SUNBURY - Ranshaw native John O'Toole is winding up 35 years in business and is looking forward to another trip to Ireland, where an ancestor lived in a castle.
O'Toole, who has operated Shamrock Company Insurance in Sunbury since 1979, visited Ireland last year and discovered that his ancestor in the year 950 was King Tualthal O'Toole.
He and his wife of 39 years, Kathy, have enjoyed the luck of the Irish. They have won, among a host of grand prizes, sweepstakes, vacation trips to Las Vegas and Hawaii, seats at the Super Bowl, and a special one-of-a-kind flaming red NASCAR pickup truck promoting the movie "Talladega Nights."
He's a strong golfer, and one of the prizes he won was a special invitation to play on the PGA'sSawgrass golf course in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., where he birdied on the 17th green that is tough even for the PGA pros. He acknowledges that his contest luck is due to his wife, who spends time looking for prize drawings and filling out contest entries.
With their longtime associate Dan Packer, they work in a people business. Even a casual acquaintance can sense the friendliness in their personalities. John O'Toole has - as Irish families say - "the map of Ireland on his face." He's the kind of man it's easy to get along with, and people like to listen as he tells one story after another.
"From the day I started," he says, "I've lived by the principles my mother taught me. I would never sell anything to a customer that I would not sell to her. And my other guiding principle was to treat people as I'd want to be treated if the roles were reversed." Those principles have brought him success, and more than 10,000 customers.
He and his wife are known for the fantastically lighted Christmas displays they have erected outside their Coal Township home. Thousands of sightseers - some even on tour buses - have come out to see the displays, spread over four acres. The scenes in front of their home have been so spectacular that the Coal Township supervisors even made signs directing visitors to Christmas Road and the North Pole.
O'Toole cut and painted stand-up scenes from plywood, among them, bears, angels, ice skaters, and three sets of nativity figures all blazing with colored lights. "We were drawing so much electricity at Christmastime that we blew out a PP&L transformer," he laughs. And inside the house, he and his family had 12 more Christmas trees.
When he retires this month, his company will become part of Groninger Insurance in Northumberland, owned by brothers and partners Jim and Jon Groninger.
"John O'Toole had several suitors to purchase the agency, and we're glad he chose us," says Jim Groninger. "We will be closing his Sunbury office and moving it all over here to our agency at 96 Duke St."
Packer will join the Groninger business, which carries the same insurances the O'Tooles offered.