Neil Helton, State Farm insurance agent, set up shop in McMinnville in 2004 and quickly acclimated to the community setting and the pace of life the town offers.
A native of Rutherford County, Helton saw similarities between McMinnville and the Smyrna in which he grew up in the 1970s. Throughout his time in Warren County, Helton has established himself as an insurance-and-customer-service expert and also, by virtue of his work in church-related endeavors and as a baseball coach, as a role model for young people.
Helton grew up in Smyrna with parents who instilled in him, through their example, the importance of serving others. His father (who worked at the Johnston & Murphy shoe store) and his mother served as mentors to young people residing at the Tennessee Rehabilitation Center, about two miles from their home.
His parents would allow the youth to stay in the Helton household on weekends (to give them a break from dormitory life at TRC) and would cook them meals, take them to church, and generally treat them like members of the family. Helton saw the positive impact his parents’ mentorship, hospitality, and acceptance had on the young people.
After attending Middle Tennessee Christian School and Smyrna High School, Helton accepted an athletic scholarship to become a hurler on the Trevecca Nazarene University baseball team. Helton excelled as a pitcher and as a student at Trevecca, where he earned a 3.6 GPA, majored in business administration, and minored in accounting and history.
Upon graduation in 1989, he went to work for International Telephone and Telegraph, before joining First American National Bank and working his way up to senior vice president there. In 2002, he joined State Farm as an investment representative.
A few years later, he came to McMinnville to take over the State Farm office of the retiring Dewey Gay.
At his office, Helton works with fully licensed insurance agents Wendy Cantrell, Diana Acevedo, and Brittany Kirby to meet his customers’ insurance needs. By helping folks find the right policy for their situation, helping customers with renewing or changing their policies, and making clientele aware of new products and sales, Helton and his staff strive to provide competent, efficient service.
When not at the office, Helton can be found on the baseball diamond as a coach. For many years he coached the baseball teams of his son Brooks (now a freshman baseball player at Faulkner University in Alabama).
His fondest memories as a coach center on his son’s Cal Ripken League 10-year-old all-star team from 2011. The team, featuring a bevy of Warren County young baseball talent, won the district and state tournaments before advancing to the Southeast Regional tournament in New Bern, North Carolina.
The trip to North Carolina, Helton recalls, was one filled with fun, hilarious episodes. For one, Helton admits that his driving of the 15-passenger van was less than stellar but provided levity for his young passengers. He hit a concrete curb, backed into a pine tree, and hit a dually truck.
At one point, Helton ceded the driving duties to Standard editor James Clark (whose son was on the team) and settled in for a nap. He awoke, terrified, 10 minutes later to “Running with the Devil” by Van Halen blaring on the van radio and Clark drumming on the steering wheel, singing along to the music, and driving the van on an incorrect route.
Another incident on the trip concerned a player who was sick and vomiting in the van. Helton, who was at the controls, resolved to pull over at the first available opportunity. That opportunity presented itself in the form of a building with a water hose out front.
Helton and another adult chaperone got the child out of the van and hosed him down, only to realize that the building they had stopped at was a gentlemen’s club known as the “Show and Tail.”
The tournament, at which author Nicholas Sparks threw out the first pitch, was a success for the Warren County team. They claimed victories over Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina, celebrated with a day at the beach on the Outer Banks, and left with a bunch of great memories.
These days Helton, along with McMinnville resident Chuck Hollingsworth, coaches 12-year-olds for the Blueprint travel baseball team based in Murfreesboro. In his spare time he duck-hunts and attends Westwood Church of Christ. Through Westwood he has taken part in mission trips to Honduras, where has helped to build homes for underprivileged residents in that country.
He and his wife Debbie (a court-appointed special advocate who graduated valedictorian of her class at Lipscomb University) are now empty-nesters: Brooks is a freshman at Faulkner, and their daughter Madison is a University of Alabama senior with dreams of becoming a physician’s assistant.
However, Helton’s work as a mentor to young people (and in the customer service industry) continues. As he says, “You build relationships by investing in people.”