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ESGR in the News


ROCHESTER, Minn. – the Minnesota ESGR Above and Beyond Awards presentation was celebrated at the VFW Post 1215. Jack Grams, Ombudsman and Awards Director for the Minnesota Employer Support of the Guard and Reserves (ESGR) was the emcee to honor the employers of military families July 28.

ESGR recognized ten Minnesota employers of military personnel for going above and beyond in supporting those who serve our nation. Presenting the awards was Tom Simonet, Minnesota ESGR Committee State Chairman, and Jim Finley, Minnesota ESGR Committee Employer Outreach Director, and Jim Kelzenberg, ESGR Region 6 Chairman.

Mayo Clinic: United States Navy Reserve Lt. Stacy Parker nominated her employer, Mayo Clinic. Stacy had this to say about her employer and her supervisors: "Mr. Eric Sandberg has played an instrumental role in helping me to juggle both my civilian and military duties. As a perioperative nurse with the Navy Reserves, I am tasked with several collateral duties. One of which is being the member of an exportable training team which has me traveling monthly to train our Sailors assigned to medical units Tactical Combat Casualty Care, enabling them to provide medical care under combat conditions. As a former Navy Sailor himself, Mr. Sandberg recognizes the importance this training plays a large part in helping our service members maintain their readiness. This year, with the assistance of Mr. Sandberg, we have been able to introduce several initiatives within Surgical Services at Mayo Clinic aimed at recognizing our military service members and helping to bring awareness to our staff of the work these individuals do outside of their civilian jobs. I am grateful to have a supervisor like Erik-his support and endorsement of my service means that I can focus on the tasks at hand." Accepting the Above and Beyond Award for Mayo Clinic was Vice Chair of Nursing, Amber Wirkus, and Nurse Administrator, Amy White.

Knowledge Beginnings: Minnesota National Guard’s citizen Soldier Spc. Alexis Adler nominated her employer Knowledge Beginnings. Alexis had this to say about her employer: "I am a mom of 2 kids in the Minnesota national guard. I am employed at Knowledge Beginnings Day Care where I bring my boys. Prior to my employment here, I had to worry about finding childcare when I leave for military service. Sarah Darrington has eased my worries while I perform my duties on drill weekends and annual training. Family is everything and the family support I get through Knowledge Beginnings helps me have a clear mind so I can focus 100% on the military mission. I am very thankful to find an employer that has helped me create a balance between the Army National Guard and civilian life and being a mom. It’s a Win Win!" Accepting the Above and Beyond Award from Knowledge Beginnings was Sarah Dairington, Center Director, and Sydney Epina, Assistant Director.

CHS Eastern Farmers Luverne: Minnesota United States Army Reserve citizen Soldier, Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Kubeah nominated his employer, CHS Eastern Farmers Luverne. Daniel had this to say about his employer and supervisor: "My supervisor David Vander Vliet realizes my military service is important to me and my family. He has never been upset when I must give him little to no notice before I need to leave for service. I am on a deployment now and when my wife or kids see him, he always sees how I am doing, and he told my family if they need anything don't be afraid to ask. His support has created a positive relationship and has allowed me to take on extra exercises, training, and educational opportunities with the Army. This support has benefitted my military career." Accepting the Above and Beyond Award for CHS INC Luverne was Agronomy Manager David Vander Vliet.

Penz Dental Care: Minnesota National Guard’s citizen Soldier, 2nd Lt. Jessica Goodew was unable to be present however her brother, Sgt. Clay Rehtmeyer with the Army National Guard graciously accepted to attend on her behalf. Jessica nominated her employer, Penz Dental Care. Jessica had this to say about her employer: "I have been employed with Penz Dental Care since May 2020. During this time, I went through an 18-month program of Officer Candidate School, a five-month course at Fort Lee called BOLC [Basic Officer Leader Course] and had a stateside deployment for the duration of 11 months. My employer went above and beyond to keep me included in the decision-making process as the company continued to grow in my absence. Dr. Penz also went out of his way to keep lines of communication open with weekly check in calls and sent care packages to both my husband at home and me while I was away. Dr Penz deserves recognition as his business at the time of my absences had only 5 employees. With myself being gone, they were missing 20% of their staff and continued to keep me feeling cared for and informed." Accepting the Above and Beyond Award for Penz Dental Care was Doctor of Dentistry Christina Pauley.

LockLeed International: Minnesota National Guard’s citizen Soldier, Sgt. Thomas Lochen, nominated his employer, LockLeed International. Thomas had this to say about his employer: "Daniel Desoto is an 11-year active-duty infantry Veteran who has dedicated his time and resources to bettering the veteran community to include National Guard and Reserve. Daniel hosts an annual 22 mile walk to raise awareness and funds for Veteran suicide awareness and help. He has volunteered time with Every Third Saturday (ETS) and helps run an annual town event in which proceeds go to Veteran programs. Daniel also regularly volunteers with Fishing with Vets. He has supported ESGR's mission and his employee’s commitment to their service obligations." Accepting the Above and Beyond Award for LockLeed International was Executive Vice President Daniel Desoto.

CHS Inc. Inver Grove Heights Minnesota: Minnesota Air National Guard’s citizen Soldier, Staff Sgt. Nick Ricci nominated his employer, CHS Inc. Nick had this to say about his employer: "Donna Doucette has been supportive of my military obligations from day one. As members of the military, we know that the real sacrifice when a military member gets deployed is at home. This sacrifice is made by the family members and the company you work for. As a supervisor a military employee provides another level of complexity to being a manager. I have had many short notice military obligations and Donna has always made it work with my workload. Never once have I heard frustration or annoyance in her tone when telling her. my upcoming military obligations. This makes it so much easier leaving, knowing that my work will not be hindered due to my military obligation. She has created a strong team and made a culture where the team Is always willing to pick up my workload without question. During my deployment, she constantly reached out and asked if I needed anything or if my wife at home needed anything. When I got back from deployment, she let me take things slow getting back into my work. She cares deeply about her team and always expresses her gratitude towards the military. I am very lucky to have Donna as a supervisor and want to express my appreciation." Accepting the Above and Beyond Award for CHS Inc. Inver Grove Heights was Director of Information Technology, Donna Doucette.

Pro Patria Award for Mankato Area Public Schools ISD 77: The Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve prestigious Pro Patria Award is given to only 3 businesses this year, from hundreds of nominations received. It is given to employers that have demonstrated the greatest level of support to Guard and Reserve employees through their leadership and practices, including adopting personnel policies that make it easier for employees to participate in the National Guard and Reserves. This is the highest-level award a State Committee may present to an employer. Minnesota Air Force Reserve citizen Soldier, Master Sgt. Derek Fennern, nominated his employer for the Employer Support Freedom Award, Mankato Area Public Schools ISD 77. Derek had this to say about his employer and supervisor: "I have been employed by Mankato Area Public Schools since 2017. During my tenure I've been on two deployments and countless training days with the United States Air Force Reserve. The school district has always been flexible and supportive of my service, giving me time off, helping with benefits, and making sure my family was taken care of while I was on deployment. Being employed while serving has been a great experience thanks to the outstanding support of the administration and staff of Mankato Area Public Schools." Accepting the Pro Patria Award for The Mankato Area Public Schools ISD 77 is Superintendent Mr. Paul Peterson , Director of Human Resources, John Lustig and Mankato West Athletic Director, Mr. Joe Johnson.

The following employers receiving ESGR Above and Beyond Awards could not be present:

Minnesota Judicial Branch, 3rd Judicial District: MAJ Corinne Haugen USAR
Next, Minnesota United States Army Reserve citizen Soldier, Maj. Corinne Haugen nominated her employer, Minnesota Judicial Branch, 3rd Judicial District. Corinne had this to say about her employer: "The Honorable Matthew J. Opat has demonstrated his unyielding support for the United State Army Reserve in many ways: As a newly hired law clerk, Judge Opat was aware of my military obligation and assured his support from the start. Judge Opat went above and beyond to ensure to accommodate my military duty in addition to my civilian workload. Due to mobilizations, I was absent from my employer for almost 16 weeks. Judge Opat personally was in contact with the HR department to ensure accurate tracking of time and maintaining my benefits status. There is no one more supportive of Soldiers' Selfless Service than Matthew Opat!"

Donaldson Corp.: Ryan Just, a spouse to a United States Navy Reserve Sailor, Anne Wojdyla, nominated her employer Donaldson Corp. Ryan had this to say about his employer: My employer deserves this recognition because while my spouse has been away since October of 2021, my employer has been extremely flexible and supportive of me being a single parent while my spouse is away. Donaldson company is also extremely supportive of the military in general and it means a lot to work for this kind of a supervisor and company. My supervisor James has always allowed me to telework as needed due to staying home for days I needed to for my daughter, while Anne has been. on deployment this year. I greatly appreciate his support and he is most certainly worthy of this recognition. James went above and beyond to support me and my family in unprecedented times."

McNeilus Steel: Jesse Pflaum, a spouse to Army National Guard Spc. Elexis Adler, nominated his employer McNeilus Steel. Jesse had this to say about his employer: “My wife is in the National Guard and we have 2 children. There have been many times where she has to go to a planned drill or she is assigned tasks with short notice, but no matter what the case is McNeilus Steel always works with me and my schedule to get our boys to daycare. I know they care a lot about our service members and they show it often. They are willing to adjust my schedule so I can transport my boys to and from daycare. Which is a one-hour commute total there and back as the boys go to a daycare center in Rochester, but my wife normally takes them in the morning so when my wife is gone I have to go there first in the morning and leave at 5:30 am drop them off at 6am and then get to work at 6:30 am. Many people often check in on me during the times she’s gone. Just wanted to shout them out if possible for working with me and letting me come in late without making me feel bad about It.”

ESGR is a Department of Defense office that develops and promotes supportive work environments for service members in the National Guard and Reserve through outreach, recognition, and educational opportunities that increase awareness of applicable laws. ESGR also provides assistance in resolving conflicts between Service members and their employers. This year, ESGR celebrates 51 years of excellence in support of the Reserve Components and their civilian employers. For more information about ESGR outreach programs or volunteer opportunities, call (800) 336-4590 or visit

Pro Patria Photo left to right: Jim Finley ESGR Employer Outreach, Jim Kelzenberg ESGR Region 6 Chair, Joe Johnson Mankato West Athletic Director, Master Sgt. Derek Fennern USAFR, John Lustig Mankato Schools Director of Administrative Services, Paul Peterson Mankato Superintendent of School District, Tom Simonet Minnesota ESGR State Chair


Mayo Clinic Participants Photo left to right: Amber Wirkus Vice Chair of Nursing, Lt. Stacy Parker USNR, Amy White Nurse Administrator.

LockLeed International Photo left to right: Daniel Desoto Executive Vice President, Sgt. Thomas Locken ARNG, Pfc. Diego Mendlik.

Penz Dental Care Photo left to right: Jim Finley ESGR Employer Outreach, Jim Kelzenberg ESGR Region 6 Chair, Dr. Christina Pauley DDS, Sgt. Clay Rehtmeyer ARNG, Tom Simonet Minnesota ESGR State Chair.

(All Photos courtesy of Mathew Meyer Minnesota ESGR Ombudsman Director)

Posted in: Minnesota
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