Although Ervin Topcic said he was a bit tired the day of his interview, due to the sleep schedule of his beautiful new baby boy Edan, Ervin displayed a passion for life not seen much these days in light of the toll the recent pandemic has taken and the heartbreaking wars happening around the world. You see … Ervin considers himself “a survivor” and every day looks to the things he is grateful for. Ervin said he only remembers “bits and pieces” of his life as a five-year-old child Bosnian War refugee, but his father who fought in the war fills in the stories for me.
“I don’t remember much,” Ervin shared. “The Bosnian war started in 1992 and ended in 1995. I was born in 1991. One of the biggest genocides was in our village,” Ervin shared. He remembered visiting his home in Bosnia in 2012 seeing bullet and tank shells holes still in the buildings. “It gave me the chills,” he added.
Ervin learned from his father’s recollections of things that happened before they immigrated to the U.S. At one time, they were on a train “filled with the enemy. I said one word and they held an AK47 to my head. My dad pinched me to be quiet. My father had to explain to them that I was only a kid and didn’t know better.”
“There was a big river crossing to escape,” Ervin also shared. “I didn’t know how to swim,” and he said he was scared. “I was four-years old.” He said his dad told his mother, two sisters and grandparents to wait and took Ervin across the wide and fast-flowing river. “He said he would be back for me. I nodded my head. Guns were going off. I jumped in after him. I just caught his leg,” he said, or he would have been carried away in the river.
“My sisters really know what my parents went through,” Ervin said because they were both older than him while still in Bosnia. “I had an idea. I witnessed these things.” Ervin shared that his older brother passed “after 30 minutes of life.” They were both born at home. They were not able to get him to a hospital. “We couldn’t get into a car with the guns and bullets and tanks,” Ervin explained. “He would have been the oldest of the children.”
Ervin said it is difficult for him to hear about the ongoing wars in the world today. “I know what those people are going through. The kids,” he said and paused. “It gets to me. It puts a toll on me. I try not to read the news. We were only one country away from Ukraine. We have friends there.”
“The kids,” Ervin continued, “the kids have to live through that. It brings flashbacks of the bad things that were shared with me. I wish it would stop and go to peace. Because of one selfish person. Why can’t we just come to an agreement. It’s hard with me.”
Ervin said every time he goes on Amazon.com, he sees the Ukrainian flag. “Every time I see that I hit the donate button. I hope for them to be able to find peace. I don’t like it. Sometimes I get speechless and can’t find words. I just want it to stop and go away. Leave the kids alone.”
Ervin now lives in the Ankeny, Iowa area with his family … his wife Mirela, newborn son Edan and their yorkipoo, Beni. Ervin is a Market Manager at Marine Credit Union (MCU).
He started working for MCU in 2018. But … he shared that he learned MCU specialized in serving the underserved because they helped him procure a small loan to pay off some debt the year prior. “I fell in love with MCU,” he said. “It hit home with me.”
Ervin explained that in their Bosnian community, they would give an animal for collateral. “That is the number one reason why I joined MCU. They put people on a better financial path and serve the underserved.”
Ervin said he can relate to those he serves now at MCU. “I was in your shoes once,” he tells members. “If you can start somewhere, we will help you move forward and advance your life.” He said that when he shares his story with others, he is able to build trust and confidence with them.
“I was hungry,” Ervin said of his career. He said he has always been motivated to succeed. After attaining his degree in Business Administration and coming to MCU, he said he moved quickly up the ladder, even gaining the President’s Circle Award – twice. Ervin was team captain on the Business Development Officer pilot program and now serves as Market Manager for the Des Moines and Quad Cities area.
My dad’s main goal was to provide for his family. He knew zero English and still knows this much,” Ervin shared making a very tiny gesture with his fingers. “When we came to the U.S., we had a $100 bill. We lived in an apartment complex. It was more than enough. We moved to a mobile home park. I got made fun of in school, but it was a blessing for us,” he said adding that his father and mother both worked and saved to buy their home with cash. “It was tough,” he said for a young child, “not living up to the standards here … not having anyone to turn to.” But his father worked hard to take care of and support his family.
“Dad was hard on us,” Ervin added, “because he was looking out for us. He was in the war. He was very traumatized. He won’t share the gruesome stuff. He isn’t proud of sharing that.” But Ervin says his parents have somewhat healed from their past being able to watch him and his sisters grow up and be successful.
On a day-to-day basis, Ervin said he and his team talk about their market partners and goals. “Then I let the team loose and they go out and generate business.” At the end of the day, Ervin said they come back together and “We talk about our success and challenges that we will overcome the next day. We work as one team. No one is excluded. I have zero tolerance when it comes to disrespecting employees,” he added.
Ervin said he didn’t have the luxury of going to school with other Bosnian children and that it was “tough” for a young boy not even being able to speak English when they arrived in the U.S. “I learned and I grew, and I learned English. It’s why that connects with me now. I don’t want anyone to feel isolated.”
“A lot of people ask me how I keep up-beat and so positive. You gotta look at life a different way,” Ervin said, “especially going through the things I went through … what so many people are going through. I wake up and turn on the T.V. and there is a kid not breathing, there is war going on. Be thankful that its not you. That is always what I have done … live my life like it’s my last … every single day. You don’t know what’s going to happen.”
“It is a blessing every day to have my wife, my family, my job. I stand in front of the mirror and am thankful for many things in my life. I set my day to be positive and I’m going to make someone else’s day. You just gotta love life because you don’t know what tomorrow brings.”
Ervin said that one day he decided he was tired of being sad and wanted better. “I wanted to make something of myself and support my parents back with how they have supported me,” he said.
“I love all people,” Ervin said. “I was accepted at one point. Eventually I was accepted. I didn’t have the right shirt, jeans, or shoes. I helped anyone I could. I quickly became friends with a lot of people. I understood where they were coming from because I was an outsider. That is why my team is so important to me.”
Ervin and his wife have been married for five years. “I am excited, thankful, and happy. I can’t be more thankful. I am very thankful for everything in my life that we have. I can’t be happier.”
Their son, Ervin said, “He gives me energy to keep moving. I want to live for him and make him even better than I was.”