Karen Gossen went to Willmar Vocational School in the early 1970s to take classes to become a medical office assistant.
“We were the people who would escort patients to the exam rooms and gather information from the patient to get things ready for the doctor to see them,” Karen explains.
After finishing school at Willmar, the Blue Earth native worked in a hospital in Marshall for one year before moving back to her hometown.
Karen Gossen and her granddaughter Makinlee, get ready to leave in their travel trailer on a camping trip, along with Karen’s husband, Daryl. The couple had taken their other granddaughter, Jaiden, on a previous camping trip. Gossen retired recently after 45 years of working at UHD as an accountant in Blue Earth.
“It is funny how life works out. I was originally going to attend school in Willmar with two girlfriends but I ended up being the only one who actually went to school there,” Karen says. “So instead I roomed with five girls who I did not know before moving in with them. It turns out one of my new roommates ended up setting me up on a blind date with my future husband, Daryl.”
When the newly married couple moved to Blue Earth, Daryl began farming with Karen’s father and Karen began working at the local hospital on July 22, 1975. She continued with her employment at United Hospital District (UHD) until July 22, 2020, a total of 45 years. During that time they would also raise two children, Cady and Kirt.
“I started out as a receptionist and handling insurance claims,” Karen comments. “I was at work at night during the time when visiting hours were over.”
She can still recite the message she would announce over the hospital speakers.
Karen says she would grab the microphone sitting on the receptionist’s desk and say, “Visiting hours are over. In order that proper patient care can be given, please leave the building promptly.”
Being a receptionist and insurance clerk were just the beginning of the positions Karen would hold for UHD during her 45 years of service.
“She has been a switchboard operator, handled accounts payable, payroll, been the business office manager, done bookkeeping and data entry, been a human resources backup, an accountant and a senior accountant,” UHD Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Patrick Justin comments. “Additionally, with the turnover in the CFO position, she has also held the interim CFO role.”
So, when did she find time to go back to school so she could learn to do all of these jobs? She didn’t.
“I learned on the job. The first CFO I worked with, Sue Ankeny, was instrumental in helping me,” Karen shares. “She helped me from the time I started in Blue Earth until she left in 1997.”
Karen worked with 10 different CFO’s during her time at UHD.
“The first was Sue (Ankeny), then there was Mark Domeyer, Adam Paul, Steve Rozenboom, Kyle Chase, John Howrey, Dan Rabideaux, John Howrey again, Larry Lee, Diane Deblon and Patrick Justin,” Karen recalls. “One of the CFOs had just been hired when I left for a month vacation. When I returned he had already been fired.”
She spoke fondly of Justin, the current CFO.
“He gave me a very nice going away gift,” she notes. “Knowing I am a camper he gave me a backpack which says ‘You always had our back” on it.”
Having been at the hospital for so long, Karen has seen many changes take place over the years.
“When I first started the names of all the patients were written on a big white board,” she says. “It would not exactly be in accordance with HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) laws which we have today.”
She talked about other changes she has seen during her years at UHD.
“We used to do everything by hand and then we got one computer in the early 1980s,” she recalls.
It was not the only memory.
“People, including staff, used to smoke in the hospital of all places,” she exclaims.
She has also been present for many changes in the actual building(s).
“There have been so many projects. The old hospital was torn down in 2009,” she says. “And another remodel was just completed.”
She also listed some of the doctors she has worked with over the years.
“Dr. Anderson, Dr. Temple, Dr. Watts, Dr. Devaraj, Dr. Venugopal and Dr. Yang are just a few of the ones who I remember from years past,”Karen notes.
She also shared a memory of Dr. Cahill.
“He was a student with the hospital in my early days with UHD,” she recalled. “Later, he would deliver my son Kirt.”
Karen says she loved her job at the hospital because of the people who worked there and the friendships they shared.
“There were a couple times I thought maybe I should look into getting a job at the school or as an accountant,” she comments. “But the camaraderie of the people I worked with always led me to decide to stay at UHD.”
Her fellow workers at the hospital described her as kind, calm and reassuring.
Her husband Daryl agreed.
“She is normally a very calm person,” Daryl states. “If she ever came home from work and was not calm I knew something was definitely going on.”
Karen has also been active in the Relay for Life for many years and served as the captain for the UHD United We Stand team in 2019.
“My mother had kidney cancer,” she remarks. “She survived that but later died of lung cancer, so supporting the Relay for Life event is something near and dear to my heart.”
And now, three weeks after her retirement she was getting ready to go camping with Daryl and one of their two granddaughters.
“We took one granddaughter, Jaiden, camping with us earlier,” she explains. “So now we are taking Makinlee, our other granddaughter with us this time.”
She states she and Daryl are hoping to camp and travel more now that she has retired.
“Daryl says I am supposed to be ready to tell people what we are going to do, now that I am retired,” Karen shares. “He says retirement means doing what we want when we want.”
So as they wait for the storm to pass on a Wednesday morning, Karen, Daryl and Makinlee get ready to jump in their pickup pulling the camper as they prepare to head out on their next adventure.