Kelly Knutson Gillford Mutual

Tomorrow’s mutual: Coming home

Lake Pepin sits in the Mississippi River, straddling the state line between Minnesota and Wisconsin. On the Minnesota side of the lake — the birthplace of water skiing — is Lake City, where Kelly Knutson was born and where she, her husband, and her son live.

Knutson is the manager of Gillford Mutual, a Grinnell Mutual member in Lake City. When Knutson was 13, her family had moved to Frontenac, Minnesota, about 6 miles up the road from Lake City. It was the start of a 20-year journey — first away from Lake City and then back again.

After graduating high school, Knutson moved to Ellsworth, Wisconsin, where she eventually met her husband, Dan. It’s also where Knutson began her insurance career, working as a licensed sales associate at State Farm, and where her son, Gage, was born in 2004.

“Anybody who’s worked in insurance knows the learning is never-ending,” Knutson said. Luckily, she found a mentor in Denton Achenbach, a third-generation agent. “He taught me a ton. Like, don’t bog your mind down trying to remember every rule and law — just remember where to find them.” It’s a tactic she still uses.

In 2008, after 10 years in Wisconsin, the Knutson family moved back to the Minnesota side of the river and the shores of Lake Pepin.

Back in Lake City, Knutson came across an ad in the local newspaper. Gillford Mutual, a local insurance company, was looking for a manager. Knutson applied.

Knutson expected to come in and sit down with one person. When she opened the door, she was astonished to find seven people looking back at her.

Gillford Mutual called her back for a second interview. When she received the call, she was dressed in athletic pants and a sweatshirt, helping her mom with a garage sale. She told them she could be over in 15 minutes if they didn’t mind her attire.

Come on in, they said.

Those seven people were the Gillford Mutual board, and that night they offered her the position.

Ten years into Knutson’s tenure, and with the help and trust of her board of directors, the business has progressed nicely. Gillford Mutual is now in a financial position to convert from a township mutual to a statewide company that writes its own wind coverage. It has also started to modernize its day-to-day operations and the team is working toward going paperless and building an archive system for data.

“I have always told my board I am human,” she said, “and that I will probably make decisions that they don’t agree with, but that they should always know that everything I do I feel is in the best interest of the company and our insureds.”

Together with her board, Knutson is grateful to be a part of getting Gillford Mutual to the next level. And just as grateful that she gets to do it in her hometown, from the shore of Lake Pepin.

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