Lessons In Adversity: How Good People Have Outlasted Terrible Times

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We are often told things that challenge us make us stronger. I'm not sure if that is true, but I do know that events and people will change a person. Over my 30 years of adjusting claims for CUNA Mutual Group, I have been involved in many loss situations, both big and small, that have changed me in some way.

As you might expect it is the big events I remember most vividly, but it is the people I met during these situations that had the most profound impact on me. It is from these individuals that I learned what it really means to have courage, dedication, empathy, selflessness and loyalty.

I think often of the people I've met along the way. On this 10th anniversary of 9/11 some specific people and events are especially on my mind. These include the late Duane DeCorte, CEO of Homestead Air Force Base FCU during Hurricane Andrew; Florence Rogers, CEO of Federal Employees CU during the Oklahoma City bombing; Anne Cochran, CEO of the Louisiana CU League, during Hurricane Katrina and Jim Wisnieski, CEO of XCEL FCU, and Gerry Herrling, SVP of Municipal CU, during the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center.

Most readers might think our relationship was one of Claims Adjuster/ Insurer and Credit Union Policyholder. In many respects, that is true, but it is far from the whole picture. During each of these events, a bond developed between us. I cannot express in words how that happened, or why, but the bond is there to this day. Maybe it was the enormity of the event, the pressure associated with the event, the personal loss I knew each of them had suffered, or maybe it was just people bonding during dramatically stressful situations. I'm not sure, but I do know these events and each individual I interacted with profoundly changed who I am and how I look at each day.

I don't know what it is like to go though a bombing, hurricane or a terrorist attack, or what it takes out of an individual who has, but I do know what a survivor looks like, and in some respects I know the emotional cost these events have on a person.

Lessons, Experiences Never Forgotten

When I was younger I could go to an event, address the needs of the policyholder, and go on to the next event or case. But, along the way, I started to realize that my connection with individuals at these events was more than between an insurance company and its policyholders. Somewhere along the line, a friendship and bond developed. As a result, there isn't a major event that occurs today that I don't hear from one of them to ask if they can help impacted credit unions or just to ask how I am doing.

Each wants to share what they learned in order to help others survive the stress of recovering from a major loss situation. A recent example is Anne Cochran offering support to East Coast CUs in the path of Hurricane Irene.

Often the support offered is simply to pass on the message that you can survive and not to forget to take care of yourself. Remembering your own needs is an important message that is often forgotten. Too often in disaster settings those responsible for helping the CU survive fail to remember the impact the event has on their lives. It isn't until later they realize that no matter how successful the recovery was for the credit union, the cost to their personal lives was high.

Most of the individuals I mentioned will tell you they are stronger as a result of the catastrophes they experienced. However, that strength isn't, in my opinion, because they survived the event, but instead because of who they became. I am forever changed because I worked so closely with these amazing individuals and got to know who they really are.

Events like 9/11 impact our daily lives, but it is people like Duane, Florence, Anne, Jim and Gerry that have made me a better person today than I was before I met them. It is therefore not the events themselves, but the bonds I developed with individuals who I think about most today.

I was once told by Gerry Herrling during Municipal Credit Union's recovery from the 9/11 attack "that you do what you have to do when faced with adversity." I know this is true; however, I have also come to understand it is with the help of your friends and family that you survive.

Mike Retelle has been a claims manager at CUNA Mutual Group for more than 30 years. He can be reached at mike.retelle@cunamutual.com, or at 800-356-2644, ext. 7618.

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