The University of Iowa LibrariesThe Biographical Dictionary of Iowa: Jacket Art - Agriculture - Cresco, Iowa by Richard Haines ca 1934 -  Photo by Scott Christopher courtesy of Gregg Narber


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Nollen, Gerard Scholte
(August 29, 1880–September 4, 1965)


Henry Scholte Nollen

(September 26, 1866-April 24, 1942)

–insurance executives—were the oldest and youngest sons, respectively, of Pella, Iowa, residents and Dutch immigrants Jan (John) and Johanna (Scholte) Nollen, a daughter of Pella's founder, Hendrik Pieter Scholte. The Nollens came to Pella in 1854 from the city of Diedman, Gelderland, Holland, and John helped found the Pella National Bank in 1872.

    The Nollen children were all educated at home under the tutelage of their father, who thought American public schools lacked rigor as compared to the European standards under which he had been taught. The Nollens were also faithful worshippers in the Dutch Reformed church and used that as a basis for their children's religious instruction. Henry Nollen inherited his father's strong mathematics abilities, so much so that by the age of 12 he was working as a bookkeeper in his father's bank. At the age of 19, in 1885, Nollen graduated from Pella's Central College, then stayed on for two years as a faculty member teaching mathematics.

    In 1889 Nollen moved to Des Moines to become the office manager for H. H. Sickles & Company, implement dealers. He left the implement business office to work at Citizens National Bank, and then moved again to become the auditor of the United Gas Improvement Company. In 1892 he married Bessie Snow, daughter of C. E. and Sarah (Matthew) Snow. His new father-in-law was a prosperous businessman who owned a number of grain elevators in the Pella area. Bessie Nollen died at the age of 35 in 1905. In 1916 Nollen married Marengo native Pearl Hamilton, who had been the town's first librarian.

    Nollen's true business passion was insurance. In 1893 Edward Temple hired him to be the auditor in his new business, the Insurance Association. Nollen's superior mathematical skills allowed him to prove that Temple's assessment plan would bankrupt the company in the long run, so that plan was abandoned, saving the company. The Insurance Association eventually became Bankers Life (now Principal Financial), and Nollen advanced through the company's leadership ranks until Temple's death. Then he was forced out of his leadership role in December 1912, and resigned to become vice president of Equitable Life Insurance Company of Iowa, a rival firm. By 1921 Nollen had become Equitable's president, a position he held for many years.

    Nollen served on numerous committees within the insurance business and on city boards. He was an executive committee member of the Association of Life Insurance Presidents and was elected that group's chairman in 1935. He was a trustee for the Des Moines Water Works, serving almost continuously from 1919 to 1942. Nollen was active in various Masonic orders, achieving the distinction of 33rd Degree Mason. After leaving Pella, Nollen became an Episcopalian, worshipping at St. Paul's Episcopal Church–now the cathedral for the Diocese of Iowa—for 49 years, serving numerous terms on the vestry and also as senior warden. Nollen died in Des Moines in 1942 at the age of 76.

    His younger brother Gerard Scholte Nollen was schooled at home with his older siblings. Like his oldest brother, Henry, Gerard was adept at mathematics, especially trigonometry and calculus. He graduated from Grinnell College in 1902 and immediately began summer school course work at Drake University in Des Moines. In the fall he took a job as a clerk with Bankers Life, staying a year before leaving to become an actuary with the Royal Union Life Insurance Company. From 1904 to 1912 he worked for Equitable Life Insurance Company of Iowa. He resigned to become actuary of Bankers Life Company, where his duties were to develop new policies to attract more customers. Gerard became a director and secretary in 1913, vice president in 1919, and president in 1926, a position he held until 1946, when he was named chairman of the board of directors.

    During his tenure as company president, Bankers Life became one of the largest insurance companies in the United States. Nollen presided over the construction of the company's new headquarters, which is now the central building of Principal Financial's campus.

    In 1908 Nollen married Laura Thompson Whitman. Laura Nollen died suddenly in 1912, and Nollen later married another Des Moines native, Helen Witmer. They had two daughters, Johanna and Sara. The Witmers were early Des Moines residents and owned great tracts of farmland on the city's west side. One farm, named Owls Head, was later subdivided and became the site of the great family home. Now at the corner of 29th Street and Grand Avenue, that home later became the residence of Gerard and Helen Nollen and their daughters; later still, it became the official Iowa governor's mansion until Terrace Hill was purchased. Presently, the restored mansion is home to the Iowa Girls' Athletic Association.

    Gerard Nollen was a longtime member of Plymouth Congregational Church and was active in many civic organizations, including the Des Moines Community Chest, the Boy Scouts of America, and the Des Moines Chamber of Commerce. He was also a Grinnell College trustee and served as the state chair of the Savings Bond Division of the U.S. Treasury. A few years after his death at the age of 85, the city of Des Moines honored him and his brother, Henry Scholte Nollen, for their many years of service to Des Moines and the insurance business by naming a newly created plaza between Locust and Walnut streets, at 4th Street, Nollen Plaza.
Sources A history of the Nollen family is in the Heritage Collection, Pella Public Library. See also History of Pella, Iowa, 1847–1922: A 75th Anniversary Celebration Souvenir (1922).
Contributor: Dale A. Vande Haar