Businessman knee deep into projects in Evansville
With an alcoholic mother whose boyfriends abused him and a father who worked two full-time jobs to support the family, the boy found consistency in knowing downtown would bring holiday cheer each year when everything else in his life was inconsistent.
That boy was Jeff Farnsworth, now 47.
Tears still well up when he thinks of those little things he latched onto as he walked home from school because he never knew what to expect when he opened the door at home.
“The strength in community probably provided me a little bit of salvation,” said Farnsworth, a State Farm insurance agent. “There was an internal comfort in walking down through the downtown when the windows were decorated; they had the moving Santa. I can think of those things having an actual impact on me as a child.”
Starting with a life that lacked friends and their support while growing up “on the wrong side of the tracks,” Farnsworth put his energy into giving back to the community.
Don’t ask him to list his volunteer activities over the years because he shakes his head, unable to remember them all. He’s served on nearly any city committee and organization you can name, including a term as a city council member and president of the chamber of commerce. He also brought the local toys for kids program to life.
Local developer and business partner Roger Berg said Farnsworth is an upbeat, pleasant businessman.
“(He) has a sincere interest in the community and the people,” he said.
Most recently, Farnsworth’s been very instrumental in the downtown revitalization project, working with Chris Eager and John Decker to make the brick-paving project on Main Street a reality, Eager said.
“Evansville has certainly benefited from those efforts,” Eager said of Farnsworth’s energetic attitude and hard work.
But Farnsworth is a “half-empty kind of guy.” His wife, Sue, is a “half-full kind of gal” though, so they balance.
Ten people could compliment Farnsworth on any of his recent renovation projects, but his focus would be on the one person’s negative comment.
“I wear my heart on my sleeve a little more than I should,” he said. “I can’t imagine a politician having to deal with that all the time.”
Selling insurance is a small portion of the pie when customers come to see him. He’s tried to build relationships so people have trust and confidence in his business advice, but he’s also there to listen to family problems or to lend a hand to help a home project.
It’s not about the money or the honors, he said, but his efforts to preserve downtown are there to show what Christmas could be for another 10-year-old boy wandering the streets. Farnsworth lives his life trying to make the community better than it was before him.
“In my heart-of-hearts, I think to myself, that seems really oversimplified. It probably really isn’t,” he said, looking out his office window on the brick-paved street as “Feliz Navidad” played in the background.
“It really is what makes me do what I do.”
Occupation: Insurance agent
Family: Wife, Sue; children, Abbey, 20, Braden, 16; stepchildren, Cody, 22, Tyler, 20; granddaughter, Aleigha, 1
Favorite hobbies or pastimes: Historic renovation, reading, soccer, golf. He’s also an artist, but he doesn’t have much time to devote to art. When he has more time, he said he would love to do watercolor.
Favorite music: “I’m a rocker. I would never admit to the bands I listen to. It’s’70s, ’80s hard acid.”
Three words that best describe you: Empathetic, passionate, driven