It was May 14, and by golly, it was my birthday, and I actually forgot about it at first. I was just leaving Washington DC and it was 6am in the morning.  The cab driver opened my door for me as I was heading to the airport with a cheerful  “Good Morning Young Lady.”  It was the “young lady” that gave me a start and reminded me – heck today is my birthday and I am heading home to La Farge for our annual Earth Dinner with the CROPP staff. I was feeling grateful, happy to be celebrating my birthday and hopeful no one would make a big deal out of it! Going home is always good but this day would be special. How happy I was when all my connections were on time and driving into the Driftless I marveled that spring sprung in less than a week! I was feeling infinite gratitude!

When the fire alarm went off, we were in the west wing, it was about 4 pm and our VP of Sales, Eric, and his mom were down in the Milky Way café getting ready for Earth Dinner. We took on the responsibility of decorating two of the tables and were having fun! Ruth, Eric’s mom, brought a magazine photo of a beautiful spring center piece with a variety of tulips and she was in the midst of recreating it. Earth Dinner at OV 5-25-11 by KH 021Each table was thoughtfully and exquisitely decorated. We were in joyful anticipation of our annual Earth Dinner celebration.  We have routine fire drills at CROPP but this time, we could see smoke emanating out of the front wall of our west wing.  In fact, we could see it very well from our position in the parking lot. And yet, we still were ‘small talking’ as we felt sure it would be contained quickly.  We were unaware that smoldering walls are the sign of the worst kind of fire to deal with —  Lesson 1.

Soon, lesson 2 hit us hard – always take your critical possessions like wallets and keys with you at every fire drill as we all had this moment of feeling sick because — what we left in our office was not going to be retrieved any time soon and maybe not at all. By 5:30pm car pools were being organized in the parking lot for those staff members whose keys could not be retrieved.  And we were in shock at the possible loss staring at us.

The west wing kept smoking heavily but still no fire – just a lot of smoke. Eleven fire departments arrived over the course of two hours.  IMG_4935Assembled were 114  firemen – volunteers and full timers. Thirty-one fire trucks.  One of them had an extension on the truck and was hovering over the building trying to determine how far the fire was traveling and whether it was flaming and just overall taking an assessment of the situation.

By about 10pm fire finally broke out and the fire fighters went into full swing as the robust wind blowing from the southwest effectively fanned the fire.  And believe me, it is terrifying to see how fast a fire can travel and how destructive and terrifying it can be. Our fire fighters were heroic!

Seeing that a crisis was now unavoidable, Management team and many others crowded down to “Old Main,” our original HQ on Main Street to begin to plan  –   “OK, now what.”  By midnight, the team had a broad brush stroke of our situation and our plan. In the meantime,  the IT/IR  department already decided what mattered most and were very busy rescuing computers and other critical equipment from the Central and East wings of the building.  IMG_4313By the time we were meeting, 110 computers were rescued and IR was busy making sure our central system was protected and determining just what was needed to re-establish the network.  I expect the IR department was up most of the night.  George renamed this department TTR – To The Rescue!

Bottom line, no one was harmed and all were accounted for. And by the next day, transactional departments were up and moving milk and other product.  Customer orders were being taken and orders were shipping out of the Cashton Distribution Center.

IMG_4943There was most definitely a low moment for all of us, as we watched our building catch on fire and considered that all of our offices and the contents may be completely lost.

The exercise in “letting go” was not exactly welcome, but it is something we all are experiencing.  And although I want to think my losses are greatest, truth is, we are grieving together and for each other.  It is so clear — we are in this together and we can only win by helping each other — Lesson 3.

And if we are counting, lesson 4 is the best lesson — people are more important than things!  Truth is – we are stronger and closer than ever.

Watching my colleagues and friends react to this crisis has been a joy. Cashton staff immediately began the work of squeezing together to accommodate staff from the main HQ.  Sharing, helping – getting the jobs done that needed to be done –  so much happened not because someone was around barking orders. Many saw what needed to be done and stepped up. As you can tell, my heart is overflowing with emotion and awe at the CROPP family.

And I see I have gone on too long but have to end with lesson 5.  People are full of goodness! Caring, loving, gifts, offers to help, sharing sadness, recounting fire stories  – we are overwhelmed with the messages from all over North America.  These messages mean more to us than you can imagine. They give us strength and hope, they fill us with surprise and delight, they move us to tears. We simply are all connected, a big crazy, human family and this is comforting.

By the time I went to sleep after the fire, my birthday had passed and it seemed so unimportant but I do know, I will remember this birthday for the rest of my life, and my memories will be filled with loving thoughts of you, my friends. Thank  you for making my day!

Read more of Theresa’s updates and rants here.