Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Insurance Agents Open Property to Clients Who Lost Homes


BLACK FOREST - Andy Taylor and Rene Thomsen might be the best insurance agents ever.

When their evacuated policy holders began calling June 12 to ask about compensation for temporary housing, the married insurance team, who were evacuated from their home the day before, opened the lot behind their office to customers fleeing the Black Forest fire.

The 10-acre property became a campsite for three families and their animals, including horses, dogs and cats. Even Judy von Ahlefeldt, the one-woman news organization who produces the weekly Black Forest News, is operating out of the converted space since losing her home in the fire.

"That's how it is out here," said Taylor, 53. "It wasn't even a conscious decision. That's how people treat each other in the forest. We're all neighbors. If it wasn't us, it'd be someone else."

Taylor and Thomsen, whose satellite Farmer's Insurance agency serves a few hundred families in the Black Forest area, lost their barn and acres of now-scorched property, but their home remained mostly unscathed. The two are living out a mobile home, camping alongside their policy holders.

Roughly 12 of their clients lost everything in the fire. Among their clients were Marc and Robin Herklotz, the married couple that died as they prepared to flee. The Herklotzes only owned a policy with Taylor and Thomsen for about a year, but, as with every policy holder they manage, the couple had become family.

"It just makes me sick to my stomach," said Thomsen, 54.

Despite their obvious generosity, Taylor and Thomsen don't recognize their compassion as unusual. They are amazed and inspired by the magnanimity of others, including local businesses that have shelled-out thousands of dollars in materials and help for free.

"You really have to know these people to understand that if there were Farmer's insurance holders in need, or any other insurance holder for that matter, they would be willing to help on any level," said Jim Vincent, who lost his home in the fire and has a policy with Taylor and Thomsen. "Their door is always open to anyone in need."

Even with their lives damaged, the self-described road hounds will stay put, even if some of their policy holders may not.

How long will they let their newfound neighbors camp out in their backyard? Indefinitely.

"They might only have to stay here for two or three weeks," Thomsen said. "They have enough on their minds right now."

Article Source: The Gazette