ETF Secretary John Voelker
By John Voelker, ETF Secretary

It seemed like a normal Friday evening in May. I got home from the office and, like usual, my wife and I went for a walk to debrief about the week. Friends stopped over to socialize before my wife and I had dinner and watched a movie. It was a nice way to end a long week. Never would I have thought that during the night things would go from enjoyable to scary.

First my upper left arm started aching, which isn’t too unusual since I had surgery on it several years ago, and it can get sore occasionally. I got up and put some ice on it. That didn’t help. In fact, the pain seemed to worsen and spread down my arm. Then I was feeling as if I had indigestion. A few Tums didn’t help that symptom.

At that point, I told my wife I was worried about the combination of these symptoms, to which she immediately said, “Get dressed and let’s go!” I dutifully listened, and 90 minutes later I was lying in a hospital bed after two stents were successfully placed to treat my heart attack.

Why would I start my column with this story? There are a couple of reasons.

First, since the ETF vision statement starts with the phrase “enhance the well-being of our members,” I want to do my part by encouraging you to listen to your body and get checked if things don’t feel right. If I would have stayed home that night and hoped things would be better in the morning, I don’t know what the outcome would have been. Probably not good.

Second, I realized that as I was in the emergency room at UW Hospital, getting very good care, the people I was depending on that night were people that depend on the WRS for a financially secure retirement.

The fact that I depended on WRS members is not unique. Every day, people across the state depend on public employees for their quality of life: law enforcement officers and firefighters for our safety; snowplow drivers to keep the roads safe; and teachers to educate our kids so they can succeed. The list could go on, but this column is not long enough.

I am proud that the public employees serving their communities will be well served by the WRS. Our current modernization efforts along with the effective and resilient risk-sharing design will safeguard its dependability. Since 1990 there have been four recessions, with the worst being the 2007–2008 financial crisis. While other public pension plans struggled to maintain their funding levels during difficult times, the WRS remained financially strong. While there are differing views on whether 2024 will include a recession, we know the WRS has proven the ability to weather market volatility just fine.

I am happy to report that I also weathered my health scare just fine. I even ran a 5K race with my son on Thanksgiving. Maybe some of that WRS resiliency has rubbed off on me.