Connectors — November 2021

Lisa Benzel

Lisa Benzel admits she was a little bit concerned when her family was issued a search mirror so they could check for explosives underneath their car before driving it. But such was the life of a military wife with two young daughters in the mid-1980s stationed in West Germany. Yes…West Germany.

“I was there from 1985 to 1988. It was a very dangerous time. The Berlin Wall was about to come down,” recalls Lisa. But other than living amidst the violent last days of a crumbling Soviet Union and the bomb threats, Lisa has great memories of her time overseas.

“It was amazing,” recalls Lisa. “Of all the things to come out of my first marriage, living in Germany was one of the best things that ever happened to me…besides my two daughters,” she adds with a smile.

“We lived with about 40 U.S. personnel and 40 Belgians. We lived in the economy (local housing) in a small town called Blankenheim, near the Belgian border, and we had to learn how to adjust and figure it all out. The Germans were just amazing people.”

Lisa Benzel, now an accountant with Columbia REA since 2014, does have one souvenir from her time in Germany that she could do without.

“We were there during the Mad Cow disease thing, so now my daughters and I can’t ever give blood.”

The next assignment for Lisa and family was Fort Campbell, Tennessee. After three years in Clarksville, TN, Lisa and her daughters moved home to Dayton…leaving the military life (which included her first husband) behind.

“I was born and raised in Dayton,” says Lisa confidently. “My dad was a farmer. I was a farm girl, and I knew that Dayton is where I wanted to raise my girls.”

That plan worked well. About a month after arriving home in Dayton, Lisa was hired by Columbia County and stayed in that job for 25 years, but not without a few twists and tweaks to her job description.

“Columbia County is so small…you wore a lot of hats working there,” she remembers fondly. “My job was so convoluted with so many things you can’t even imagine. I was in accounting, but I also did all the mapping. I was one of the first people to do electronic mapping for Columbia County…first with public works, then with the Assessor’s Office.

“I mapped roads, voting districts, school districts, land plots…It was fun. I enjoyed it.”

Lisa enjoyed it a little bit less when her friend Sheila Shelton, who also worked in the accounting office, jumped ship and went to Columbia REA.

“When she left me,” laughs Lisa, with a twinge of lingering half-pretend heartbreak, “I felt like my other half had left.

“We always kind of kidded each other that we would end up working together again at some point. We loved working together, and we were friends. But she had an offer she couldn’t refuse.”

It took a while, but about 8 years later, Lisa got an offer she couldn’t refuse either.

“When this job at Columbia REA came open, I immediately got an email from Sheila saying, ‘Hey, there is a job opening!”

Lisa applied for the open accounting position, and started at Columbia REA in January of 2014.

Not much has changed in the accounting world in the last seven years, says Lisa, but a lot has happened in Lisa’s world since Tennessee, including a new marriage.

“I have two daughters, two sons, two granddaughters, a bonus son and a bonus daughter, two bonus grandsons, two bonus granddaughters, a bonus great-granddaughter and a bonus great-grandson,” says Lisa happily, hoping she hasn’t left anyone out! (Note: bonus is defined here as “inherited from her husband Bob’s side of the family.)

“I have two kids in the Air Force,” the proud mom continues. “I just moved my daughter home over Labor Day. She was a Drill Sergeant stationed in San Antonio, which always surprised me because she is such a sweetheart…she has the biggest heart ever.

“Now she is in Tacoma doing her regular job. She is an Aviation Electronics Engineer on the big C-17 transport planes. I am happy she is doing that now because her brother is also stationed in Tacoma, and he is a Loadmaster on the C-17. So now she keeps them up in the air for him.”

The other big change for Lisa is where she calls home. After a lifetime in Dayton, she and Bob moved to Walla Walla. It made sense. With Columbia REA moving its corporate headquarters to Walla Walla, both she and Bob would have been commuting in from Dayton every day. She likes living in Walla Walla, and even better, she loves working for Columbia REA.

“Columbia REA is a great company,” Lisa says emphatically. “I worked for the government a long time. The Government is a different entity to work for. Lots of rules and regulations…dos and don’ts. There are rules wherever you are, but it’s just different. It feels more like a family here. Everybody is looking out for your best interests. I like that about this company. It’s great.”

As much as she is enjoying Columbia REA and Walla Walla, there is mention of the “R” word creeping into the conversation these days. Retirement may be a ways off still, but it’s coming into focus for Lisa.

“We like to camp, we like to go boating, we have a Polaris RZR, we like to travel. That’s our big plan when we retire… to do some travelling. And we have some property in Idaho. There is a beautiful lake right there, and a state park. We keep our 5th Wheel over there a lot.”

And the best part is that she hardly ever has to check under the 5th Wheel for explosive devices.