The Best Kept Secret

As Covenant Estate Planning Services celebrates its thirty-fifth anniversary and Covenant Trust Company approaches its twenty-fifth, two key participants share how the driving force behind that ministry is the understanding that people matter more than the bottom line.

How do you write your own retirement speech? That was the task I was facing two years ago. After more than three decades, the mental slide show of faces, names, and stories, the twists and turns of the path on which God led me was somewhat extensive, to say the least.

In 1975 I worked in broadcasting, meeting celebrities daily. Dream job? Not exactly. The required look was “long hair, short skirt,” and people stopped at nothing to sell airtime to a sponsor. When a staffer made an improper suggestion to me while blocking my exit from his office, I knew it was not the place for me. I cut my hair, got longer skirts, and went job hunting.

Soon I interviewed with LeRoy Johnson, the vice president for development at North Park University. LeRoy had some tough requirements, but somehow I knew I wanted to be his administrative assistant. I believed myself well-trained for the job. My dad had taught me his strong work ethic and expected 110 percent effort. My first boss, a former army sergeant, had demanded total recall of details. So nothing LeRoy said scared me too much.

But the first tasks he assigned me gave me pause: “Memorize these seventy-five important names,” and, “Now that we’ve reviewed the files, devise a better filing system before I get back next week.” I left work that first day wondering what I had gotten myself into!

I soon found out. I had landed with a mentor who respected me, not as a secretary but as a colleague. I learned leadership by observation: LeRoy’s expectations were high, but he never asked me to do anything he wouldn’t do himself. He explained what had to be done, then turned me loose to do it. We made a good team.

After three years, Covenant president Milton Engebretson asked LeRoy to lead a new office. The Office of Planned Giving would coordinate denominational deferred giving efforts and manage all deferred gift assets. LeRoy asked me to join him in this venture into the unknown. No other denomination had tried such a thing, but LeRoy, with his passion for legacy planning, had no qualms. He was ready to take a leap of faith; and again, something told me I should join him.

Office relocation wasn’t exactly in my job description, but I became adept at it. In 1978 we moved to Covenant Offices with cardboard boxes, borrowed furniture, and no designated office space. In the next thirty-three years, our office would move seven times and become what some called “the best kept secret in the Covenant.” I sometimes wondered if that was because no one could keep up with us!

Covenant Estate Planning Services and Covenant Trust Company (CEPS/CTC) are all about excellence, integrity, values, and relationships. So are our people. Ask anyone who has ever worked there—it’s like no other job. Many businesses grant employees four hours of personal time for a local family funeral, one day if it’s out of town. Between the deaths of my mother and father, the CTC president had changed; but the message had not. First LeRoy, then Chuck Walles said, “Take all the time you need. We’ll pray for you.” At CEPS/CTC, the question is always, “What’s the right thing?” Every CTC board meeting opens with prayer; we give thanks for our clients and ask God to guide our decisions based on what’s best for them. A workplace like that influences your life.

CEPS/CTC made me a better employee and a better person. The staff has never been large; neither has the budget. When something needs doing, everyone pitches in. In another environment I wouldn’t have gained skills in computer programming, marketing, accounting, human resources, forms design, plus duty as “office mom” and corporate secretary. I met clients, made presentations, developed marketing materials, and took minutes. I probably brewed 10,000 pots of coffee, collated and stapled a million sheets of paper, and spent enough hours in meetings to fly round trip to Mars. I loved the variety, challenge, and knowledge that what I did made a difference. I learned about being part of a team, how to get it done on my own, how unique CEPS/CTC is, and how lucky I was to be part of it.

From 1980 to 1988, we were Covenant Estate Planning Services. Things were going so well that our attorneys suggested we form a trust company to handle asset management and trustee services for the agreements we generated. Another leap of faith! In January 1989, Covenant Trust Company opened its doors to support and assist Covenant Estate Planning Services. Through all the changes we clung tightly to one thing: our mission. At one point we used Jim Collins’s book Good to Great to update our mission statement. Collins asks, “What does your company do better than anyone else?” and, “What are you passionate about?” I still have my copy of the book. It reminds me to update my personal mission statement to understand what I do well and what I’m passionate about. My passion is financial planning for women—I know it’s the key to their future. CEPS/CTC is a resource to hundreds of women who know they can trust us. I’m happy I was part of that.

Something in me was a perfect fit with CEPS/CTC, where people are always the most important thing. It’s not our services that are unique–it’s our values, the way we care for and about people. It’s who we are. We work with people, wealthy or not, who have a charitable dream. Our clients encourage and inspire us. From them I learned about handling adversity, celebrating life, and growing old. I learned how it feels when someone trusts you with everything they have. It’s more than numbers—behind every gift is a generous donor with a heart for ministry. Maybe the best thing we do is give people peace of mind. I became a client myself; in retirement, I have that peace of mind and know its value. When I talk about CEPS/ CTC, I speak from my heart—from the inside out.

I served with LeRoy Johnson, Gilman Robinson, Charles Walles, and Ann Wiesbrock. It was a joy to spend my last working year with Ann, who shares our passion and has such a vision for our future. But it was time to retire. So there I was, trying to write that speech. I know God led me to North Park and then to Covenant Estate Planning Services and Covenant Trust Company. I’m blessed to have served a ministry I loved so passionately. Thinking about what I hoped my legacy would be, I knew just what to say: “Serve from the inside out—it worked for me.”

Patty Conrad retired in 2011 after thirty-six years of Covenant service.


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