Darlene and Ronnie Toungette had gone years without a house payment by design.
“We learned a long, long time ago that if you fail to plan you plan to fail,” Darlene said. “We didn’t want to have a house payment in retirement and had budgeted to pay the mortgage off well in advance.”
By the time Ronnie retired in 2014 after a 38-year law enforcement career – including a stint as Humphreys County Sheriff – the three-bedroom, two-bath home was theirs.
Darlene was on the home stretch of her own career working in the Attorney General’s office for Tennessee’s 23rd Judicial District, also part of the plan.
Everything was tracking nicely toward a smooth financial landing in retirement until 21 inches of rain in 24 hours turned Trace Creek into a raging torrent of water, mud and debris that took homes and lives.
Having been through floods in 2010 and again in 2019, when they’d added flood insurance, the Toungettes had learned to move their cars to a nearby parking lot on higher ground before the floodwaters rose.
However, this time, the water rose so fast Ronnie couldn’t get back to Darlene or the house after he made his last trip to park his pickup and could only watch the drama unfold down the road.
From the roof of her house across the street, Toungette’s daughter, Amanda, shot a video of her mom’s rescue – images that made their way into the national news coverage of the disaster. A good Samaritan on a jet ski plucked her from her living room window and came back to get Amanda off the roof.
“Life can change in the blink of an eye,” Darlene said of her experience. “It’s a hopeless feeling to lose everything you have. I didn’t know where to start, but Regions Bank did.”
Within days of the flood, Regions deployed its portable branch to serve the Toungettes and other customers outside its own flooded location at 201 Waverly Plaza.
Fifteen days later, the bank replaced that unit with a temporary trailer that served the community from Sept. 20, 2021 until Regions opened its latest branch Oct. 13, 2023 on higher ground at 402 West Main Street.
Toungette visited both temporary offices and Branch Manager Mary McMillan and her team often during her home search.
“When I first walked in, everyone said ‘Hey, Ms. Darlene,’” Darlene said. “Here I am, retirement age. It was like they were godsends almost. It was so easy. I walked in and said, ‘Girls, I don’t even know where to start buying a home again for the first time in 35 years, so tell me.’ And they did.”
McMillan sees that moment repeated often as Regions gives customers the financial confidence to move forward and build back better in Waverly.
I remember one of Darlene’s early calls and hearing Makisha Holland on our team say, ‘We’ve got this.’ That’s the spirit of how we serve our customers. Nothing makes me prouder to be a part of Regions.
Among the assistance Toungette received: a personalized Regions Greenprint® financial plan which helped her think through her home finance and cashflow options. She and Ronnie purposefully chose a house three miles away from the 100-year flood zone. They also chose a house twice as big to accommodate Amanda’s family who’d also lost their home.
“It was a sad time,” Darlene recalled, “but also one in which the entire community and those outside pulled together to help us recover.”
As the money poured in from churches and other nonprofits, as well as friends and total strangers wanting to help, the Toungettes took their portion straight to McMillan and team.
“I had a jug of pennies and dimes and quarters saved and took those along with every donation to the bank and started planning again,” Darlene said. “I told them, ‘I am going to somehow have a home.’”
Regions Mortgage Loan Officer Ozzie McBroom was glad to get the call from Holland and help the Toungettes.
They were happy just to still have each other and were ready to get their lives back on track. The first part of that process was having a home again and we were all determined to help make that happen.
“The entire Waverly team was a great asset during their loan process which came during one of the busiest times this industry has ever seen,” he said.
“Mary and team knew firsthand what the Toungettes and several other families were going through and were so compassionate and caring.
“I was able to tell my processor, Cindy Barton, about their story, who, like me, felt awful for what had happened in Waverly and across Middle Tennessee. She worked their file with me so we had the mortgage closed before the expected closing date.”
Darlene and Ronnie took the keys to their new house Dec. 9, 2021. With Regions’ help, they’re making plans to pay off their latest mortgage loan early too.
“My advice for someone going through what we did would be to never take anything for granted and have a plan,” Toungette said. “Get the financial help you need from a bank that will take the time to answer your questions, be there for you when you need them, and be like friends and not strangers.
“Regions is that bank for us.”