First job after high school turned into five-decade career

Eunice Culp [Photos courtesy Everence]

Indiana woman serves four CEOs, rises to head Everence’s HR department

By JB Miller

When Eunice Culp graduated from high school in 1970, she originally had plans to go to college. Instead, she decided to work for a year or two. That fall, she went to work for Mennonite Mutual Aid (MMA), now Everence, an organization that primarily provided health insurance to Mennonites.

Nearly 52 years later, she retired from Everence as vice president of human resources. Today, Everence is a financial service company that helps people integrate faith and values with their financial decisions. Long before digital records were the norm, Culp’s first job was microfilming customer files, the company’s first step in eliminating paper records. Within a couple of years, she was promoted to records manager.

Her leadership qualities were recognized throughout the organization and in 1985 she agreed to spend part of her time working on personnel matters. This soon became a full-time position — in a short time, she was named personnel manager.

As the company grew, more staff was added and in 1996, Culp was named vice president of human resources. In this position, she also supervised staff training and development, licensing, records and facilities. For Culp, leading the human resources division was more than a career — it was her calling. When asked why she stayed for 51 years, she stated, “Everence is a faith-based organization, and for me the tenets of servant leadership — serving God and serving others, is foundational to my leadership style. It’s about modeling the way, serving from the heart, and never abusing power.”

Maintaining a company culture that reflects faith-based values was central to Culp’s commitment to the organization, an accomplishment she considers to be one of her most significant. This became more challenging over the years as the company grew from 35, primarily in one office, to now almost 380 employees with staff scattered across the US.

“For me,” Culp said, “Our corporate cultural values mean that we create and support a culture that cares about our employees and how they’re treated, making sure they’re always treated fairly, with respect and dignity, even in difficult situations.”

As the head of human resources, it was important to make certain that these guiding principles were reflected in policies that provided opportunities for people to grow, be successful and enjoy their work, she said. “Maintaining these cultural values must be modeled by the top leadership so it permeates the organization.”

Eunice Culp rose from microfilming files to become Everence’s vice-president of human resources.

Other recent accomplishments Culp points to are recruiting and cultivating a more diverse workforce. When Ken Hochstetler became President and CEO in 2014, he brought added focus to improving diversity, equity and inclusion at Everence. In 2016, he and Culp created a new position to assist with staff training and recruiting more diverse employees. Since then, diversity within the Everence staff has risen from three percent to 14 percent.

“This is bigger than racial and ethnic representational figures, though,” Hochstetler said. “This is ‘heart work.’ It’s about coming together and understanding the different perspectives, experiences and barriers that exist, so that we’re better able to walk alongside our members and neighbors. And I attribute much of our momentum to Eunice’s work.”

The most stressful aspect of human resource management was staff terminations, Culp said. “There was one period where we needed to reduce staff. Through all these difficult decisions, we tried our best to be fair, respectful, and provide a generous severance package.”

Often when a new CEO is hired, they bring in new people as part of the management team. But as a testament to her skills and ability, Culp retained her position through four CEO transitions. Howard Brenneman, CEO of MMA from 1991 to 2005, recognized Culp’s ability to adapt to changing times and new leadership. “Right away, she was a team player and was able to switch loyalties,” he said. “She didn’t hold on to the past. She was able to change as the company changed and was willing to grow.”

During Brenneman’s tenure, 26 years after graduating from high school, Culp earned her college degree from Goshen College, majoring in organization management. The ability to adapt and change was particularly important for Larry Miller, CEO from 2006 to 2014. During his tenure there were many things impacting the company — including a deep economic recession, a management structure realignment, and adopting Everence as the new company name.

“There was a lot going on,” Miller recalled. “But Eunice has a great ability to adapt and build strong relationships — she establishes a high level of trust, she has so much history. I always knew she had the best interest of Everence at heart.”
This spring, in recognition of her significant role in the life of the organization, Hochstetler honored Culp with the Everence Stewardship of Culture Award. “Eunice modeled adaptive leadership throughout her 51-year career at Everence,” Hochstetler said, reflecting on Culp’s career. “She adeptly shepherded our staff through adjustments and change, while also helping the entire organization remain focused on our mission.”

“For me the tenets of servant leadership — serving God and serving others, is foundational to my leadership style. It’s about modeling the way, serving from the heart, and never abusing power.”

Eunice Culp

Culp never seriously thought of working for another company. “Why would I want to leave?” Culp asked. “I had so many opportunities over the years to grow and develop my skills. I had great mentors. The CEOs all had a high regard for human resources, which is so important for developing satisfied employees. I had other job offers, but they never felt like they were right for me.”

Culp admits that retirement is a time of adjustment, but she is looking forward to volunteering, serving on several boards, and spending time with her husband and two adult children. When asked how she survived through all the CEO transitions, she smiled and said, “I think you have to adapt to their style, you build trust with them and have a voice in some things. But you know, I really haven’t thought about it.”

She may not have thought about it, but it’s clear, Culp demonstrated a deep commitment to the values of the company, a unique adaptability and a focus on the future.

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