History

H. B. Wilkinson Title Company, Inc., an Illinois Corporation, and its predecessors, is one of the oldest firms offering land title services in Northern Illinois.

Setting aside historical facts and accomplishments, the key to the Company’s growth and survival will always be its people. All of the Company’s land title records would be useless without people who are sincerely interested in serving other people. The Company’s business is a land title and real estate settlement service, which provides an essential service to sellers and buyers of real estate, to real estate developers and builders, to mortgage lenders and real estate brokers, and to many others who have an interest in real estate transfers. The essential purpose for the service is to insure that the acquisition or transfer of a person’s interest in the property can be effected with a maximum degree of efficiency, security and safety. To accomplish that goal, a high level of expertise is essential to the successful completion of the process of land title conveyancing. It is the process of searching the public records, examining the chain of title, finding and evaluating problems, then solving those problems, which is key to the importance of the title industry. Unfortunately, the end product of that process, the title insurance policy, does not really reflect the time, effort and expertise that are required to reach that conclusion. H. B. Wilkinson Title Company, Inc. provides northwest Illinois with an innovative range of title insurance, escrow closing, construction escrow and real estate information services.

According to “History of Whiteside County, Illinois”, written by William W. Davis and published in 1908 by The Pioneer Publishing Company, Henry B. Wilkinson began his career as an Abstracter in May of 1883 when he succeeded his uncle, H. R. Sampson, in the abstract business. Wilkinson conducted his business as a sole proprietorship until 1901 when he formed a Company. The business was then conducted under the firm name of Wilkinson & Company, Abstractors and continued for an additional twenty-six years until Wilkinson’s retirement in 1927.

Carl A. Ritchie and Lee E. Powell purchased the business in 1927 forming a partnership named H. B. Wilkinson Company. Both men were previously employed by Henry B. Wilkinson. The partnership continued to operate the abstract and title services business until January 2, 1957 when the Company incorporated as H. B. Wilkinson Company, an Illinois Corporation.

In 1951, Chicago Title & Trust Company extended an agency agreement with the Company, which allowed it to offer Title Insurance Policies insuring owners of land in their possession and ownership of that land.

At the time of incorporation in 1957, the incorporating officers were Carl A. Ritchie, President, Lee E. Powell, Vice-President and Paul Klimstra, Secretary. At the first director’s meeting, Charles Seda, Jr., a former staff attorney with Chicago Title & Trust Company, was appointed Executive Vice-President and Manager. The new Corporation was formed by the desire to perpetuate the existence of the only complete tract book title records in Whiteside County. The tract indices, which are still used today, were originated at the time when Mr. Wilkinson owned the business and comprise a complete history of the land titles in Whiteside County. Although the tract books are still preserved and used daily, an automated tract indexing system was installed in 2010. The vast amount of time, infinite patience and painstaking care involved in the maintenance of these records is immeasurable and provides a fitting and increasing memorial to the effort and care of those who have had daily charge in maintaining these historical records.

On January 1, 1958, Lee E. Powell retired from the Company after thirty-four years of service as an Abstracter. Since early in 1911 he had been actively connected with the Abstract and Title business in Stephenson and Whiteside Counties and for upwards of thirty-five years, he was closely identified with the affairs of the Illinois Title Association now known as The Illinois Land Title Association (ILTA). The Company has continuously maintained its membership and active participation in the ILTA since the early 1920’s. The Company has also continuously maintained its membership and participation in the American Land Title Association since the 1960’s.

In 1967 Carl A. Ritchie, who had been associated with H. B. Wilkinson Company since 1919 and who had been the President of the Company for many years, retired after forty-eight years. Following Mr. Ritchie’s retirement, the ownership of the Company was sold to Charles Seda, Jr. and Paul Klimstra, who became the President and Secretary, respectively, of the Corporation. At that time, Paul Klimstra had thirty-seven years of service with the Company. In June of 1967 the Company moved to a new location on Cherry Street across from the Courthouse after being located on Main Street for more years than anyone can remember. The Company’s Whiteside County production office is currently housed in the same building.

On January 2, 1971, the Company was sold to John D. Mennenoh and Grace R. Shaw of Peoria on the occasion of Charles Seda’s retirement. Mr. Seda had been associated with the firm for fifteen years and prior to that time, Mr. Seda was a staff attorney with Chicago Title & Trust Company. He originally joined Chicago Title & Trust Company in 1932, while attending John Marshall Law School from which he received an L.L.B. Degree, having previously graduated from the University of Michigan. He was admitted to the Illinois Bar in 1941. Paul Klimstra continued working for the Company until his retirement in 1973.

Mr. Mennenoh had been with Chicago Title Insurance Company for fourteen years prior to purchasing the Company. He is a graduate of Bradley University with a Bachelor of Science Degree and John Marshall Law School with a J.D. Degree. He is a past President of the Illinois Land Title Association (1975-1976), Whiteside County Bar Association and Rotary Club of Morrison.

Mrs. Shaw was a former employee of Chicago Title & Trust Company having worked for that firm and its predecessor company in Peoria for eighteen years.

In 1975, the Company opened its second office in Mt. Carroll to service the title and abstract needs of Carroll County, Illinois. The office has prospered under the management of John F. Swiech, who joined the Company in 1977 and remained with the Company until his retirement in 2003, and continues to prosper under the current management of Theresa A. Miller. Ms. Miller began her career with the Company in 1989 and has filled many roles within the Company. She was promoted to Chief Operations Officer in 2006 and is a valuable member of the Company’s upper management team.

Following the death of Mrs. Shaw in 1976, Mr. Mennenoh became the principal stockholder and continued to manage the Morrison office until his retirement at the end of 1995. At the same time, Ann B. Mennenoh became the Secretary of the Corporation, and held that post until the sale of the Company in 1996. In 1980 she was elected Secretary of the Illinois Land Title Association, a position she held for ten years. The Morrison office is the Company’s oldest office and has prospered under the subsequent management of Kevin Perrizo, Vicki L. Wiebenga and currently, Angela J. Bruggenwirth.

In 1989, the Company opened its third office in Galena, Illinois to service the title and escrow needs of Jo Daviess County, Illinois. The office has prospered under the management of Daniel Mennenoh, and Karen Zehr until her retirement from the title business in 2014 when Daniel Mennenoh resumed the management role.

Also in 1989, the Company opened an escrow/closing office in Sterling, Illinois to provide better service to the Company’s Sterling/Rock Falls customers. In June of 2000, as a result of significant growth, the Company relocated the office from its original location on East Third Street to a larger facility on East Sixth Street. The Sterling office has prospered at its new location under the management of Vicki L. Wiebenga and currently, Angela J. Bruggenwirth.

On January 3, 1996, Mr. Mennenoh sold the Company to Gregory M. Kosin and Daniel D. Mennenoh, who continue to operate the Company to the present. Gregory Kosin is a past president of the Illinois Land Title Association (1992-1994), and a past president of the American Land Title Association (2006-2007). Daniel Mennenoh is also a past president of the Illinois Land Title Association (1998-1999) and currently serves on the Board of Governors of the American Land Title Association, as well as serving as the Chairman of the Agents and Abstracters Section Executive Committee for that association. On December 1, 1997, the name of the corporation was changed to H. B. Wilkinson Title Company, Inc., an Illinois Corporation and the corporate headquarters were relocated to the Galena office. At that time, Merry Mennenoh joined the Company to establish the Company’s accounting and human resource department in the Galena office. In 2014, Ms. Mennenoh was named Chief Financial Officer.

In May of 1998 the Company expanded its service area to include Lee County, Illinois by opening its office in Dixon, Illinois. The Dixon office also provided title and escrow services for both Ogle and Bureau Counties in addition to Lee County, until September of 2009 when the Company opened its Bureau County office in Princeton, Illinois. The Dixon office is located in an historic home on the North side of the courthouse square.

On July 31st, 2002, Gregory Kosin and Daniel Mennenoh completed the purchase of Stephenson County Abstract and Title Company located in Freeport, Illinois. Stephenson County Abstract and Title was operated as a separate division of H. B. Wilkinson Title Company until March 1st, 2005 when the corporation was merged into H. B. Wilkinson Title Company to be operated as a branch office. It has continued to operate out of a building that has housed the company since 1948. Dianne A. Bass, who served as president of the company since 1986, continued her role as manager of the new branch office until June of 2006. Marsha K. Kerkhoff who had served as Vice President and assistant manager of the company, served as manager upon the retirement of Ms. Bass on June 1st, 2006 until October 1, 2012 when Sally A. Kuhlmeier was promoted to the position. In 1986 SCATC was recognized as a Centennial Business by the State of Illinois. It has property records dating back to the 1840’s and has been operating as a corporation since 1919.

On April 21st, 2003 the company opened an office located in Rock Island, Illinois. Theresa Miller, manager of the Mt. Carroll office was given the task of opening the office and establishing a presence in the Rock Island County market. Ms. Miller’s tenure with the company, along with her expertise in the title industry, made her an excellent candidate to establish the company’s presence in Rock Island. In October of 2006 Mary J. Bingham was named manager of the Rock Island Office. In December of 2012, the Company acquired the assets of a local title agency in the Rock Island market, Excel Title Company, and has established its location on Avenue of the Cities in Moline, Illinois as its primary Rock Island County location.

In 2008, Devon M. Irby, daughter of Daniel and Merry Mennenoh and granddaughter of John and Ann Mennenoh, joined the firm and became the third generation of the family in the title insurance business. Ms. Irby obtained her Wisconsin Title Insurance license in December of that year and handles all of the Company’s Wisconsin work. In 2014, she also became the Company’s Chief Compliance Officer and has responsibilities for employee development.

H. B. Wilkinson Title Company, Inc. currently acts as an Agent for the purposes of the issuance of title insurance policies for Chicago Title Insurance Company (since 1951), First American Title Insurance Company (since 1985), Fidelity National Title Insurance Company (since 2003), and Old Republic National Title Insurance Company (since 2010) and operates out of eight office locations in seven counties in northwest Illinois. H. B. Wilkinson Title Company, Inc. holds membership in the American Land Title Association, the Illinois Land Title Association, and the Wisconsin Land Title Association.

Revised August 1, 2015

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