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CUNA Mutual celebrates 125 years
Reid Koenig, chief operating officer of CUNA Mutual Life Insurance, leads the largest employer in Bremer County.
DENNIS MAGEE / Courier Regional Editor

WAVERLY -- Reid Koenig will go to great lengths to communicate with employees. And sometimes the message rhymes.

Koenig, chief operating officer of CUNA Mutual Life Insurance, once read aloud the Dr. Seuss book, "Horton Hears a Who."

"You get outside your comfort zone, to communicate a strategic message," said Koenig, a Postville native and Wartburg College graduate.

That was four years ago. But the shiny-covered children's book sits on the top shelf in Koenig's office and serves as a reminder that listening and innovative thinking go hand in hand with success.

With about 750 people at work in Waverly locations, CUNA Mutual is the largest employer in Bremer County. On Sunday, the company will mark 125 years of business in the community. Commemorative activities are taking place this week and in August.

The insurance and financial security provider is based in Madison, Wis., and has almost 6,000 employees worldwide and net assets of nearly $12.9 billion. A top provider in the industry, CUNA Mutual works with about 95 percent of the more than 9,500 credit unions in the country.

"This is a special year for CUNA Mutual Life Insurance Company, "said Mike Kitchen, president and CEO. "Our history has been marked by change and growth. Yet, our fundamental company values remain constant."

Financial integrity. Customer service. Security. Teamwork. Those are the company's cornerstones, officials say.

Though part of an extensive network, the Waverly branch has a history of it's own. German Lutheran pastors looking to fend for their flock started an aide society on June 27, 1879, and for years clients and employees had to be Lutheran.

The Mutual Aide Society of the German Lutheran Synod of Iowa and Other States changed name, mission and service several times before becoming a permanent affiliate of the CUNA Mutual Group in 1990.

In between, the organization has been:

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-- The Lutheran Mutual Aid Society, a fraternal beneficiary.

-- The Lutheran Mutual Life Insurance Company.

-- The Century Companies of America, a combined insurance and equity corporation.

In 1997, the Waverly company became CUNA Mutual Life Insurance.

Koenig, with the Waverly group since 1983, said the marriage to CUNA Mutual was a progressive move that fueled company growth. Employees at the Waverly-based company were skilled at helping individual clients and dealt with insurance and annuities. CUNA Mutual, started in 1935, was an innovator in the credit union movement.

Waverly resident Gerald Vallem worked for the company for 38 years before retiring last year.

"Each change was really what was needed at the time. Certainly, when you look back, it's certainly been for the better," Vallem said. "They've stayed very focused."

Ron Stahlberg, also retired, worked 38 years and never saw any need to pursue any other job. A good community means good people to work with, Stahlberg said.

CUNA Mutual can take some credit for that, said Carol Jahnke, director of economic development for Waverly.

"Not only are they the largest employer, but they are also a great corporate citizen company," Jahnke said. "They really have a spirit giving back to the community."

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