On holocaust remembrance day, I dream of equality for all

Miri McDonald and her BabaI can’t remember a time that I didn’t know all four of my grandparents were holocaust survivors.  I also can’t remember when my Baba (Yiddish word for grandmother) first shared her story with me but I was probably younger than most children when I heard the details of the Holocaust.  Maybe my Baba was tired of evading the question I remember asking her a lot.

“What is that scar on your neck, Baba?”

“My child. A solider was not very nice to me.”

There are no substitutes for words and phrases like gas chambers, torture and death marches. Maybe my Baba sensed that I would not stand for anything but her truth. Maybe she needed me to know my heritage.

My Baba was only 13 when the Nazis separated her from her family and forced her to live in a ghetto because she was Jewish. She was not liberated until she was 17. While witnessing things no one should ever have to see, hear or smell she made promises to the women that helped her survive that if she got out of there, she would never let the world forget what happened to them.

She has lived up to that promise over and over again by speaking all over the country as well as volunteering her time at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. Her husband, my Zada (Yiddish word for grandfather), doesn’t speak much about his experiences. I think they are too painful for him to recall. My father’s parents had other families before the holocaust and their spouses and children were also killed because they were Jewish. I don’t know much about their experiences beyond that because they didn’t talk about them and I was very young when they died.

So how do I live in a way that honors my grandparents’ experiences? To make sure I carry on their legacy and never forget?

Rewind to the summer of ’93. I’m waitressing on the Jersey shore and a customer is telling me a story. And there it was, the first time I was personally faced with anti-Semitism. I had a huge pit in my stomach because he had no idea I was Jewish. I ran through the scenario in my mind, do I say something or stay silent? Me, the grandchild of four holocaust survivors actually considered staying silent. I’m embarrassed to say I considered it, but I’m glad to say I didn’t. I said to him, “you know I’m Jewish right?” His face got red and he said, “Oh, well, I didn’t mean you.” I looked him in the eye and said, “Yes you did. You meant all of us.” And I walked away.

Fast forward to a few months ago. I overheard my sons, age four and six, repeating a girl’s accent they had heard earlier in the day. I said to them, “Please do not make fun of someone who is different from you. Your Baba was treated badly for being Jewish.” They asked me what I meant when I said she was treated badly. I asked myself, should I explain what the holocaust was or shield them from this horrific thing that their great-grandparents experienced? Because they are so young, I chose to use language they use in school and I said she was bullied for being Jewish. Their faces turned serious and I could tell understood.

Never forget. This is the message of every holocaust survivor. Because, let’s face it, as a society, we can certainly use the reminders. History tends to repeat itself. And I’m not talking about ancient history. I’m talking about the events that occurred at Jewish Community Centers in Kansas City, MO earlier this month. And, I’m talking about people being treated badly for being different all around the world every day.

To me, the phrase “never forget” doesn’t just apply to the Holocaust or Jewish people. I like the broader objective on the Holocaust museum’s website to “confront hatred, prevent genocide and promote human dignity.” It is my hope that we can all work towards these goals within ourselves, with our children and in our communities to make our world a much better place for everyone.

Editor's note: Learn more about Holocaust Remembrance Day from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website

Agent delivers peace of mind with personal insurance review

Personal insurance reviewAs an advocate of my company’s brand, I like to talk about the value of an American Family agent. And while I often hear how our agents (and employees) excel during the claims process, there are many other times I can see why we have the best agents in the business.

I was recently reminded why I am proud to be a customer, as well as an employee, of American Family.

A few months ago, I received an email from my agent asking if I’d like to come in for my personal insurance review (PIR). While I had passed on many PIR invitations in the past, I realized there were too many things coming up I would need to address.

“Schedule us for early in the new year,” I replied, allowing me not to have to think about it for a while. Those months went by quickly and soon I found my appointment a few weeks away. Taking a moment to review my situation, I came up with a number of items that my wife and I would need to cover in our PIR: 

  • Before the end of the year, we are very likely to have a teen driver in our household.
  • With the addition of that teen driver, we would have no more excuses to delay the purchase of an umbrella policy.
  • We would need to confirm the steps to get Teen Safe Driver installed. And how would we deal with a teen who is very opposed to the idea of that technology?
  • At what point in the near future might we want to adjust the coverages on our older, higher-mileage vehicle?
  • If we were to have an increase on our homeowners policy, what would that look like and how could we mitigate the increase?
  • Should we be looking at converting our term life policies at some point?

I summarized all of the above and sent an email to my agent. While I believed that most of these items were also on his list for our PIR, I wanted to ensure that we got the answers we needed.

The afternoon of our appointment, our agent was able to address all of our concerns. We reviewed our options and put together a plan to add or modify coverages during the course of the year. Where our rates were increasing, he was able to show us why. Since our overall insurance needs were increasing and the amount we’ll spend will eventually go up, our plan for the year spreads those costs out. In some cases, we adjusted coverages or deductibles to soften some of the increases. And yes, we made plans to add that umbrella policy.

I was impressed by my agent’s approach with our new teen driver. He requested a meeting later this year with my son to show him the impact the Teen Safe Driver program has on driving habits. He wants to reiterate that neither he, nor the company, will ever see the incidents recorded. And he wants to show him the financial impact of a ticket on insurance costs now, as well as when he is paying for his own insurance down the road.

While this was my own situation, all of us are likely to have changing and evolving insurance needs. Perhaps you are getting married this year, or maybe you’ve made an addition to your home. Perhaps you have a new baby, or a child getting a license, or one going away to college. All reasons to ensure you have the coverages you need.

The PIR process is one of those times you can really appreciate the value of having an American Family agent. I have always said we have the best agents in the insurance industry, and I saw that again firsthand.

For those of you who aren’t insured by American Family, why not make 2014 the year you make the switch? There are more than 3,400 agents in our 19 states who would be delighted to work with you!

Editor’s note: Learn more about personal insurance reviews on our website, or find a local American Family Insurance agent near you who can assist with your insurance needs. 

Honoring Pat Tillman and Veterans One Step at a Time

Pat's RunIn 2008, members of my family and staff joined me in a life-changing event. We were first-time walkers in Pat’s Run, a tribute and fundraiser to honor Pat Tillman, the outstanding college and pro football player who walked away from a multi-million dollar contract with the Arizona Cardinals to serve his country as a member of the elite U.S. Army Rangers.

Tillman wasn’t just an outstanding player on the field, but a remarkable student off the field. Playing outside linebacker for Arizona State University, Tillman graduated in only three-and-a-half years while earning a 3.85 GPA. In 1998, the Arizona Cardinals drafted him to play safety. Less than a year after the United States was attacked by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001, Tillman left pro football to join the U.S. Army Rangers. In April 2004, he was killed in action in Afghanistan.

To honor Tillman’s legacy and devotion to his country, friends created Pat’s Run. This event honors Tillman and raises money to provide scholarships to U.S. military veterans and spouses. The event has grown to the point where police and fire officials are forced to cap participants at 28,000.

In college, Tillman wore No. 42, and that number is woven into the event. The run/walk is 4.2 miles long and ends on the 42 yard line of the Arizona Sun Devils field. After 2010, I wanted to get more involved and organized an American Family team to participate. The response was overwhelming.

In just one year, we built a team of more than 180 people. As a company, American Family also became involved, sponsoring a kids run (420 yards) in 2011 and 2012. In 2012, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jack Salzwedel, Sales Strategy and Support Vice President Jerry Rekowski and other company officials joined the team and walked in the event. In 2013, American Family increased its sponsorship, and our logo is proudly displayed on every Pat’s Run shirt and thousands of kid’s jerseys.

It’s no secret many veterans need help with college. However, many are unable to attend because they don’t have the means. Pat’s Run provides funding for veterans who want to attend college. Funds can be used for daycare, rent, car payments and food – whatever it takes to help veterans earn their degrees. Each year, the Tillman Foundation selects 60 veterans to add to the program. To date, funds have helped 290 veterans.

Pat's Run - Kids' Fun RunLast year, my wife, Sandy, and I were guests at the pre-race festivities and had a chance to meet many of the veterans receiving support from the foundation. These are amazing people who put their lives on hold while they wore our country’s uniform. Participating in Pat’s Run helps me give back and say thank you to these brave men and women.

I am proud to be able to help this fine organization. I am also proud of so many from American Family are supporting this important event.  

This year, after 43 years with American Family, I plan to retire, but I’m not sitting still. My plan is to do volunteer work with the Tillman Foundation. 

Editor’s note: Donations from Pat’s Run directly support the Tillman Military Scholars program, which provides scholarships to U.S. military veterans and spouses who reflect Pat’s values, strength of character, and commitment to service. 

Easy, tough choices in Dan Kelly’s CFO Bracket Challenge victory

USA Today CFO Bracket ChallengeEveryone who knows me knows I am a huge college basketball fan. While I enjoy the regular season, particularly University of Wisconsin and Big Ten Conference basketball, the NCAA men’s tournament always brings extra excitement.

Like many, I participate in various pools (all for fun, of course) for the tourney. This year I was asked to participate in USA Today’s CFO Bracket Challenge, sponsored by GE Capital. Why me? It could not have been based on prior performance in pools! It was because of relationships our Marketing team has developed, specifically one with USA Today.

As part of the CFO Bracket Challenge, USA Today ran a series of articles with me and other chief financial officers from companies around the country. The story angles were often about how sports and business intersect in so many ways, such as needing strong leaders, performing as teams and, ultimately, trying to win against the competition – to name a few.

While I was a little nervous to participate, as this included a published interview with me, the scarier thought was that my bracket picks and subsequent results would be made public. However, it was for a great cause. The winner of the challenge would receive $5,000 given to a charity of their choice.

So, I forged ahead.

Choosing a charity was easy – the Steve Stricker American Family Foundation. Started a year ago, the foundation is a partnership between one of our brand ambassadors, pro golfer Steve Stricker, and American Family. It supports organizations that help build strong families and healthy kids – an easy charity choice for me.

Then I had to fill out the bracket. This is where the hard choices began. And I also knew they were going to publish results after each weekend.

We all know there are upsets in the NCAA tournament, particularly in the first round. The difficult part is deciding which ones. Mercer over Duke? Didn’t get that one. However, I picked two No. 12 seeds over No. 5 seeds in the round of 64 and got both of those. That helped me get off to a good start with 15 of 16 on day one.

My Sweet 16 picks were all the favorites. I didn’t realize that until I had filled my bracket out and was analyzing it. But it was hard to justify (at the time) picking against any of the top four regional seeds. Of those top 16 I picked, 10 indeed made it that far, and I ended the first weekend in second place.

My Big Ten bias showed when projecting my Final Four. I had Wisconsin (of course) and Michigan State making it along with Florida – the No. 1 team in the country for much of the year – and Louisville. The Cardinals were a No. 4 seed but playing well at the end of the year, and they were experienced, having been last year’s NCAA champ.  After the second weekend, I was in first place! On top of that, my beloved Badgers were in the Final Four.

As it turned out, the championship game pitted a No. 7 (Connecticut) vs. a No. 8 (Kentucky - ouch). I don’t think anyone picked that match-up! That’s what makes the tournament so exciting.

As for next year, if asked to defend my CFO Bracket Challenge title, two things will remain the same: The Steve Stricker American Family Foundation will be my charity of choice and Wisconsin will be in my Final Four!

Editor’s note: The Steve Stricker American Family Insurance Foundation recently donated $75,000 to support the Edgerton Community Outreach program’s renovation of its community center in downtown Edgerton, Wis., Edgerton Community Outreach provides programs and services to those in need, including food and housing assistance, with the goal of self-sufficiency.

VSA Day is an experience you’ll remember

VSA Day - WisconsinThe kids get up early in anticipation of a very special day. It’s a day they’ve been looking forward to for a long time. It’s also a day I’ve enjoyed volunteering at during the last five years.

A couple of times my son, Demetrius, has also volunteered with me for the Very Special Arts (VSA) day when children with disabilities take part in a University of Wisconsin-Madison Badger football game.

On VSA Day at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, about 200 kids who are members of the VSA choir and marching band join the University of Wisconsin marching band during pregame and halftime activities.

We have volunteered in the rain, cold, snow and, on occasion, a beautiful fall day. But no matter the weather, it’s the smiles on the kids’ faces that always make the day beautiful.

Volunteers from American Family and other Madison employers meet at the stadium around 7:30 a.m. on game day to greet the kids as they get off the bus. Some of the kids have traveled from other parts of the state. Each volunteer is assigned one child, and it’s our responsibility to help them with pregame activities, lunch and during the game.

The kids really enjoy the chance to meet Bucky Badger, or even better, former Wisconsin football and NFL player Ron Dayne. When I have the opportunity to introduce the kids to Ron and take their photo with him, it really makes their day — and mine.

When you volunteer for this event, you need to be ready for a very full day. We attend a training session a week or so before the game to help us understand the best way to assist someone who has a disability and the responsibilities of volunteering for this event.

I often help a neighbor at home who is my age and disabled, so I share what I know about volunteering at this event during the training. I also enjoy hearing the stories other volunteers share. This is one event where finding someone to stand in is not easy and could impact one of the kids’ experiences at the game.

It’s gratifying to be a part of VSA Day and it brings a real joy to my heart. Maybe you’ll consider joining me next year.

Editor’s note: Learn more about VSA Wisconsin, an organization offering artistic opportunities to Wisconsin children and adults with disabilities. American Family has sponsored this organization with financial contributions and volunteers for events such as this since 1997.

8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16