Dexter Statesman
The former Daily Statesman is now The Dexter Statesman.

Warm hands, warm hearts

Sunday, February 1, 2009
Noreen Hyslop photo - Ninety-year-old Warren Fisher is just one of many who benefited from a warming shelter set up at the offices of County Wide Insurance in downtown Dexter.

For every person without power following this week's ice storm, there is a story. For every face in every shelter, there is a story. And, for every volunteer who made a difference in a storm victim's life this week, there is a story.

Ironicallly, some of those stories unfolded within the walls of a local insurance agency located in downtown Dexter.

Alan Hedrick, owner of County Wide Insurance, explains what brought about 40 cold and displaced residents from the worst ice storm in the Bootheel's history into the confines of his hometown insurance office.

Hedrick explains, "When Katrina hit and we went down to help with that effort, it started me thinking about catastrophic circumstances and how we'd be equipped to handle a situation of such gravity in our area. Businesswise, we entered into an agreement with a company called Agility Recovery and for a monthly premium, we are granted the option to call upon them in the event of an emergency for such things as power, internet service, or office space. It's kind of like having insurance for insurance."

Hedrick confirms, "Any company can do this. It's just about helping your own. We just felt that it was an important step to take in light of recent disasters, but of course we never thought we'd need to apply it so soon, but here we are."

When the ice storm ravaged the Bootheel this week, leaving every home and business in Dexter powerless, Hedrick, along with business associate Jason Comfort, reached City Administrator Mark Stidham and without any kind of floorplan, quickly established a warming shelter at Hedrick's downtown office facility at the corner of Walnut and Vine Streets.

A 125 watt generator was put into place in a matter of hours, brining warmth and lighting back into the frigid walls of the brick building. Then, as the city began to receive residents to be housed at the already-established Park Lane Shelter at the old high school gym, word was spread that the offices of County Wide would also be available. The emphasis was placed upon taking in those with special health concerns, since the facility was smaller and granted readily available refrigeration for medications and special dietary items.

"We filled up pretty quickly," Hedrick says, "and we've met some very gracious and special folks that we would probably have never had the opportunity to meet."

One of those special folks is 90-year old Warren Fisher, who resides alone in a house southwest of the city. His neighbor across the road happens to be Stoddard County Deputy Tom Horton, who delivered his good neighbor to the safe haven of County Wide until the area's power was brought back up.

In his 90 years, Fisher hasn't witnessed any storm that compares to this week's.

"I've never seen anything quite like it," Fisher says of the destruction all over town, "and I have to tell you I didn't mind it too much, but I really don't want to see it again!"

Warren Fisher has made a few new friends during his stay at County Wide.

"He's been one of our favorites," Hedrick admits. "He's just been a joy and we've enjoyed this time that we've been afforded to get to know him. He is a gentleman and he's brought a smile to all our faces."

As the temporary guests of County Wide meander through the lobby and hallways of the office, business amazingly is proceeding as normal. As the misplaced parties are reading to their children or retrieving their medications from the company refrigerator and as small children are playing tag between the cots and woolen blankets, a dedicated staff is busy taking client's calls and responding to the needs of their insureds as if it's just another day on the job.

Hedrick is quick to say that it's all about teamwork.

"I didn't make this possible," he says. "It's all about teamwork and I can't say enough about the team here who made it possible to make life a little more bearable during these extreme conditions. This is not about any one individual. It's about a team of people who came together to lighten the burden of some of our close neighbors in need and it warmed our hearts as much as their hands to be a part of it."

"We've witnessed an incredible coming together of hearts and hands during this crisis and we owe the city of Dexter's government officials for working together and seeing to the needs of our own. I can only say that I'm proud to have been a small part of that operation," Hedrick attests.