Insurance Store owners have heart in the right place

by: CLIFF NEWELL - Connecting the dots to help people find the best plans is the business of the staff at the Insurance Store in Lake Oswego. In front, from the left, are Victoria Gardner, Robin Biederman and Crystal Lauritsen. In back are Chris Gardner, Randy Radke and Daniel Weisgerber.Victoria Gardner’s avocation is helping people. One day she was standing in a super market collecting donations for Lake Oswego Meals on Wheels, smiling and greeting people. One of them was an elderly lady, who told Gardner, “Oh, honey, I can’t help you. I’m poor myself.”

The woman hadn’t gotten very far until Gardner ran after her and offered to help.

“It’s hard not to open my big mouth,” Gardner admitted.

It was good she did, though, because Gardner soon connected the lady with a Medicare-Medicaid program that boosted her benefits.

Although Gardner may moonlight by helping charitable causes, she also helps people through her business, the Insurance Store, which she has owned along with her husband Chris since 1994. It is an insurance business that just keeps growing. Recently the Gardners added divisions for home and auto. The company puts an emphasis on expertise and ethical practices. But their bottom line includes a big column for compassion.

“We’ve been called Pollyannas,” Victoria Gardner said. “We could’ve made more money doing business another way.”

Probably. But the Gardners wouldn’t have such remarkable stories to tell by doing business in any other fashion.

Being a former state employee, Chris Gardner said, “I’ve always had my social service side.”

That came in handy when he encountered a former business executive who had lost everything and was living in a barn. In addition, his wife was in dire need of a hip operation. Chris Gardner knew where to pull the strings that got the woman the entire $20,000 needed for the operation. Support came from state insurance carriers.

“Normally, something like that takes a long process,” Chris Gardner said. “She didn’t have time. It made me proud to help them. This reminded me of why I do this for a living.”

“That man had never in his life asked for help,” Victoria Gardner said. “If anyone deserved help it was him.”

Faced with similar situations, Victoria Gardner has no reservation about wading in and getting things done. One time a man and his wife in their 80s were on the verge of being thrown out of their home, in which they had lived for 50 years, despite owning only $11,000 in taxes. It was Victoria to the rescue. Pollyanna was quite outclassed. Victoria Gardner called the vice president of the bank that was owed the money.

“I was told, ‘There’s nothing we can do. This is out of our hands,’ “ Gardner said. “I told him I would go to the papers and say what a screw this was.’ I was very polite about it. I told him I was going to do whatever it takes.”

Confronted by Gardner’s charm and the possibility of a ruckus, the banker discovered that he did have some compassion after all. The elderly couple’s home was saved and their debt was paid.

Gardner’s admiring husband told her, “I can’t believe you pulled that off.”

While most of their stories of assistance are not so desperate, the Gardners offer health plans that can fit individual needs because of their many contacts not just with insurance companies but with social services. In one case they have taken their cue from Europe.

“One of our biggest things is critical illness plans,” Victoria Gardner said. “They can fill a lot of gaps. There have been plans like this in Europe for many years.”

“We can look at what you have now and enhance it,” Chris Gardner said. “We can look at areas you’re likely to have risks.” Victoria Gardner added, “We’re the dot connector.”

For more about the Insurance Store, go to It is located at 4248 Galewood St. in Lake Grove; phone number is 503-693-1186.

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