1975 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"The essential qualities are self-respect, pride in one’s work, a determination to be best at what you do, and personal integrity."
Dean Jeffers was born in rural Monroe County, Ohio, in a log house that had no running water or electricity. His father was a school teacher and farmer. Jeffers remembers long evenings when his parents would read aloud to the family. "My parents instilled in me the values of honesty, hard work, and high morals," he said.
The family cooked and heated the house with wood. "As soon as you were able to pick up a stick of wood, your job was to keep the wood box full," recalled Jeffers. Later, he cultivated corn, drove a team of horses doing the farm chores, milked cows, and fed chickens. "We raised just about everything we ate," he said. "About the only things we bought were sugar and salt."
Although he was a good student, Jeffers could not afford to go to college. Even so, he met with the dean of Ohio University and worked out a plan that allowed him to attend school and work his way through. His jobs included typing, delivering milk, and chauffeuring and babysitting for the children of the head of the French department.
He graduated with a teaching degree and spent two years teaching in a country school. He then worked as a principal at a consolidated elementary school in northern Ohio, where he also taught math and social science. Believing his future lay in the field of education, he enrolled in secondary school administration courses at Case Western Reserve University and Ohio University.
While working as a teacher and principal, Jeffers started selling insurance on the side to earn extra money. When the home office offered him a full-time job as a claims adjuster, he accepted. During World War II, he served in the Marines, and then returned to the insurance business. He quickly moved through the ranks of the company, becoming president and general manager of Nationwide Insurance Companies in 1969. In 1972, he became chairman and chief executive officer.
Jeffers credited his father's encouragement to join a debate club in high school with helping his career. His debate experience enabled him to speak comfortably before large audiences and to communicate clearly with people throughout all levels of the Nationwide organization.
After retiring, Jeffers donated time to civic organizations. An active member of the Horatio Alger Association, he was a past president and chairman. "All of us started with very little," he said of the Association' membership. "Now, as a group, we have an opportunity to help others through the work we are doing with America's youth."
Jeffers' advice to young people was to be honest, positive, and responsible. "If you learn to work hard, you can pretty much accomplish whatever goals you have set for yourself."* Deceased