The Great Credit Union Cash Airlift

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the spirit of credit union cooperation was embodied in the actions of Texas Dow Employees CU's efforts to aid DOW Louisiana FCU.

Below are personal accounts, courtesy of Jeff Hendrickson, chief executive of DOW Louisiana FCU, and Ed Speed, chief executive of Texas DOW Employees CU, describing how their two credit unions cooperated to deliver much needed cash to people in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Part One – From Jeff Hendrickson, chief executive of DOW Louisiana Federal Credit Union:

During the many problems in our area created by Hurricane Katrina, one of them was that much of the city of Baton Rouge was operating on a cash basis-due to downed and jammed telecommunications lines. The ATM, credit card, and debit card networks were overwhelmed, and the doubling of our population overnight put a huge burden on local financial institutions.

On Friday afternoon we learned that our Fed shipment of money that was promised to us was not coming. Yet we had to get through our extended hours of service on Saturday. Plus we wanted to be open on Monday (Labor Day) to help out as many folks as possible.

We tried working with Loomis and the Fed but were getting nowhere.

Most banks and credit unions in the area were rationing money or closing their doors because it was difficult to get the Fed to bring sufficient funds.

We needed to contact a large enough credit union in the immediate area that could assist us with money.

I told our senior management-contact Texas Dow Employees CU. I had gone to CUES Management School with Carol Stryker, TDECU’s chief investment officer, and knew that if she found out we were in trouble, she would do everything to help.

When the folks at TDECU found out we needed money, their entire senior management leaped to action. Driving the much-needed funds to us was not viable because of the difficulties involved with getting through the state border area. As luck would have it, TDECU had a chief executive, Ed Speed, who was a pilot. Further, Ed was not even supposed to be at the credit union; he was to have already left the office. Ed just happened to look down at the phone and answer one last voice mail message before he left for the day. That voice mail message was ours asking for assistance.

Ed scrapped all his plans for the evening and flew the money to us on his personal plane.

We had called TDECU at 2:00 p.m. By 8:00 p.m. Ed was landing in Baton Rouge on an errand of mercy. Although this is the quick version of it, there are many more interesting twists and turns because of the timing and how other things unfolded throughout the day.

Who knew that the first credit union we would call would have a CEO for a pilot who would be so willing to help, that they took the money from wherever they could in their own credit union just to help us?

Because of what TDECU did for us, we were able to keep our doors open for more hours than we had planned and give cash to folks who came to us with nothing. People were able to eat, buy gas, and get by because of the response from TDECU. We can’t say enough how we appreciate them.

Part Two – From Ed Speed, chief executive of Texas DOW Employees Credit Union:

On Friday afternoon (9/2/2005) Texas DOW Employees CU in Lake Jackson, Texas, received an urgent cell phone call from Jeff Hendrickson, the CEO of DOW Louisiana FCU in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

The hundreds of thousands of refugees from the New Orleans and coastal areas who were arriving in the Baton Rouge area had immediately started overloading the entire financial services capacity of Baton Rouge. One area of critical need was cash-regular cash money.

Although much of Baton Rouge was operational, the entire telephone grid was either damaged or overloaded with attempted calls. As a result, POS terminals, credit card terminals, and ATMs-the great majority of which use dial-up connections-were rendered useless. Because of this, merchants, restaurants, motels, grocery stores, pharmacies began requiring cold hard cash.

This even became a problem for people who had money in accounts, and many more, including refugees who were being issued paper checks.

DOW Louisiana FCU was becoming desperately short on cash. They wanted to stay open throughout the Labor Day weekend, but repeated calls for cash deliveries never arrived and none were expected until this coming Wednesday. Local banks started shutting down early Friday as they ran out of cash.

Jeff Hendrickson, DOW Louisiana FCU’s chief executive, was determined to stay in service. Jeff called us at 1:56 p.m. on Friday asking us to sell them desperately needed cash. Jeff said that without more cash, people coming to his credit union would not be able to get food, shelter, clothing, and medicine. Jeff said he would do whatever it took-even drive to Lake Jackson if we could find cash for him. He said that $500,000 to $600,000 would hold them until cash shipments arrived on Tuesday.

I marshaled our senior staff and within 15 minutes had a full count of cash on hand from all branches. Lance Wortham, our commercial vice presidents, called his contact at 1st National Bank and got a commitment of $200,000 if we needed more.

Less than 25 minutes after Jeff had called we were able to call him back with a commitment to deliver $600,000 in cash immediately. My thanks to Steph, Vickey and Kay for their help.

Within 90 minutes the needed cash ($600,000) had been brought in, counted and bagged. (It was now 3:30 p.m. Friday).

The problem was going to be the delivery.

First, we could tell from their voices that they were bone tired and in no shape to drive anywhere. Our driving the cash to Baton Rouge was going to be problematic because Janice Arizmendi, our chief of staff, had contacted the Texas DPS and had been told that individual relief efforts were being turned away at the state border. Without special permission we would be turned back and never get the cash to the credit union.

That left one viable solution: fly the cash to them.

I made the decision that I would fly my plane to Baton Rouge that afternoon. Lance Wortham would go with me.

By 4:00 p.m., less than 2 hours after the initial call, we had the plane loaded. We had to wait about an hour for some local weather to clear. We were able to go wheels up right at 5:00 p.m.

The flight to Baton Rouge took about two hours. When the FAA Houston Control Center handed us off to Baton Rough Approach Control we immediately heard the frenzied air traffic control communications.

We came to find out that the Baton Rouge airport had become the staging area for all aviation rescue and relief efforts. This was the major staging and refueling point for all of the helicopters you have seen on TV and all of the large supply aircraft.In addition, the airport was the staging area for relief supplies coming in and for flying out refugees who were arriving on buses. We actually saw refugees being off-loaded from buses onto aircraft.

As we approached the Baton Rouge airport our air traffic controllers told us to expect extended vectors for sequencing. I knew we were in for some delays getting in. The controllers eventually brought us in, but only after about 45 minutes of practicing 360 degree holding turns. (Lance was very impressed!!)

Until the day I die I will never forget the words of the Baton Rouge tower controller: November-Eight-Four-Three-Five Foxtrot (N8435F), you are cleared to land Runway Four-Right (4R), straight in approachand Three Five Foxtrot, I need you to go as fast as you can!

My response was: Roger, three-five-foxtrot is cleared to land, straight in approach, runway three-five-right, full power, full speed!

We touched done about 8:00 p.m.; six hours after the initial call.

We were met by the CEO Jeff Hendrickson, his chief operating officer, Todd Zirkle, and armed security from the local sheriff’s department who came out to the plane to meet us.

We convoyed the $600,000 to the DOW Louisiana FCU main branch where the vault staff was waiting to take the cash. In one of the attached pictures one can see that the clock in the vault reads about 8:30 p.m. Six and a half hours start to finish.

We exchanged the cash for a check, had a quick meal and were escorted back to the airport.

Lance and I touched down back in Lake Jackson about 1:45 a.m., tired but exhilarated. [We treated ourselves to some comfort food at IHOP!]

If there is a hero here it has to be Jeff Hendrickson, chief executive of DOW Louisiana FCU. He was determined that his credit union would not, under any circumstances, fail people in need. And, in a way that really humbled me. Jeff said: I knew if I called upon another credit union, if I relied on our Movement, I knew someone would come through for us. I just knew it. This is who we are. This is what we do.

When faced with that type of leadership, determination and faith, I knew we here at TDECU had to deliver for him. Our TDECU team came through and my airplane performed well.

It all came together.

 

October 15, 2019

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