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Magazine: Larger than Life Insurance

Retired Agent Joe Schuster dedicated many years of his life to COF.

Joe Schuster, Gonzaga 1572, Cincinnati, Ohio, fully embodies the qualities COF seeks in a representative. He believes in every aspect of what COF aims to provide—protection for family and compassion for community.

Joe’s first day of work: March 17, 1958. “I used to manage shoe stores and I wasn’t happy with it,” he shared. “Then I happened to look in the paper. I reached out because of a listing, and the general agent came out to meet with me that night.”

Joe worked 40 years full-time as an agent. “There were times when I couldn’t get to their houses fast enough to sign them up for policies,” he laughed. He speaks fondly of the many years he worked as an agent and admires the agents now. “I wish I was 30 years younger because the agents today have a lot going for them,” he said.  Now retired, Joe’s efforts are still making waves in the COF community.

“That guy is a legend!” Agent Tom Kaelin, St. Catherine of Siena 2514, Ft. Thomas, Ky., exclaimed when Joe’s name was mentioned.

Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Mark Walsworth created an award in his name—the Joseph Schuster Lifetime Achievement Award, given to those in honor and appreciation for a lifetime of dedicated service to COF. The inaugural award was presented to Joe in April of 2010, and was most recently awarded to Agent Richard Kuhar of Ohio. A framed bronze bust of Joe adorns a wall in the Home Office.

Joe’s daughter, Debbie Schuster, Marian 2126, Cincinnati, Ohio, reflected on her father’s time as an agent. “You’re not just selling a product; it’s a way of life,” she said.

Retired Agent Dave Zerhusen, St. Joseph 2094, Cold Spring, Ky., described Joe’s dedication to the people he wrote policies for: “He treated small policies the very same as big policies. He was genuinely loved by all his clients. They didn’t just think of him as an agent, they thought of him as a part of their family.”

Joe attended 14 national conventions with his wife, Nina, who passed last year. “Nina was a tremendous help to me. She handled a lot of the frontline work. She really missed [Feeding God’s Children] when she was in the hospital.” They spearheaded outreach projects and all COF activities together. “She was an ambassador of good will,” he said fondly.

“I remember [meeting her] and signing her up right away. She went to the first meeting and became Recording Secretary,” Joe laughed. “And she held that post until she passed!” Debbie chimed in. Nina was notorious for her Lithuanian cooking. “Many people talked about it with me at the 50th National Convention,” Debbie said. “I went in my mom’s place for the first time, with her best friend, Donna. At the banquet, I walked up to the dessert table and there it was—Lithuanian torte—and I started crying,” she said. “It was really good. It wasn’t mom’s, but it was good.”

Joe and High Chief Ranger Dave Huber have a storied relationship. “I’ve known him since he was in college,” Joe said of Dave. “His dad came to me and said ‘I want my son to be an agent,’ and he came to my house many days so I could train him, and look at him now!” Joe shook his head. “He’s a great guy.”

Joe has been battling cancer and undergoing chemotherapy for the past two years. He remains positive, though. “All the nurses at the hospital love him,” Debbie said. “They talk to him and take photos with him whenever he’s in.”

He continues to attend as many FGC events as possible. He and his family volunteered at the Central Cincinnati Chapter’s Healthy Moms and Babes event at Stehlin’s Meat Market in Cincinnati the same weekend he sat down to chat with COF.

Joe’s fraternalism goes beyond FGC activities. He recalled a story about a discount store that had train cars full of potatoes that came out of their packaging. “One of the stores called me up and told me they were planning to throw them all away. I knew a guy who was in the National Guard. They came to fill trucks with the potatoes, then distributed them to [those in need] in the area,” Joe said. “At about six o’clock that night, one of the nuns from one of the churches called and said ‘Joe, do you have any more potatoes?’ and I said ‘What did you do with them all?’ I couldn’t believe it!”

When asked about his favorite COF memory, Joe couldn’t choose one. “I really, really loved the work. I learned how much they appreciate the work I’ve done, and to me that was one of the biggest blessings and made me feel good. To know they appreciated it…I was really overwhelmed, and I still am.”

Every person who speaks of Joe mentions his commitment to telling the truth. “One thing that hit my mind immediately when I thought of Joe was when he started to slow down, and I took over for some of his clients. You can run into problems when taking over for another agent, and I never had any issues with his clients. They never claimed that Joe misled them in any way, shape or form. Integrity is the first thing that comes to mind,” Dave Zerhusen said sincerely of him. “He’s taught us that honesty is the best way to live, and it’s made all of us better people,” Debbie said.

“He really has no idea how great of a person he is,” Debbie continued. “You’re just truly so humble, always,” she said to her father with a smile.

“Oh, stop,” Joe said with a sweeping motion of the hand and tears in his eyes.

Joe officially retired May 31 of this year after 59 years of being a COF Agent. His dedication to fraternalism, authentic character and effort to protect families are respected by all who knew him. In his time as an agent with COF, Joe brought in over 2,300 members and wrote approximately 2,500 policies.

“I’m so blessed. A good job, a great marriage, and my great kids. I wonder what will happen next.”

Article by Brittany Hans.

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