In two weeks, Karen Korhonen will be out of the office and prepping her camper. The longtime American Family insurance agent is retiring March 31, but the business she built will remain.
Korhonen is passing the baton to her son, Nick.
"Nick really helped me make this decision when he became an agent," she said. The veteran agent opted to retire early and give him the opportunity to start his career with American Family close to home.
The transition shouldn't be too noticeable for clients.
"The customers are going to see all the same faces," Karen Korhonen said, and the business is still all in the family. Nick has been in the office for the past three years. His wife Amanda and cousin Sara Fischer, both licensed customer service representatives, will remain. The name of the business at 902 Belknap St. will change a smidge, becoming the Nick Korhonen Agency.
Nick has been taking on more responsibilities over the last year in preparation for the move.
"For me to be in the office the last three years is going to make the transition a lot easier," he said. "Everything will be the same except Mom."
Karen Korhonen moved to the Poplar area in 1972 as a high school freshman. She began selling Avon prod
ucts at age 16 and moved up to the position of Avon manager for about 10 years. In 1993, she became an American Family agent.
"I was ready for a change," Karen Korhonen said.
At the time, quote calculations were done by hand on scratch paper. Technology has changed a lot since 1993, but the basics of insurance remain the same.
"What we do can be completely life-changing," Nick Korhonen said. When something bad happens, that's when an insurance agent truly gets to do their job. It's
gratifying to see something you sold a client come through in a time of need, he said.
Karen Korhonen, 55, said she has enjoyed the relationships she has developed over the years, often with generations of family members. She said it's rewarding to help clients and ensure they have the protection they need. One of the most exciting parts of the business for her has been showing people what life insurance can do.
"Everybody knows about home and auto insurance," she said. "Life insurance is
the part people are least knowledgeable about, but it's one of the most important things. It's fun opening people's eyes to that."
She and her husband plan to sell their Poplar home, load up a fifth-wheel camper and travel. It will give the couple the chance to get out of the winter cold.
"It's exciting," Karen Korhonen said. "We traveled, did the camper thing, when the kids were young. We enjoyed the lifestyle. People are so friendly."
Having two sons in the American Family family is a source of pride -- Nathan is a district manager in Moorhead, Minn.
"It's obviously an awesome thing to have both your children in the business," Karen Korhonen said. "They saw what it did for me, and saw the opportunity for them as well."
Nick will bring youth, the ability to change and a tech-savvy presence to the lead position, she said. He is also very personable and able to connect with people.
He said his mother has left a legacy of top quality customer service and takes with her a wealth of knowledge.
"But it's just a phone call away," he said. "I'm not going to let her retire completely."
Other than changing with the times, such as sending emails and texts or going paperless, it will be business as usual at the Nick Korhonen Agency, according to mother and son.
"I would like to thank my clients for many years of loyalty and friendship," Karen Korhonen said. "It's been great."
Letters to customers will be going out next week to let them know their policy will transfer to a new agent. While most will transfer to Nick Korhonen, some will be transferred to a different local agent. According to the letter, clients can contact the company to let them know if they wish to work with a certain agency.
An open house is planned noon to 5 p.m. March 29 at the business, 902 Belknap St. Everyone is invited to stop by for refreshments and a chance to wish Karen Korhonen well.