08:39 AM

Reflecting on 9/11 – inspired to serve community and others


As the nation reflects on the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, so do the agency owners and employees of American Family Insurance. Read how the events of 20 years ago inspired some of them put community first then – and now.

As the nation reflects on the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, so do the agency owners and employees of American Family Insurance. Read how the events of 20 years ago inspired agency owners Tyler Belisle, Mike Grzenia and Kajal Patel and employee Jon Stinemetz to put community first then – and now.

‘Wanting to be of service’
Agency owner Tyler Belisle, New Brighton, Minnesota

I was in English class and one of the teachers ran in with a TV and turned on the news. I remember seeing the smoke billowing up from the first tower. I’ll never forget the collective gasp of about 60 students as the second plane hit the second tower. After that, the silence in our classroom was deafening.

Experiencing 9/11 as a 13-year-old changed my whole trajectory. After college, I joined the volunteer fire department, wanting to be of service. It was the most rewarding decision I made. I was a first responder for nine years, an EMS captain for some of that time and worked as a 9-1-1 dispatcher for several years, too. Being a first responder has had a huge impact on my business. I approach everything from a desire to serve and help people, and customers see that.

You never know when everything can be turned on its head. My message of hope is to take time to enjoy the moments in your life. Make sure you are doing what you love, spending time with people you care about and making a positive impact in your community.”

Check in on others today
Agency owner Kajal Patel, Bartlett, Illinois

In 2001, I was a sophomore in high school in India. It was evening for us with the time difference, and my dad was watching the news. He called out to tell us about the attack on the World Trade Center in New York. We ran to the TV and stayed up late watching the news. When I first saw the video, I was in shock and couldn’t believe this was happening. The next morning, everyone was talking about it at school. Some news channels said to stay alert because an attack could happen anywhere. This was very upsetting, and I was worried.

As business owners, we can commemorate this day by checking in with loved ones, colleagues and customers who may have a connection to 9/11 and may need support. I will also display the American flag as a sign of my pride to be a U.S. citizen and celebrate our strength in unity.

Our strength is in coming together
Agency owner Mike Grzenia, Cross Plains, Wisconsin

That morning, I was on my way to an appointment, and I remember the radio announcer commenting on what a slow news day it was. The next moment, he said a plane had hit the World Trade Center and there would be more to come. When I was driving back from my appointment, I learned that it was a passenger plane. My heart sank as I thought about all those people. I arrived back to my office and learned more from two business owners who worked in the building with me. I had a small black and white TV with rabbit ears, so we turned it on and sat there glued, watching it without a thing to say for hours.

I’m a first responder and what’s most rewarding about this role is the camaraderie with my brothers and sisters at the fire station. I have seen them cry, and I’ve seen them at their best. We work together to help others in our community. These experiences have helped me as a business owner because I’ve seen firsthand what kind of emotions someone goes through when they call 911. I can relate with my customers and share my experiences which can help guide customers during a loss.

9/11 demonstrated the importance of being united as a country. As we commemorate the 20th anniversary of this date, let’s remember that our strength comes from our ability to come together, even in the most difficult of times.

Signing up to serve
Employee Jon Stinemetz, Madison, Wisconsin

On Sept. 10, I was working as an emergency room tech (EMT) for our local ambulance service in Colorado. The next morning, I woke up to our office phone ringing off the hook and ESPN talking about how this will be remembered in our nation’s history forever. As I rolled over to see what they were talking about the second plane was hitting the tower. I sat there and stared, not knowing the true impact to our country and the world. We went to the fire station for lunch to be with our brothers and sisters in uniform. I remember staying there watching and crying, still in uniform from the night before, not believing what we were seeing.

I feel honored to be part of this community and work with those who have sacrificed, trained, and were injured (visible and not) serving our country. Years after 2001, I signed up for the military and it was one of the best things I could have done. While I was never deployed, I trained with some of the best Marines and sailors in the world. I encourage people to respectfully ask and talk to people about their service. Not everyone is ready to discuss it, but many are. Someone once told me you can’t call yourself an ally to a person or group until that person or group recognizes you as an ally. If you want to be an ally to military service members and veterans be respectfully curious and just ask.



About the American Family Insurance group

Based in Madison, Wisconsin, American Family Insurance has been serving customers since 1927. We inspire, protect and restore dreams through our insurance products, exceptional service from our agency owners and employees, community investment and creative partnerships to address societal challenges. We act on our belief in diversity and inclusion by constantly evolving to meet customer needs and preferences. American Family Insurance group is the nation’s 13th-largest property/casualty insurance group, ranking No. 232 on the Fortune 500 list. The group sells American Family-brand products, primarily through exclusive agency owners in 19 states. The American Family Insurance group also includes CONNECT, powered by American Family Insurance, The General, Homesite and Main Street America. Across these companies the group has more than 13,500 employees nationwide.