The memories were still painful one year after Cindy Atteberry, the president/CEO of the $27 million Joplin Metro Credit Union, lost her home and nearly her life.
The storm killed 161, leveled a large part of the southwest Missouri city and left the Atteberrys in rented property.
“I was among those who joined that day in the memory walk through the neighborhoods, and it was simply heartbreaking, bringing tears as we again surveyed areas of the city where there is still nothing left,” said Atteberry.
One of the worst moments during the anniversary events was a trip to the vacant lot where their home once stood.
“We loved that house, we had the most beautiful backyard in the neighborhood, and I won’t ever forget the afternoon the storm hit” Atteberry said.“We both were pretty tired and had spent hours trimming shrubs and pruning flowers when just the only siren went off,”
The pair had gone through that drill before about heading to the basement. And the ominous sky, her husband’s admonition and broadcast warnings convinced the pair to follow the familiar routine which ended up saving their lives.
Looking back, she joked, “I think we probably could have saved ourselves a lot of time in the backyard considering what happened.”
Despite the loss of her home and prized possessions, including a lost wedding ring, Atteberry later in 2011 took on an impromptu role as a tornado victims’ advocate in a publicized dispute with Bank of America over insurance payment checks, a problem that first ensnared the Joplin Metro CEO herself.
Her payments and that of 40 others were bottled up under the Countrywide-BofA merger, Atteberry said of her problems in confronting local and district managers at the big bank.
“I had been in touch with a reporter for a Joplin newspaper who was getting the same complaints about BofA practices shared by other tornado victims, and I decided this was simply wrong what BofA was doing and the problem needed to be fixed right away,” said Atteberry.
In the face of negative publicity generated by Atteberry and news coverage, the big bank eventually cashed the checks and paid off settlements while also apologizing for the snafus.
In contrast, just after the storm hit, her credit union became a haven for tornado assistance, distributing donated food and clothing and handing out $500 grants.
“Our board room became a makeshift grocery store in which we gave out free food and supplies,” recalled Atteberry.
Joplin Metro was one of three first place Missouri credit unions to be honored last December with CUNA’s Dora Maxwell Award for community service. The credit union’s assistance program was recognized once again during CUNA’s Governmental Affairs Conference in Washington last March.
Neither Atteberry nor her husband suffered any injuries during the 2011 storm.