23:07 PM

Employee blog: Dare to Dream

90th anniversary book a career highlight for AmFam artist


One way American Family marked its 90th anniversary, was with a book called Dare to Dream. Designing the book was a highlight of self-described “everyman” Ian Chalgren’s career, and reminded him why he fell in love with art in the first place.

I knew I wanted to be an artist in second grade. My locker partner, Andy, enlightened me to the joys of using a No. 2 pencil and some typewriter paper to draw X-Wing and Tie Fighters from “Star Wars.”

I was hooked.

My dad was a potter and art teacher in Waunakee, Wisconsin, for 35 years, so this career leap seemed organic and pre-destined. From that time through high school, I drew comics with dreams of working for Marvel or DC. Long story short, I simply did not have the talent to do so.

I ended up earning a bachelor of fine arts degree from UW-Madison with an emphasis in graphic design. Then, I tried to figure out how to make a living drawing and/or silk screening, but I couldn’t make ends meet. So, I sold out and became a graphic designer.

AmFam veteran Steve Tingley kindly scooped me off the street and gave me a job designing the company’s annual report, conference themes, educational CD-ROM animations, intranet sites and all sorts of other great stuff. As insurance company jobs go, I think I have one of the cooler ones – sorry, actuaries – which brings me to this blog.

I recently completed a project I consider my personal Sistine Chapel – our 90-year anniversary book Dare to Dream. The year I spent working on that book was the most rewarding and fastest year of my AmFam career.

I was flattered (and scared to death) when I was asked to design the book. First, I had to meet with the book’s author, retired Senior Vice President of Communications Rick Fetherston. I’d worked on many projects with Rick, so we were familiar with each other.

After discussing Rick’s high-level thoughts, I made some template layouts and tweaked them until they were approved. Then, we were off to the races. Rick had 12 or 13 of the 19 chapters already written. I had some catching up to do.

I focused on completing one chapter at a time. My process was:

  • Ian read chapter. (Yes, I had to read.)
  • Ian/Rick research/select photos.
  • Ian design chapter.
  • Rick approve chapter.
  • Repeat.

Everything went smooth as silk. When it was time to design the dust jacket, I suggested we throw a photo and bio of Rick on the inside back cover flap. That’s what authors do, after all. Rick was modest about my idea and wasn’t sure it was necessary.

Eventually, I beat him down enough that he caved, but with one condition. I had to join him on the flap as an equal partner. At first, I didn’t agree. (And, I’m anything but modest!) We went back and forth. I felt that spot was reserved for the author. He felt I was an equal partner. After a long discussion with my wife, I decided I would indeed join Rick on the back cover flap.

I made my decision because I felt I represented the “everyman/woman” at AmFam. I’m not an executive. I’ve never been a top agent. My name was not mentioned in the book as a mover or a shaker. In my 18+ years at AmFam, I have not been responsible for any major decisions or direction our company has taken.

But, I have played a role in our success. A small role, but a role nonetheless. There are thousands upon thousands of past and current employees who play smaller roles, too. Very few are mentioned in the book. I felt they deserved credit for AmFam’s success, and I was proud to represent them.

Working on the book was an absolutely wonderful experience. I’ll always consider it a career highlight, but I still pine to become a fine artist. My dream is to retire soon and pursue my love for illustration and silk-screen printing. I’m thankful my AmFam career is helping me work toward this achievable goal.

And, if I can’t make it as an artist (for the second time), I’ll settle for flying X-Wing Fighters for the Rebel Alliance.

One can only dare to dream!