Before May 22, 2011, many Americans probably had never heard of Joplin, Mo., even though it was the birthplace of poet Langston Hughes and the safe haven of the legendary gangsters Bonnie and Clyde.

But Joplin caught the world's attention on that fateful day, when a powerful tornado with winds of 205 mph tore a three-quarter-mile-wide, seven-mile-long swath through town. Storms of that strength are capable of ripping two-story homes off their foundations, peeling asphalt from highways and hurling semi tractor-trailers in the air.

More than 150 people died in the tornado, one of the most lethal in the United States since recordkeeping began in 1950.

"It just took the center right out of Joplin," says Bob Dean, a 22-year American Family Insurance agent who was born and raised there. For Bob, the Joplin tornado was a personal matter. It took a toll on his friends, family and customers.

In the storm's aftermath, American Family customers filed more than 2,500 insurance claims. True to our mission, we immediately responded to help our customers. We expect to make more than $100 million in claim payments.

The tornado hit on Sunday, and our agents and claim team hit the ground running. American Family deployed more than 100 adjusters to pay claims and help comfort victims. The company catastrophe response vehicle, a fully staffed, self-supporting "office on wheels," was there for three months after the tornado struck.

"People were very impressed with our response — how quickly we were there and how long we stayed there," says Tom Keller, American Family catastrophe operations administrator.

Tom and Bob agree that companywide teamwork made a big difference.

"In Joplin, job titles didn't mean anything," says Tom, pointing out that American Family staff from all levels, including state directors and vice presidents, rolled up their sleeves and pitched in.

"The thing that really impressed me was the way the company came together," adds Bob. "It wasn't just agents and claims representatives who worked in Joplin. Support came from every part of the company. If something came up that we needed help with, all it took was a telephone call, and it was taken care of."

We also showed our support through a financial donation to the national television show, "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," which organized hundreds of volunteers to simultaneously build seven homes for families left homeless by the twister. Plus, our Joplin-area agents joined in the rebuild, helping families reclaim futures they thought they had lost.

"When you see a community come back like this and you know you've played a role in that happening, it makes you very proud," says Tom. "Our customers put their trust in us, and it's an awesome honor to come through for them."