Independent Spirit

Block Number: 70


By Nora Worthen

“Independent Spirit,” the 70th quilt block on the McDowell Quilt Trail, is the name chosen by Marsh Dark, who is corporate vice president heading up the Marion office of the independent insurance agency known as Morrow Insurance Agency. This company, formerly known as McDowell Insurance Agency, is located at 246 South Main Street in Marion. As Mike Lucas, assisted by George Ziegler, installed the quilt block on the front of the brick one-story building on Friday, December 10, Marsh and his dad Marshall Dark, Jr. relate the history of how this business began.

Their story tells of how a group of local businessmen, with surnames like James, Cross, Blanton, Crisp, Good, Yancey, Noyes, Streetman, Rabb, Laughridge, and McCall, in 1929, formed a corporation to start a business we know as McDowell Insurance Agency. These same businessmen owned other businesses in Marion where many of our family members once worked, such as a hosiery mill, a lumberyard, a grocery store, a drug store, and even a funeral home.

The McDowell Insurance Agency, Inc., began its operation 82 years ago in an upstairs office located on Main Street. From there it moved to West Court Street, and later occupied space in the basement of what is now Fifth Third Bank. During those 80 years, the agency has been managed by other recognizable names in Marion such as Dark and Neal.

Marshall Dark, Sr. and J. E. “Jim” Neal, Jr., who bought the insurance agency in 1939, successfully operated it until 1952, when Dark became ill and was forced to retire. This began a family tradition for both families. As the elder Messers Dark and Neal reached retirement age, sons just graduating from college joined the firm and eventually took over the operations. This tradition continued for both families until 2004, and is outlined below:

Marshall Dark, Sr. died in 1957. Marshall Dark, Jr. joined the business in 1955, partnering with Jim Neal, who died in 1974. Jim Neal, III joined the business in 1968, and partnered with Marshall Dark, Jr. and Marshall (Marsh) Dark, III until 2000. In 2000, Marshall Dark, Jr. retired, and the McDowell Insurance Agency was sold to Morrow Insurance Agency. Marsh Dark and Jim Neal directed the business, with the agency operating as a branch office of Morrow until approximately 2004, when Neal retired and became fire chief for City of Marion. Of the two families, Marsh Dark is sole remaining member, in charge of the agency with six employees.

Marsh explains that the insurance agency has always been and continues to be an independent agency, representing such companies as Cincinnati Insurance Co., Pennsylvania National Mutual Insurance Co. and others for commercial and personal property and casualty insurance. They represent several major life, accident and health companies, as well as many workers compensation self-insurance programs, auto owners, and others.

Marshall explains that an independent insurance agency is an independent contractor. “Every policy written in this agency belongs to the agency. It does not belong to the insurance company.”

Marsh says that this agency has always been a big part of the community, being involved in various projects and activities, so it was just a matter of time until deciding to host a quilt block. That decision was accelerated when his wife, Karen Dark, who is the art teacher at McDowell High, and her art students became involved with the painting of “Titan Star,” and “encouraged” him to get it done.

The 4x4 foot block named “Independent Spirit” depicts a bald eagle with wings outstretched, as if landing over blue water with rolling hills in earth tone colors, and mountains in shades of blue and gray. Marshall Dark points out the Independent Insurance Agent’s logo that is located on each side of the front door to the business. It is an oval with an eagle atop the “big I” (as in insurance) and explains that the eagle has long been the symbol for the Independent Agents of America. The black and brown colors chosen for the quilt block correspond to the color scheme in the sign located out near the street at the front of the building.
After the block was installed and the scaffolding removed, with the sun descending on the western horizon, the holiday greenery framing the scene, and “Independent Spirit” hovering above them, Jill Lucas presented the Certificate of Authenticity to Marsh Dark and his dad Marshall Dark. As you travel up and down Main Street in Marion, slow down, look to the right and left and also up to the tops of the buildings and see how many quilt blocks you can locate and name.

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