Former Rochester City School District teacher enjoys owning her business alongside her daughter, also a former teacher
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Jane Ahrens, 73, of Greece, has spent her life teaching. She has come full circle to operating a business with her daughter, Tina Scahill, Ahrens Benefits Company in Rochester, where they teach clients about their healthcare insurance options.
At first, she taught health education in the Rochester City School District and tap dancing at School of Arts, also in Rochester. Meanwhile at home, she taught her children the meaning of hard work by example.
When they had grown up, her daughter took over teaching her dance class at the School of Arts in 2001 while Ahrens and her husband, Rex, moved to Arizona for three years. During this “Southwest sabbatical,” Ahrens thought about what her next chapter would be.
“While out there, I met a man who was in the insurance business,” Ahrens said. “He encouraged me to look at insurance. I knew about property and casualty insurance, but I wasn’t interested in that at all. I was interested in health insurance because of the vague relationship between insurance and what I taught. I thought I could make a difference in helping people sort out health insurance. Even back then it was pretty complicated.”
She launched Ahrens Benefits Company in 2006, focusing on health insurance. Two years later, she began selling Medicare plans. After 20 years of teaching, Tina joined her mom in 2015, also bringing her teaching experience to the business.
“It’s surprising how well we get along,” Ahrens said. “We butt heads on occasion, but it has been a delight to work with her.”
Ahrens thinks that their backgrounds in teaching have proven helpful to the women as they explain insurance matters that confuse many people. Clients have received numerous letters, read seemingly conflicting information online and hear numerous “facts” from well-meaning friends and relatives, Ahrens tells them to “start from the beginning, like you didn’t read anything.”
“People are confused about getting their plan on the New York state marketplace or from their employer. We get a lot of husband-wife businesses that are confused as to if they can have a business health insurance plan. They can’t under the Affordable Care Act. They have to have employees,” she said.
Though in her seventh decade, Ahrens does not feel like that inside. Although she acknowledges that the concept is a cliché, she really does not feel 73.
“You feel like you still have the working mind of a 20-year-old,” she said. “And you can’t believe what your body looks like. It’s hard to see all the wrinkles. It reminds me we’re mortal and only have a certain number of years on this earth.”
Perhaps that is why she takes pleasure in helping others with the time she has been given.
“I enjoy helping people; it is so satisfying,” Ahrens said. “I’ve had some really big wins with some of my clients. I remember why I do this when there are days where it’s not so wonderful. The joy in helping in someone is what keeps me going and is why I want to keep doing it. I feel like my clients are a part of my family.”
Ahrens is a member of Women TIES, National Association of Health Underwriters; Small Business Council in Rochester; Rochester Professional Consultants Network; GRAPE (Greater Rochester-Area Partnership for the Elderly) and the chambers of commerce in Spencer, Gates/Chili, Greece and Rochester.
She volunteers for Cure Childhood Cancer Association since Scahill is a cancer survivor. She is also a member of Pioneer Class Connections, the first graduating class from Bishop Kearney High School in Rochester.
“It was the ‘pioneer class’ because we were the first one,” Ahrens said.
The organization helps classmates stay in touch and has started a scholarship fund for current Bishop Kearney students.
“My philosophy of life is ‘Make every day count,’” she said. “I try not to take time for granted. I may spend too many hours working, but I’m trying to do a better balance between work and family. I’m making sure what we do as a family is meaningful. I have a lot of people who help me at work. More and more I’m letting responsibilities go to other people.”
In her spare time, she enjoys walking her dogs and traveling, particularly cruises with Rex. Her son, Marc Bruyere, and his wife, Kris, live in Atlanta. Schill is mother to Ahrens’ two grandchildren.
Ahrens’ favorite quote is by Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t—you’re right.”
Photo: Former school teacher Jane Ahrens, 73, started her business, Ahrens Benefits Company, in 2006. Her daughter, Tina, joined her mom in 2015, also bringing her teaching experience to the business.