Key City Insurance Agency

The key to moving forward

Visiting the Key City Insurance Agency office in North Mankato, Minn., you can just tell that something is different.

Maybe it’s that all six staff are women, with more than 124 years of insurance agency experience among them. Maybe it’s their relaxed dress code — the same jeans, tees, and sneakers you’re wearing.

Maybe it’s that they remembered your name from the last time you visited their offices on Belgrade Avenue, or that they treat you the same whether you’re a $500 or $500,000 client.

Stuffed opossum hanging from branch in Key City Insurance Agency office.Maybe it’s the stuffed opossum you saw hanging in the hallway.

Wait. What?

That thing. Hanging near the ceiling.

Yep. That opossum.

The taxidermied critter is a relic of (and tribute to) the late Jim Spenger, sole proprietor of the agency until his death in 2017. Agent Deb Johannsen recalls that Jim, a mountain man in appearance and spirit, had filled the office with all manner of creatures.

“No matter where you looked in the office, there was a pair of animal eyes staring back at you,” said Johannsen.

Committed to each other

The memories of the Spenger’s death and its effects on the agency remain vivid for staff.

“It was a scary time,” said Johannsen, who has worked at the agency since 1999. “But we were in it together. We weren’t going to give up on each other.”

Spenger received a diagnosis of leukemia in 2016 and died — unexpectedly — of complications of the disease the following year.

“To say our workplace was devastated would be an understatement,” said Johannsen. “He had a wealth of knowledge. Insurance was in his blood and I learned almost everything I know about insurance from Jim.”

As the staff grieved the passing of their friend, boss, and — in Joni Spenger’s case — spouse, they also had to assure customers that they would be taken care of.

“We were processing all the feelings,” said agent Kristy Stoffel, who has worked at the agency since 1984. “But we also did what needed to be done to help our customers. I’m proud that we kept as many clients as we did after Jim passed away.”

A challenging transition

Founded by Jim’s father in 1948, Key City Insurance Agency had been incorporated as a sole proprietorship. When Jim died, ownership transferred to Joni. Unfortunately, his passing put the future of the agency in peril — everything from agency licensure to carrier contracts needed to be redone.

It meant more work and new roles for the Joni and the staff. They reincorporated as a limited liability corporation (LLC). Stoffel did all the paperwork, including working with the Minnesota Department of Insurance to update the agency’s license, and obtaining a new employer identification number from the Internal Revenue Service.

A growing agency

Their customers trusted them, remaining loyal as staff navigated their grief and the daily demands of a full-service insurance agency. And customers took notice.

“It was very satisfying to have clients thank us when we showed up for them,” said agent Dale Ann Larson.

Despite these challenges — and the COVID-19 pandemic — the agency is growing and their service and reputation has generated positive word-of-mouth. both in person and online.

“Our name gets mentioned a lot in mom groups on Facebook,” said Johannsen. “Those referrals make us feel good.”

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