ST. MARYS — Jeff Azzato, owner of St. Marys Insurance Agency and Affiliates, recently celebrated a business milestone of 25 years.

Azzato, who purchased the company in 1996, has grown the business to add seven affiliate locations throughout northwest and central Pennsylvania, said Marketing Director Dennis Wood. The company employs nearly 50 full-time workers.

Born and raised in Weedville, Azzato graduated from St. Marys Area High School, and received his bachelor of science degree in finance and real estate from Clarion University in 1985.

Starting in the insurance industry with Liberty Mutual Insurance following college, Azzato said he had “no interest whatsoever” in the insurance business at the time.“I never thought that some 36 years later, I would still be in the insurance business,” he said.

His goal working as an insurance agent was to turn a basic 9-to-5 into a job where he could help people in an area of concern that most don’t take interest in “until they have a problem,” Azzato said.

“Fast forward from 1987 to 1996, when the opportunity to become a business owner at the age of 32 was a reality,” he said of St. Marys Insurance.

At the time, St. Marys Insurance had eight employees, with an office in St. Marys and affiliate in Johnsonburg — Smith-Keats Agency.

“The aspirations for my business partner, Nick Guisto, and I were to look to double (the business) in size in 10 years, and serve the communities where we lived as best we could,” Azzato said.

After Guisto’s passing in 2009, Azzato said it became more clear that the agency should continue to serve its clients professionally and promptly, he said.

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“The relationships created over the last 25 years are invaluable, because with our customer base and the staff to serve all of our clients, I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today without all of the customer loyalty and dedication/hard work by our employees,” said Azzato.

The insurance business entails being able to assist customers in a time of need on a 24/7 basis, one of Azzato’s favorite aspects of the job, calling insurance an “intangible” product.

“The other aspect of the job I enjoy is to see employees grow with you as the business grows,” he notes. “Over half of my employees have been with me on average for over 12 years, and it really is comforting to know that these employees share the same integrity and care for our customers and each other, and have turned their jobs into their career.”

Growing up, Azzato has always been a competitive person when it comes to sports, carrying that into the business world.

“That competitive spirit aspired me to continue to grow, and add locations where it seemed to make the best possible longterm goal,” he adds. “As a result, the company has grown beyond belief, and the thought of providing careers to our staff and be able to serve the communities that we operate out of makes me proud every day — that we care about our customers, and our customers certainly care about us, as we continue to strive maintaining valuable relationships year in and year out.”

Azzato, who holds a certified insurance counselor professional designation, has been recognized with numerous awards and achievements, including the F.W. Hirt Quality Agency Award. The agency has also been named an “Erie Insurance Elite Agency,” and is a top 10 Erie agent companywide, according to Wood.

St. Marys Insurance, founded in 1932, will celebrate its 90th anniversary next year.

Aside from his business accomplishments, Azzato serves on the board of directors for Penn Highlands Healthcare and is involved with other local agencies, said Wood. He volunteers with and sponsors sporting teams and events, taking leadership roles in St. Marys Little League and St. Marys Area Quarterback Club.

Azzato, who lives in St. Marys with his wife, Michele, also has a son, Tony, and daughter-in-law, Tiffany, as well as grandchildren named Mia and Geno.

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