Diligence and intelligence were the keys she used to unlock doors.

nagengast heather smaller Heather Nagengast
Vice President, Wealth Management and Investment Services
Ameritas Life Insurance Corp.


Stories of real women who conquered challenges inspire us all. Last time I wrote here, I shared the story of one of our earliest trailblazers, Sis, Hoffman, a depression- era superstar. Now I’d like to move to an amazing midcentury success story, Thelma Poe.

00 Poe Thelma H as young girl outside farmhouse

Thelma Poe was a farm girl from West Virginia. I love this early photo of her as a young girl on her family farm. Her grandson recalls conversations with her reminiscing about the work ethic that was engrained in her from her earliest memories. “All I’ve ever known is to work. From the time I was a young girl on the farm helping my daddy, it was work, work, work. But I’ve never thought of what I do as work. When you enjoy what you do, it never seems like work”.

That farm work ethic traveled with her through life. After high school, she attended college in Charleston, West Virginia, graduating in business administration. Shortly thereafter she accepted a post as an administrative assistant and the Louisville agency for one of our legacy companies, Union Central Life. She packed up her car and drove off into a destiny even she could not have dreamed of.

03 Poe Thelma H by first car young woman



The Louisville agency didn’t know what had hit them. Thelma blew into the office like a fresh breeze and immediately began getting things into shape like they’d never seen. She not only got things organized, she began working on improving processes… things that today we would call “client experience.”


04 Poe Thelma H in first office late fifties black and whiteBut she was also noticing other things about their business. With her keen powers of observation and relentless drive to do better, she was taking mental notes on the activities of her male colleagues in sales. And something inside her told her she could do what they were doing.

Hero stories always have a moment of truth. The moment they must take the leap of faith. For Thelma, that moment came when her husband became ill. With a house full of growing children, she knew it was up to her to figure out a solution to bring more money in for her family.

She knocked on the door of the general agent. She explained her situation and asked to try her hand at sales. He was willing. But there was a catch. He wanted her to avoid the territories the men in the office were working.


Challenge accepted.


Positive, practical and fearless, she dug into the new work. Her work ethic had her prospecting in every available moment around meeting her family’s needs. She never dropped a ball for clients…and because she was the one who had engineered the client experience at her office, she knew exactly how to get things done efficiently. Before long, her sales began appearing on the agency leaderboards.


Her sales success grew – along with a deep admiration and respect from her colleagues. And one day, it was the general agent who was knocking on HER door. He proposed a career-altering opportunity: he asked if she would be willing to serve as assistant agency manager. She grabbed the brass ring. Her legacy grew. She crashed through one sales goal after the next while co-leading the practice to new heights.

The one who is faithful in a little will be faithful in much. In that era, agency managers were appointed by our company. Thelma’s stellar performance was noticed by company leaders. When the agency needed new leadership, there was no need to start searching on the outside. They knew who they would ask to step up.

15 Poe Thelma H with Beverly Barney in her office late 70s Thelma became the first woman in our company history to lead and manage an agency. As our first woman General Agent, she continued setting new personal sales highs while expertly guiding every associate in her care. She was a diversity champion, encouraging other women to enter the industry and her agency, then actively mentoring them. Like all the best leaders, she was also highly engaged in her community too, active in her church and her Louisville neighborhoods.



The state of Kentucky gave her its highest honors, and so did we. She was bestowed with Kentucky’s Woman of Achievement Award and their Medal of Honor. She earned every sales and management award we offered. And in 1993, she became first woman inducted into our Hall of Fame.

Thelma’s story reminds us how powerful diligence can be. Opportunities opened for her because she worked hard to bring real value to every job she had, every step of the journey. She was able to reach higher because she stood on a platform of strength and credibility she herself built, day in, day out. Thelma also had humility and gratitude. Reflecting on her career, she said, “Union Central (Ameritas) afforded me opportunities I never dreamed I’d have as a poor farm girl from West Virginia. Through my work, I want to give back to them.” She served clients for over 80 years, right up until the pandemic hit in 2020. When she passed at age 99, she still had over 1000 clients on the books with Ameritas. We honored her with a video celebrating her life.

One of the most important ways we can all be diligent is continually expanding our education. That’s why we are investing in our groundbreaking Ameritas Scholarship for the Advancement of Women in Financial Services. We’re thrilled to see the first scholarship recipients dive into acquiring their Wealth Management Certified Professional® (WMCP®) designation from the American College. They’ll get the guidance and encouragement they’ll need through the complimentary WIFS membership and mentorship that come with the scholarship.

Like Thelma Poe, every one of those scholarship recipients is diligently building their own success story. I look forward to telling some of those stories in the future.