Following separate but parallel paths, St. Paul natives Wally Kelsey and LaVonne Baxton both hearing impaired grew up in the city, attended technical college, and sought fulfilling and rewarding employment. Now they are successfully pursuing their careers at Minnesota Life Insurance Company, which provides financial security for individuals and businesses in the form of insurance, pensions, and investments.
Graduating from St. Paul high schools Kelsey hails from Johnson and Baxton from Como Park they both completed office procedure and business courses at St. Paul Technical College. Born with nerve deafness and a 40 percent hearing loss, Baxton earned a certificate of office procedures from the college’s School for the Deaf. Kelsey, who has only 20 percent of his hearing in his right ear, and cerebral palsy, also attended Century College.
“A counselor at the Minnesota Disabilities Association suggested that I apply at Minnesota Life,” recalls Kelsey, who was then delivering the Pioneer Press plus working at a bakery. Hired by Minnesota Life as a messenger in 1992, Kelsey subsequently was promoted to rotary clerk in one of the company’s filing departments, where he files, retrieves, and copies microfiche records of individual insurance policies. Looking for a place “where I would be appreciated,” Baxton also started as a rotary clerk in 1999, after a friend at Minnesota Life encouraged her to apply.
Kelsey and Baxton have a special high volume control feature on the telephone so they can hear it ring. The caller’s voice is also amplified. “Sometimes, I can’t understand a customer because the volume control isn’t just right, so then I ask the person to repeat their comment,” said Kelsey. Baxton added, “Once in a while, someone may be speaking to me while I’m on the elevator or just walking and I am not aware of it. That can be frustrating, but after people know you, things are fine.”
Their supervisor, Tom Iago, complimented Kelsey and Baxton, saying, “The phone rings all day long. Wally and LaVonne do very well representing us and working with our customers.” Baxton and Kelsey also commended Iago. “Tom is the best boss I ever had,” beamed Kelsey. Baxton agreed, “Tom listens and really cares about us as people and doing a good job.” Iago’s department which employs ten full-time and nine part-time associates includes one other hearing impaired
associate who came from Lifeworks, a nonprofit organization that finds employment opportunities for people with disabilities. In the last two years, Minnesota Life has received two Employer of the Year awards one from Lifeworks and the other from the state agency Minnesota Association of People in Supported Employment for its continuing employment of adults with disabilities. The company received these awards because it offers full employment whereas most other companies only offer hourly pay without benefits.
Baxton and Kelsey complimented the company’s comprehensive benefits including medical and dental coverage, profit sharing, a retirement savings plan, tuition reimbursement, life insurance, disability coverage, and a paid vacation. “I really appreciate the great family health care plan,” said Baxton. Kelsey added, “One of the reasons I came to Minnesota Life was because of the health care coverage. I also like the profit sharing plan.”
“We’re always looking for people like Wally and LaVonne with the necessary skills who want to grow with us,” says Kathleen L. Pinkett, second vice president, Human Resources Planning. “Associates have great opportunities to build their career with a company that provides challenge and stability.”
“Employing people with mental or physical disabilities is a win-win situation,” says Julie Carufel, manager, Employee Relations. “The associate gains employment and experience while the company fills a business need and enriches its diverse population.”
Information for this article was supplied by Minnesota State Senator Chuck Wiger, who is an employee of Minnesota Life Insurance Company. For more information about career opportunities at Minnesota Life, contact Human Resources at 651.665.3439, the Jobs Hotline at 651.665.7934, or visit their web site at www.minnesotamutual.com.