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Rough Notes Company presents 13th annual Community Service Award

Jim Pender and Gary Trippe offer disabled vets a career path in insurance

By Bob Bloss

In keeping with the popular tradition that is now well into its second decade, The Rough Notes Company is proud to announce the 2012 winners of its annual Community Service Award. The honor goes to deserving independent agents and agencies that create and support endeavors that enrich the quality of life in their communities. This year we are pleased to introduce award co-winners James R. Pender, CPCU, CLU, ChFC, ARM, and Gary V. Trippe, CIC.

These two distinguished honorees are long-time business associates who last year founded Disabled Veterans Insurance Careers, Inc. (DVIC), a nonprofit entity that will train physically disabled veterans and provide them a career path in insurance.

Robert N. Kretzmer, CIC, director of the Rough Notes Community Service Award program since its inception, hails the DVIC initiative as another example of the humanitarianism exemplified by previous winners of the award.

"When it comes to altruistic and philanthropic endeavors, the DVIC venture originated by Mr. Pender and Mr. Trippe is nothing short of remarkable," observes Kretzmer, who each year reviews a multitude of nominations of agents who organize and support outstanding community service programs and events.

"The DVIC initiative is clearly reflective of the effective working relationship that originated between these two entrepreneurs more than 30 years ago when they and Trippe's wife, Gay, founded an independent agency called Oswald Trippe and Company in Fort Myers, Florida," Kretzmer remarks. (The agency is now BB&T-Oswald Trippe and Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of Branch Banking & Trust Company's BB&T Insurance Services, Inc.). Jim Pender is honorary chairman of the firm, and Gary Trippe is managing director.

Oswald Trippe has long been recognized in its community as a "good business neighbor" and is widely known for its philanthropic endeavors. Furthering that strong commitment, Pender and Trippe, along with their families and agency employees, decided to take another major step in humanitarian service.

Hope for heroes

"Our initial thought," says Trippe, "was to work within the insurance industry to provide fulfilling work for the many men and women with physical disabilities. Our goal was to educate these folks, and provide them with employment that would make use of their education."

"The genesis of our initial discussion," Pender recalls, "was the fact that Gary and I both had handicapped family members. Gary's older brother was born with cerebral palsy; in our family, our eight-year-old son was an auto accident injury victim who died at 19. We were well aware of the challenges they faced.

"In recent years, it has become painfully clear that badly wounded U.S. military personnel were returning home daily, facing lengthy recovery and therapy ordeals," Pender continues. "For many, returning to their former careers or landing other employment opportunities is a daunting task."

Aware of the many challenges that confront veterans who come home with disabling combat-related injuries, Pender and Trippe decided to focus their efforts on helping these brave men and women prepare for insurance sales or service positions with participating agencies and carriers. In January 2011 they announced the establishment of Disabled Veterans Insurance Careers, whose mission is to create meaningful insurance industry employment opportunities for disabled United States military veterans. (See "Hope for Heroes" in the December 2011 issue of Rough Notes.)

Trippe and Pender's enthusiasm for their idea was buoyed by strong support from their associates at Oswald Trippe. When they shared their idea with leading insurance industry executives, the response was extremely positive, and today several of those executives serve on DVIC's strategic board, along with retired officers of the armed forces.

The primary government resource for services and benefits for disabled veterans is the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Service (VR&E) of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). "We work closely with VR&E) to identify qualified disabled veterans for participation," Pender says. He refers to the VA as "our human resource department. We're very grateful for their enthusiastic assistance."

"The VA has been a valuable recruiting partner," Trippe adds. "Look at it this way: We and the VA have a common goal. It's getting these veterans back in the world again."

Pender observes, "So many of the returning veterans being recruited for our program with the goal of a comfortable return to the workforce as insurance professionals are—by their nature and military background—focused, mission driven, and mature beyond their years. Being in combat is quite different from the kinds of situations that young people normally encounter. We also find that many of our veterans are technically savvy, a very important advantage to them as they prepare to learn and then work in a highly technical virtual environment. We are certain," he continues, "that these veterans are going to be very good employees for someone. That's very important to them and to their employers."

Pender's wife, Kathy, a licensed psychologist, plays a key role with DVIC. She has a strong background in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and her experience is a vital element in achieving DVIC's mission.

The 12-month DVIC training program is offered in two career tracks: sales and service. After a veteran has completed the program and obtained the necessary licenses, DVIC will attempt to place the graduate with an agency or an insurer where he or she can put the newly acquired knowledge and skills to work as either a personal lines producer or a customer service representative. Thanks to modern technology, veterans will be able to study and work from home in a virtual environment.

Technology and medicine

Modern technology is one of three interconnected elements that are linked to the DVIC initiative, Pender explains. The other two components are modern warfare and modern medicine.

"Think about it," Pender says. "Sadly, the bulk of serious injuries to veterans—loss of limbs, for example—are caused by devastating explosives used in modern warfare. Modern medicine plays a vitally important part in saving veterans' lives and rebuilding their physical and emotional welfare. Modern technology not only plays a key role in medical and psychological treatment, but also allows DVIC's education and training programs to be conducted via electronic and digital means that permit the disabled veteran students to study and then work from home or other remote locations instead of being transported to a college campus or business center for information, research, additional study materials, and testing.

"As a matter of fact," Pender remarks, "even though our focus and our goal is to prepare these deserving veterans for important posts within the insurance community, we've already had numerous inquiries from other industries about our model here at DVIC. When you think about it, people can work at home in other industries, too. We're encouraging our students to go as far and wide as they can. Surely they have the potential to lead active professional lives regardless of what the business is.

"Much of the content we offer in our education and training program focuses on financial services, retirement planning, property valuations, and other subjects that are relevant to other businesses as well as insurance," Pender continues. "From the moment Disabled Veterans Insurance Careers embarked on its innovative venture, it was obvious that technology makes it possible to train and educate students remotely and then allow them to work remotely, and to develop meaningful, long-term career paths for them. If our students eventually navigate to other industries, they will have learned that they can still make their way in the world. And that's the point, isn't it?"

Spearheading the development of DVIC's training and education program is Lee Knapp, president of Knapp Consultants, a business training and development firm based in Fort Myers. Knapp served as a sales coach to Oswald Trippe for some 20 years and is drawing on her experience to create modules that will teach selling techniques to participating veterans. A founding member of DVIC, she also serves on its strategic board.

Brady Polansky, CPCU, CIC, president and chief executive officer of NetVU (Network of Vertafore Users), is working with Knapp on programs that focus on information technology and sales consultancy. He also serves on DVIC's strategic board.

In addition to Trippe, Pender, Knapp, and Polansky, members of DVIC's strategic board are Jon Bidwell, senior vice president and chief innovation officer, Chubb Insurance Group, founding member; Walter Gdowski, president and chief executive officer, The Rough Notes Company; James Hackbarth, president, Assurex Global; George (Shad) Steadman III, vice chairman, Rutherfoord, A Marsh & McLennan Agency; Retired U.S. Air Force Captain Gerald J. Sullivan, chairman, The Sullivan Group; and John Wepler, president, Marsh, Berry & Co. Beyond their enthusiastic support and invaluable recommendations, these individuals are playing a vital role in attracting interest, support, and guidance from business associates throughout the insurance industry.

Another organization that is a key contributor to the success of DVIC is The National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research. "Because of the educational and marketing strengths and insurance expertise of The National Alliance," says Walt Gdowski of Rough Notes, "the guidance and continuing education insights it has offered to DVIC are invaluable."

With the curriculum and training program now in place and the first year's enrollment complete, DVIC is embarking on its second phase: securing grants. They are key to building on DVIC's foundation in terms of enrollments, curriculum development, and job placement.

Pender re-emphasizes the vital role that modern technology and medicine play in the DVIC vision, and how they help rehabilitate and extend longevity for those who suffer serious 21st century battlefield injuries. "Every day I think about these great strides, and it encourages us to keep going and make this thing work!" 

The Rough Notes Company, echoing America's widespread "thank you" and "welcome home" to the nation's military service men and women, expresses its warm, sincere salute to Gary V. Trippe and James R. Pender—our 2012 Community Service Award recipients—for their innovation in founding the Disabled Veterans Insurance Careers organization that provides valuable training and employment opportunities for our returning military veterans with disabilities.

Rough Notes proudly and gratefully honors Gary Trippe and Jim Pender with the handsome engraved eagle statue that recognizes their inspiring commitment to creating a meaningful career path for our heroic veterans who were wounded in combat. Rough Notes was honored to present a $5,000 check with gratitude to Disabled Veterans Insurance Careers. We warmly salute all members of the United States Armed Forces, with special thanks to those who have suffered disabilities while on active duty. We also express our deep appreciation to the nation's insurance industry men and women who daily serve their own communities' philanthropies with passion and commitment.

For more information about DVIC, and updates on its progress, please visit


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