I study strong women. As a teenager, my mom gave me a key chain that was engraved with a message that said, “My name is Tahira Hayes and this is 20/20.” She gave it to me because I wanted to be a television news anchor and I greatly admired Barbara Walters, a pioneer for women in broadcasting.
As a teenager, I would also watch Oprah Winfrey and study her interview style. These women were my role models. They were strong women, and I knew I wanted to be one too. In my most recent job, I worked for a woman who was recently became the first nurse and first female Air Force Surgeon General.
So when I talked to Florence Rogers recently, I immediately knew her type. Rogers is one of those women you don’t forget. She has endless energy and a sense of humor that keeps you laughing, and naturally puts you at ease. Her personality and presence command attention, not because she demands it but because you want to hear what she has to say. I automatically knew she was a strong woman – one of those whom I had studied so much in my youth. So, it’s no surprise that she’s the former president/CEO of Federal Employees Credit Union, now known as the $259 million Allegiance Credit Union in Oklahoma City, Okla.
But, she, like most dynamic and strong people, didn’t turn out that way from an easy past. Her life has been filled with success and incredible strength in the face of tragedy.
On April 19, 1995, Rogers, the then president/CEO of FECU, was conducting a meeting when a blast went off at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, where the credit union was located. The blast, which would eventually be known as the Oklahoma City bombing, buried Rogers alive. After she was rescued, she learned the fate of some of those less fortunate. The terrorist attack killed 18 FECU employees, a board member and a credit committee member.
In the true credit union spirit, other credit unions rallied together to help FECU. “The following 45 days after April 19th, 22 credit unions, some from other states, sent 58 volunteer staff to assist [the credit union],” according to FECU’s website. Miraculously, just two days after the bombing, with only three of the employees of FECU and the aid of many volunteers, the credit union opened for business in a temporary location. Rogers said she never considered not opening up the credit union again. “It would have been safe to have another credit union take us over. Looking back, I’m thinking it would have been so easy to say ‘Hey, we can’t do it. Let another credit union pick up the pieces.’ I’ve been asked many times before by reporters and my answer was always, ‘I didn’t know I had any other options,” she recalled.
For 27 more months, Rogers continued leading the credit union until her retirement in 1997. “God gave me incredible strength I didn’t know I had … I got some bonus years,” she recalled. She’s certainly taken full advantage of those years.
After the bombing, she traveled the world from Australia to Africa, telling her story of perseverance and survival.
She said her speeches focused on the value of life and what truly matters. “You never know when you might not come home from an ordinary day. I found my priorities changing. At one time, a job would be the first thing on my priorities list, and then family would fall down somewhere. I found myself moving family up to number one.”
“It makes me feel good to think I’ve touched lives. After watching a Holocaust survivor speak, I went up and asked her, ‘When do I know when to stop?’ She said, ‘As long as you feel like you’re touching lives, keep telling your story,’” Rogers recalled.
Now in her 80s, Rogers spends more time at home and less time on airplanes. “I hopped on so many planes, I’m happy staying at home now,” she said.
A country girl at heart, she enjoys digging in the dirt and planting tulip bulbs and feeding the wild turkeys that hang out behind her house. She’s also extremely involved with her church, where she’s served as the secretary of the board for the past seven years, and she makes greeting cards for all the church members on the birthday list. She also serves as a local election inspector.
Rogers said she’s never had a boring day.
She also stays in touch with the children who lost parents in the bombing and with the other employees who survived the bombing. One of those former employees is Amy Downs. Downs was recently named president/CEO of the credit union. Downs, another strong woman, will help to carry on the legacy of Allegiance.
“I’m so excited about Amy being the next CEO because she’s been there through the years, and the legacy of the credit union will live on through Amy and her new staff,” Rogers emphasized.