History of The Holden Family in the Title Business
The title insurance industry traces its roots back to 1876, and the Holden Family has been active in the industry for 100 of its 144 years of existence. From 1920 to 2020 encompassing three generations, the Holden Family has worked in every aspect of the business, including holding leadership positions and owning companies. It all began in 1920 with 19-year-old Mo Holden who answered an advertisement for an apprenticeship position.
Morris Sidney “Mo” Holden graduated from Kirkwood High School in 1919 before the ‘new’ high school building (now Nipher Middle School building) was built in 1922. Lacking the resources to go to college, Mo worked many odd jobs such as shining shoes, yard maintenance and gas station attendant before answering an advertisement for an apprentice position with The Title Insurance Company of St. Louis. In March 1920, Mo started there and began to learn the title business. He worked hard and saved his money. Mo married Cora Kuntz, also of Kirkwood, and they had two children, Sidney Kinyon “Buz” and Carole Ann.
During the Great Depression when 25% of the work force was unemployed, Mo had a full-time job handling land title issues and helping with the foreclosure process many lenders were engaged during that time. As odd as it may seem today, in 1930s St. Louis, the normal place to cash a paycheck was the local tavern. Every Friday, Mo would drop in and cash his paycheck, while many out of work folks hung around like barflies. He seldom stayed for drinks but was a big fan of Sunday afternoon barbecues in the back yard.
After 17 years at the same company and in spite of the Great Depression, Mo Holden had saved enough money to open his own title agency in Clayton, Missouri. In 1937, the original Guaranty Land Title Company opened, with Mo Holden acting as President and his partners, Ben Ruhl and Sid Douglas filling roles as Board Chairman and Treasurer respectively. The company thrived in the years leading up to the war.
In 1937, only six title agencies existed in St. Louis County, the county with the largest population in the state. In 1939, the partnership that would vault Mo Holden’s company into the big time occurred when Mo Holden met Ira E. Berry. Ira was a real estate man and in 1939, opened Ira E. Berry Company. Mo Holden and Ira became friends, and Ira served on the board of directors of Guaranty Land Title Company in the 1950s and 1960s. The Ira E. Berry Company was merged with Gordon Gundaker Realtors in the 1980s and became part of Realogy, Inc. in 2001. Today the surviving real estate company is the largest broker in St. Louis County.
Mo Holden’s career came to an end in 1966 when he retired from the business. He had worked only two jobs in the title business, the first for 17 years and the second for 29 years. Mo retired at 65 years of age and moved to Florida to enjoy his twilight years. Mo passed away in 1977 at the age of 76.
The second generation of the Holden Family in the title business began when Mo’s son Sidney “Buz” Holden joined his father’s firm after serving in World War II. Buz graduated early from Kirkwood High School in St. Louis County, Missouri in 1943 to join the U.S. Navy. He served with distinction as a coxswain aboard the USS Atascosa in the South Pacific Theater. After his honorable discharge in 1946, Buz found himself at home without a job or a car. (To his dismay, his mother Cora had sold his 1929 Model A Ford for $50 while he was away, without his permission). In January 1946, Buz started working as an apprentice for Mo at Guaranty Land Title Company in Clayton. Buz learned quickly from his father Mo. Again, an outside force stepped in to vault the career of Buz forward.
In 1953, Dwight Eisenhower became President and championed the Interstate Highway Act. That act passed congress in 1956, and the first three contracts were signed by Missouri on Aug. 2 of that year to improve Route 66 (now I-44) and Route 40 (now I-70) through the county. That fall, a bidding contest was held to choose the title company who would work with the Missouri Department of Transportation to provide title services to the state for the new roadways. Guaranty Land Title Company won the bid for all of St. Louis County in the fall of 1956 and the great task of mapping the roadway through the county began. Highway engineers would provide a map with a centerline plotted and ask the title company to determine all parcels of land that would be touched by a 100-foot-wide swath down that centerline. Each section of the miles-long swath had to be plotted by hand and mapped against surrounding parcels to determine if they touched. Buz’s full time job for three years was to do this work. In all, he plotted by hand over 4,000 parcels and matched them to the highway department’s maps. Buz became so proficient at drawing legal descriptions by hand that, later in his career, he could look at a meets and bounds description and calculate acreage in his head.
In his personal life, Buz married his first wife, Peggy and had three daughters, Debbie, Susan and Nancy. In 1966, some 20 years into his career in the title business, Buz succeeded his father Mo as President of Guaranty Land Title Company. In the late 1960s, Buz’s first marriage ended, and he met and married his second wife, Sandra Sue Massey. They had one son, Michael Holden.
Buz’s tenure at Guaranty Land Title Company ended in 1973 when he took a position in St. Petersburg, Florida, working for American Title Company. Buz managed their five offices in the Tampa Bay area from 1973 to 1978. After Buz departed Guaranty Land Title Company, the remaining shares were sold to Commonwealth Land Title Insurance Company and thereafter, Commonwealth operated the company as a direct office in St. Louis County. Today, that company is survived and continues as direct operation offices of Fidelity National Title Insurance Company under their Commonwealth brand name.
While in Florida working for American Title Company, Buz encouraged his sister, Carole Ann Peterson, to move to Florida to be near their father and to learn the title business. In 1978, Buz and his wife Sandra Sue moved to Columbia, Missouri, where he took a position as President of Boone County Abstract & Title Company. In his role as President of Boone County Abstract, he became the father of modern title insurance in Columbia. He introduced the modern escrow closing to the area, helped to phase out the practice of using abstracts and attorney opinions, and mentored and taught a whole new generation of title professionals. But his career was destined to take one more turn.
In 1989, he left Boone County Abstract to work for his wife Sandra Sue Holden, who had started a competitor company, Guaranty Land Title Insurance Company of Columbia, Inc. Buz finished his career at Guaranty Land Title of Columbia, working there from 1989 to 2006. Buz’s career in the title business spanned 60 years, and in 1995 the Missouri Land Title Association awarded Buz a 50-year service award. During his career, Buz worked for just four companies. His impact is felt today, especially in Columbia, where every licensed title professional in 2020 can trace their career to Sidney K. “Buz” Holden, either having directly worked for him or for someone who did work for him.
Carole Ann Holden met and married her husband in the 1960s. But after being a stay-at-home mom and raising three sons, she found herself in 1974 in the middle of a divorce and needing a career. She moved to Florida to go to work for Buz and live near her parents Mo and Cora Holden. Carole was extremely intelligent and a hard worker, and she moved up the career ladder very quickly in Florida. She eventually located in New Port Richey, Florida, near her parents, and managed the American Title Company office in Clearwater. After her brother Buz left the company in 1978, she forged a new path and in 1979, she took a position with Chelsea Title Company. While there are many title agencies in Florida with the name “Chelsea” as part of their name, this particular Chelsea Title was eventually acquired by the Fidelity Title Insurance Group and became one of their branch offices. From 1979 to 1993 Carole worked in the title business, working for just two companies like her father Mo.
Sandra Sue (Massey) Holden found her way to the title business long before she met and married Buz Holden in 1967. Sandra was born to John Thomas and Louise Massey in 1938, in the little rural town of Florida, Missouri. She grew up in a rural part of the state until World War II, when John Thomas moved his family to San Diego, California, and worked factory jobs to make ends meet. After the war, the family returned to Northeast Missouri where Sandra graduated from Clarence High School in 1957. In the fall of that year, she enrolled at the University of Missouri. After her sophomore year in the spring of 1959, she decided to make a major life change, and at 21 years old, she moved by herself to Phoenix, Arizona. She enrolled at Arizona State University and finished her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. It was in Phoenix that she answered an advertisement for an entry level position at Phoenix Title & Trust Company. She learned quickly and worked there for five years before divorcing her first husband and moving back to Missouri in 1965.
In 1966, Sandra moved to St. Louis to take a job for Monsanto Company. The Monsanto company was a leader in agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology. Soon after moving to St. Louis, she met Buz and they married a year later in 1967. Sandra had a hiatus from the title business from 1965 to 1983, when she worked for Monsanto, as a stay-at-home mom, and, to fulfill one of her biggest passions, as a high school teacher. During the economic downturn in 1983, when interest rates were approaching 20%, she took a part time job working for Buz at Boone County Abstract & Title Company. When the economic upswing after Ronald Reagan’s re-election happened in 1985, she began working full time for Boone County Abstract and never looked back. In 1987, the Columbia Board of Realtors named Sandra Holden the Affiliate of the Year.
In 1988, Sandra faced the biggest change in her career. At that time, Buz was discussing his plan to semi-retire in 1990 and work only 24 hours a week with the owner of the company. Sandra was 13 years younger than Buz and planned to work for another 10 years at least. Buz expressed to the owner of Boone County Abstract that Sandra wanted to be considered to replace Buz as President of the company. She had a degree in business, had just been named the Affiliate of the Year by the local Realtors, and had over 10 years’ experience working in the title business. But unfortunately, that wasn’t enough for the owner of the company. His words to Buz were something like: “No woman is going to run my company. Find a man to replace you.”
Of course, Buz shared this information with Sandra, so she promptly quit. After exploring her options, she decided to form a competing title agency in Columbia. With partners Mike and Maureen Dalton, she opened Guaranty Land Title Insurance Company of Columbia, Inc. The company thrived and quickly became a force in the title market in the area. In 1990, the company had its biggest triumph under Sandra’s leadership. With Sandra’s company having almost 40% market share, the owners of Boone County Abstract & Title Company merged their company with Central Missouri Abstract Company. They laid off 20% of their combined work force. The surviving company became Boone-Central Title Company and continues in business to this day with many people who worked with Sandra still there. Sandra stepped down from Guaranty Land Title in 1997 after a bout with cancer and passed the torch to her son, Michael. She passed away in 2004 after several health issues. In her 20 years in the title business, she worked for just three companies. Her greatest accomplishments were breaking through the glass ceiling to form her own company in 1988 and seeing her former employer merged with another company due to her competitive success.
Buz’s middle daughter Susan took a circuitous route to the title business. Born in 1950, Susan graduated from Kirkwood High School in 1968 and worked that summer for her father, Buz at Guaranty Land Title Company. Her title career was short lived, and in 1970, she met James Williams. James and Susan married and had three children, Monica, James and Katherine. Susan chose to be a stay-at-home mom while her husband advanced his career in the title business. In 1978, James and Susan became part owner of Emmons Title Company in St. Charles, Missouri. James was a very well liked and highly thought of title man. He died unexpectedly in 1984. Susan chose to sell her interest in Emmons Title to the other partners, allowing her to raise her children and work various positions outside of the title business.
In 2000, when her children were living on their own, she re-entered the title business and moved to Columbia to work for her brother Michael at Guaranty Land Title Insurance Company of Columbia. Susan worked primarily on the title and research side of the business, spending long hours in the courthouse researching the most complicated titles. She honed her skills and became an excellent title person. After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, she chose to move back to St. Louis to be nearer to her children. Once in St. Louis, she began working at Title Partners Agency in Frontenac, Missouri. Susan excelled at Title Partners, enjoying increasing responsibilities for title production and examinations. During the great recession of 2008, she took a hiatus from the industry for two years, returning first part time and then full time in 2011 with Title Partners. Susan died in 2017 at the age of 67, still employed at Title Partners. During her career, she worked for just three companies, and held ownership in a fourth. She completed a total of 17 years working in the title business and to this day has countless friends in the St. Louis market who knew and loved her.
Buz and Sandra’s son Michael is the last Holden working in the title business in the year 2020. Michael started his career in the summer of 1984 working for Buz at Boone County Abstract & Title Company. During that summer, Michael worked in the vault, copying deeds for abstracts. It was monotonous work, using the microfilm machine to print off deed copies hundreds of times a day. That motivated Michael to find other occupations for the rest of his high school days. Michael worked as a caddy at the local golf course and at two different pizza restaurants, delivering pizza. He graduated from David H. Hickman High School in Columbia in 1989 and enrolled at the University of Missouri that same year.
In the fall of 1989, Michael returned to the title business and began working for his mother at Guaranty Land Title Insurance of Columbia. Michael started at the very bottom of the business, first working part time as a runner, delivering hard copies of title commitments and title policies to banks by hand. He also attended college classes during the day.
Michael advanced through several positions in the company, including: abstractor, policy production, title examiner, post closing processor, closing processor, escrow closer, and title officer. In 1994, he paused his college studies and began working full time, taking his first management position for Guaranty Land Title of Columbia. He took on the task of managing the newly opened office in Jefferson City, Missouri. Michael managed that office from 1994 to 1997. During that time, he was named the 1995 Young Title Person of the Year by the Missouri Land Title Association. Michael is the last person to hold the unified title young title person of the year. In 1996, the Missouri Land Title Association divided the award into two categories – young title person and young title professional.
In 1997, Michael took over as President and CEO of Guaranty Land Title Insurance when his mother Sandra retired from the title business. During Michael’s tenure as President, Guaranty Land Title Insurance had many milestones. The company grew from six offices in 1997 to 17 offices and 120 employees by 2006. The company formed a strategic partnership with two other major title companies in Missouri in 2005, creating Landchoice Company, LLC. Landchoice became a unified brand name all three title companies operated under, creating a network that covered all 115 counties in Missouri. In 2008, the Great Recession fell hard on real estate businesses in general, and Michael’s company specifically. In July 2008, Guaranty Land Title closed its doors and half of the 17 offices around the state were shuttered. Three of the offices were purchased by the management teams in those locations and five offices were continued by one of the founding partners of the LandChoice Company, LLC. Guaranty Land Title was just unprepared for the severe economic downturn that hit the industry. Having failed to centralize operations, the company did not have sufficient capital to survive the recession.
Michael made the difficult decision to leave Missouri and move to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. There, he became Vice President and National Sales Manager for Dakota Homestead Title Insurance Company. He leveraged his family’s 90-year history in the title business to sign agents across the Midwest to write for the regional underwriter. At the time, the LandAmerica bankruptcy had disrupted the industry, and Michael was able to sign over 90 new agents to Dakota Homestead in less than one year. But the recession eventually hit the insulated Dakotas and Michael parted ways with Dakota Homestead in October 2009. Dakota Homestead retreated from their 14-state footprint and today only operates in South Dakota.
Michael used the time off to care for his father Buz Holden, who was 85 at the time. Buz had recently mourned the passing of his third wife Dorcas and was living in a rehab center following some surgery. Michael spent five months living with Buz and helping him regain his independence, sometimes walking for three miles a day at the local mall. In 2010, Michael moved to Cleveland, Ohio to work for online title underwriter Entitle Insurance Company. Again, Michael used his long family history in the business to sign agents to represent this regional underwriter. In 2011, Entitle Insurance Company made the choice to curtail their independent agent business and focus 100% on their online channel. Michael immediately found a home at North American Title Insurance Company. Michael has received two promotions and is now Vice President, Strategic Agency Manager for NATIC. In 2012, shortly after moving to Ohio, he met his wife Laura Christian. Laura and Michael married in 2013 and today live in Berea, Ohio outside of Cleveland. Like his father, Michael has worked for only four companies, and counts 2020 as his 32nd year in the Title Business.
In one hundred years, the six direct Holden Family members have contributed to the title business in four states, and thirteen companies. But that is not the only legacy of the family. The extended family working in the title business reaches far and wide. Here is a brief synopsis:
- Barbara Jean Massey Flynn – worked for Guaranty Land Title Company in Clayton in 1968. There she meet and eventually married Robert F. Flynn, Sr. Barbara was Sandra Sue Holden’s only sister.
- Robert F. “Bob” Flynn, Sr. – worked his entire life in the title business, holding positions with several firms in the greater St. Louis area from the 1960s until his retirement in 2018. Bob was introduced to Barbara in 1968 by Buz Holden and they have been married 51 years.
- D. Scott Peterson – worked in the 1990s for Sandra Holden. Scott is the middle son of Carole Holden Peterson.
- James “Jim” Williams – worked in various roles in the St. Louis and St. Charles areas in the 1970s and 1980s. Married to Susan Holden Williams, he was Buz Holden’s only son-in-law who worked in the business.
- Robert F. “Rob” Flynn, Jr. – worked for Guaranty Land Title Insurance in Columbia Missouri in the 1990s while attending the University of Missouri. Rob is the only son of Bob and Barbara Flynn, and only nephew of Sandra Holden.
In 2020, only Michael Holden is working in the title business. He or a member of his family has been active in the title business since his grandfather Mo Holden answered that advertisement for an apprentice position way back in 1920. Many of the Holden Family’s stories have been captured in Michael Holden’s ongoing series “The Ramblings of a Title Man”.