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Sunday, OctOber 31, 2010 ❘ the gazette ❘
strycker: Collaborating with other groups helped all grow from page 1 —
Strycker’s career was on the fast track when he arrived in Colorado Springs in 1983 to work in Otero’s real estate operations, only to be put in charge of the operations six months later when his boss resigned. “I started in September and by March I was in charge. I had no idea what to do. I knew real estate and picked up some things I needed to know, but spent most of the time playing catch-up at headquarters,” Strycker said. “At the time, we didn’t know what we had on our hands. When we did, a year later, the horse was so far out of the barn you couldn’t see it. I didn’t realize it would end badly until I went to the ownership.” Strycker had learned that the S&L was concealing millions of dollars in losses by significantly overvaluing its real estate to remain solvent. He told the Goldman family, who owned Otero, that the thrift was in big trouble because it assets were worth far less than the thrift had valued them in its financial statements. They told him his services were no longer required. While at Otero, Strycker said he “played the game. I mostly signed documents that turned out to bite me. I’m not proud of the fact I signed those documents, but I’ve gotten over the fact that it happened, and I believe all things happen for a reason.” After consulting for other thrifts for six months or so, Strycker said the work “didn’t feel good to me and I didn’t like it,” so he and two friends started a T-shirt and embroidery company. Four years later, federal investigators looking into Otero’s collapse, which cost U.S. taxpayers $392 million, came looking for Strycker, Gallagher and a third former executive from the thrift. Otero was one of four local thrifts that failed in the early 1990s, part of the nation’s S&L bailout of more than 700 failed institutions from 1989 to 1992. “I was stunned. I knew that (prosecutors) would have to blame somebody and it wasn’t going to be Congress,” Strycker said. “The next-best thing was to go after the folks who ran the S&Ls. I’ll never be able to answer the question of why Otero and not the others (three other local thrifts failed), but that is OK. They were coming after me for all kinds of stuff, and I didn’t have the stomach or the money to fight them.” So he agreed to plea bargain with prosecutors: He pleaded guilty in 1992 to misapplying Otero’s funds and was sentenced to four months in community corrections. Gallagher, originally charged with 18 counts of lying to regulators and misapplying Otero’s funds, pleaded guilty to two charges of bank fraud and was sentenced to three years in prison. The third Otero executive, Robert Jordan, pleaded guilty to similar charges and was sentenced to two years in prison. “I am a man of faith, and sometimes you have to learn from your mistakes, and this was one of those circumstances,” Strycker said. “My prayer was that God would teach me what I was to learn from what was devastating to me on every level.” Strycker served his fourmonth sentence on work release, living in a former North Nevada Avenue motel where he shared two rooms with 12 other men. Wearing a cast because he was suffering from diabetic ulcers on his feet, he decided to read the entire Bible in his free time. “After two months, it just wasn’t penetrating. I realized if I was going to do this (read the entire Bible), I needed to set my ego aside and do this as a work of obedience and worship. It was not about how great I am for doing it. Once that hit, it started meaning something to me,” Strycker said. “It changed my course for the better and
I started to take value from that period. While I was delighted when it ended, I can look back and realize how cool God works if you just let him.”
Winding road to Greccio
Part of Strycker’s sentence was to serve 400 hours of community service, which he chose to do with Partners in Housing, a local agency that provides transitional housing and other services to homeless families with children so they can achieve self-sufficiency. He helped the nonprofit with its annual golf tournament and served on its development committee, all while still running the T-shirt and embroidery business with his partners. At that time. Strycker and his partners were riding a roller coaster of success and eventual failure with Leisure Adventures Sportswear, which won early contracts to provide licensed merchandise to the Colorado State Games and the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, and later developed relationships with the U.S. Olympic Committee, the Air Force Academy, Notre Dame and Focus on the Family. The company eventually would become licensedmerchandise providers for the VeggieTales animated children’s series of Christian-themed videos and grew in one year from six employees and $1 million in annual revenue to 25 employees and $5 million in revenue. “All the while, I was saying we were in big trouble because we had too much concentration in one customer. We spent three or four years playing the beatthe-clock game of trying to feed the VeggieTales beast while trying to diversify” the customer base, Strycker said. “We were gaining on it, but they went mass market and no longer needed us. We had to downsize back to three people and realized we had to fold our tent.” While trying to save Leisure Adventures, Strycker had a heart attack in 2000. “It provided a wake-up call to shut down (the company) and do something less stressful and more fulfilling,” he said. A friend told Strycker about a job at Pikes Peak Community Action Agency, where he was hired to set up a savings program for low-income individuals for the social services nonprofit, which operates four community centers in the Springs area. Bart Givens, who, as executive director of Pikes Peak Community Action Agency, hired Strycker, said he was a perfect fit for the job and did so well “putting wheels on the frame” of the program that he hoped Strycker would succeed him when he retired. “He has so much compassion for the people he works with and for, both clients and staff. He is an incredibly insightful individual with a passion for the work and compassion for the clients of the organization he serves,” Givens said.
Three years later, in 2003, Greccio founder Claudia Deats retired. Strycker was hired to replace her and put the organization, which was struggling with declining donations amid a recession, on firmer financial footing. Strycker was able to attract donations that allowed Greccio to survive, and during his seven years as executive director he built partnerships with other local lowincome housing groups to more than double its inventory of housing and boost its revenue by more than 50 percent. Strycker also worked with Greccio’s board to develop a just-completed plan to again double the organization’s inventory during the next three years. The partnership with other groups has allowed not only Greccio, but also Partners in Housing and the Rocky Mountain Community Land Trust to grow into “substantial nonprofit organizations. We have been able to share knowledge and not be selfish about working with each other, so that we can work together to serve everyone from the recently homeless to those ready to buy a home,” said Dick Conn, a former executive director of Partners in Housing. Bob Koenig, Rocky Mountain Land Trust’s executive director, said the level of collaboration between the three groups “doesn’t happen elsewhere” and resulted in development of the $2 million Bentley Commons low-income apartment complex in southeast Colorado Springs, completed last year. The organization honored Strycker last week with its highest award for helping to develop the partnership between the groups. Terry Darby, a Greccio board member, said Strycker’s replacement, Lee Patke, has “big shoes to fill because of the way Rich has helped the organization grow and prosper. His business sense has just been terrific for this organization.” During the past few years, Strycker has drawn on his experience in community corrections to become involved in prison ministry through monthly visits with his wife, Jan, to the Fremont Correctional Facility in Cañon City. “I have to admit that when Jan and I started, Jan was scared and I was skeptical. It has been a powerful experience for the both of us,” Strycker said. “The environment doesn’t encourage it, but (the inmates) can quote scripture in a way that shows they have spent time with it.” The Stryckers plan to retire to Arizona, where they are having a home built and where he can enjoy golf and cycling. “My idea of what to do with my feet in winter doesn’t involve strapping on boards and going downhill in snow,” Strycker said. “We went to Arizona in December without a hint of retiring there. … We went back in April and decided to build. We stretched out our money and had a house to sell, but I am a risk-taker, though this felt like a big one.”
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moore: Health care reform ‘enhanced’ Kaiser’s work from page 1 —
ser Permanente, one of the nation’s largest not-for-profit health plans. She joined Kaiser in 1997. Her husband, Mike, died in 2002; they were married for 34 years. They lived in the Springs for a time in the late 1980s and returned in 1994 after he retired from the Army. Moore has two grown children and two grandchildren. She declined to give her age, “but suffice it to say, I came of age as a child of the ’60s,” she says. Question: Where does this spirit of volunteerism come from? How does it mesh with your job? Answer: This comes from my mother — she has been a volunteer and a fundraiser as long as I can remember. At 88, she still volunteers and raises funds for the American Medical Association’s educational and research fund — she was one of their top 10 fundraisers in the country for many years. Volunteerism is part and parcel of my job. As publicaffairs director for southern Colorado, I need to be out and involved and know what is going on. Actually, my volunteerism is one of the reasons I was originally hired by Kaiser. I am committed to having our Kaiser Permanente employees as involved in our community as they can be. Our staff serves on more than 10 local boards (not too bad when you have local staff here of about 50) and we volunteer at many local events. Q: Similarly, you have a passion for the arts. Have you always had that passion? How would you assess the Colorado Springs arts scene? A: My father is the reason I have a passion for the arts. He believed firmly that an education was not complete without the addition of the arts — music, painting, drama, the whole gamut. I played flute and piccolo all the way through college. And with years of living in Germany, Washington, D.C., California and many places in between, I had unbelievable opportunities to see great visual art, great music performed and wonderful drama. I can eat right and exercise and make sure my body stays as healthy as
possible, but if I do not feed my soul through the arts, I am empty. The Springs art scene is really amazing. There is everything from popular music, classical music, jazz, country, you name it — and you can usually find it live somewhere in town or nearby. And the visual arts — we have some amazing local artists. Kaiser Permanente filled its admin office as well as our two medical clinics with art from local artists. Q: You say you got the job at Kaiser Permanente after answering an ad. Was there something in the ad that particularly grabbed you, or did it just seem like a job you could do? A: I was a freelance reporter and writer, working for an outfit based in Washington, D.C., and New York — loved the work, but missed being around people. I had a stack of job rejections that must have been 3 or 4 inches thick, and then I answered that ad. It just seemed like something I would like to do. It is my dream job and I still love everything about it, even after almost 14 years. Q: You started at Kaiser as it was beginning operations in Colorado Springs. What kind of growth has Kaiser seen in Colorado since then? And how has your job changed over those years? A: Kaiser Permanente has really grown over the years — we started here in 1997 with no members at all and now we are up to about 53,000. Our main product is commercial insurance, and we are now offering a Medicare Advantage product — Senior Advantage. We now have two Kaiser Permanente medical offices — one for our senior members in Briargate and a primarycare clinic in Pueblo. My job has changed some over the past 13-plus years. I am no longer doing our member communications, which I miss very much. I have broadened the scope of my job to include both Pueblo and Fremont counties, and work a lot with different groups in Pueblo now as well. I still do the media for southern Colorado and also our local government relations. Community relations is now a much larger part of my job and I have
become somewhat of an ambassador for Kaiser Permanente in this area. Q: What impact has the dismal economy had on Kaiser’s business? A: Actually, here in southern Colorado, we have been growing our membership. The economy has affected many small businesses more than it has the larger ones in the area of health insurance and that, in turn, affects our business. We have worked really hard to keep our rates reasonable and to offer those programs and benefits that our clients need and want. Q: Some aspects of the national health care reform are beginning to take effect. What’s the biggest impact you see on Kaiser and its customers from that reform? A: Kaiser Permanente has been at the forefront of influencing health care reform. Many of the things we stand for — preventive care, helping to insure and care for the low-income and uninsured, healthy eating and active living — are a part of the first health care reforms being implemented. So it has really enhanced what we are already doing in many cases. Our current health care reform is just the beginning. If you think about when Medicare was passed in 1965 and you look at it today, you will see that what we have now bears little resemblance to the original. Health care reform is a work in progress, and we do need to let it take effect and then work to tweak it so that it becomes even better and for more people. Q: What’s one thing that would surprise people to learn about you? A: I am hopelessly in love with science fiction — both books and movies. It is my escape and I love nothing better than piling up in front of my TV with a whole batch of really good sci-fi movies. I even used it to teach reading to the soldiers down at Fort Carson and in Germany. I adore “Star Trek” in all of its forms, and my favorite authors are Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein. —
Answers are edited for brevity and clarity. Call the writer at 636-0272.