-track mixing station.
This is also where he is producing three CDs and some music for his own forthcoming collection, which features some drum work by Ronnie Howden, a Princeton resident and one-time drummer for the British progressive rock band Nektar. Nektar is best known for its 1973 rendition of “Do You Believe in Magic.”
“My job allows me to afford more equipment than I would ever have as a musician,” he says. “I’m just looking for who I want to master my CD.”
#b#State Farm Insurance#/b#, 134 Nassau Street, Princeton 08542; 609-951-9288; fax, 609-497-2940. John Buck Kerlin CLU CHFC LUTCF, agent. www.johnbuckkerlin.com
#b#State Farm Insurance#/b#, 134 Nassau Street, Princeton 08542; 609-921-7059; fax, 609-497-2940. Marie Kerlin, agent. Home page: www.mariekerlin.com