Better Together

When One plus one is more than two.

You love your spouse, right? That’s why they’re your spouse! But could you imagine working alongside him or her, every day of the week? Three local couples do just that, and their uniquely matched partnerships suggest one plus one may equal more than two.

Insuring Against the Odds
Susan and Patrick Haub work together in a State Farm Insurance agency in St. Louis Park, of which Susan is the lead agent. Employees include Patrick (her husband of 22 years), two full-time team members and some part-timers. “I get fired once a month,” says Patrick; Susan says, “You’re lucky to have a job.” It’s all part of an affable give-and-take between two people who clearly care deeply about each other, their children and the families they serve. “Life is too short,” says Susan, to draw the line of who is the boss of whom. “We’re all like family here.” Susan meets frequently with the families they serve, to make sure their insurance coverage is adequate for the ways their lives have changed—a service often overlooked when purchasing insurance “on the Internet at midnight,” she says.

Susan has a broad-based education including college degrees in journalism, cultural anthropology and a minor in women’s studies. “I have a genuine curiosity about people and cultures,” she says. A few years after graduating she found herself in Brainerd, Minn., processing auto accident claims for State Farm. “I handled horrific claims,” says Susan, including those for brain injuries and death. “I have been on the side where insurance matters,” she says.

Patrick grew up in St. Paul and got a business degree from St. Thomas. He was working in freight shipping in Chicago, on vacation in Colorado, when he met Susan, also on vacation. They maintained a long-distance relationship for a while but soon married, moving from Chicago to Indiana and finally to Minnesota in the late ’90s. When Patrick’s shipping company was sold, he trained as an insurance agent and joined Susan at State Farm.

The agency’s watershed moment came, says Susan, shortly after they set up shop in Minnesota. A father with several children entered the office. Because he spoke only Spanish, his 10-year-old son translated the entire exchange between Susan and the man, who sought renter’s insurance. “Do you realize,” the boy said at the end of the conversation, “that we are really poor?”

It was a lesson in how intimidating the world can seem to clients seeking insurance. “Since that day,” says Susan, “I decided that someone in this office will speak Spanish.” The bilingual nature of the agency “has brought in people from all over the world,” she says. “We want to make everyone comfortable.”

And this is only one way the couple “walks the walk,” she says. When their own two boys were small, they welcomed two exchange students into their home, with whom they still maintain relationships. Two of their team members were born in Mexico, and they have employed children of immigrant-family clients and have seen them graduate from college.

Working together as a couple has the advantages of a more flexible schedule for Susan and Patrick to parent their two boys, now teens. An occasional glitch is “everyone knows when we’re having a spat,” she says. But the positives—“We both have skin in the business. There is excellent trust between us. We work well together, asking questions and learning from each other,” she says—clearly outweigh the occasional lack of privacy. “We serve everyone, from factory workers to CEOs. We are both people who really enjoy getting to know our clients,” Susan explains.

Serving the LGBT Community Around the World
Mark Hiemenz and Charlie Rounds met at mutual friends’ anniversary party, says Mark. “They wanted me to meet someone else, but that person wasn’t Charlie!” That same week, 20 years ago, Mark and Charlie’s paths crossed again at a fundraiser, and their relationship began. They were legally married four years ago in a music-filled ceremony in a packed church at St. Paul’s Episcopal on Lake of the Isles, followed by a reception at the Park Tavern in St. Louis Park. “The reception needed to be fun, and Park Tavern delivered,” says Charlie.     

“Partners in life, philanthropy and activism,” according to Mark, the couple work together on multiple undertakings. Some examples: Mossier Social Action and Innovation Center (Mossier), a Minnesota-based nonprofit investing in LGBT entrepreneurs across generations and across borders; collaboration with LGBT leaders in Poland, the Czech Republic and other former Socialist countries to advance equality initiatives; helping organizations like Second Harvest Heartland specifically address hunger in the LGBT community; and work with the internationally-focused Minnesota nonprofit H2O for Life.

 With Charlie’s extensive background in the LGBT travel industry, he speaks passionately about Mossier, headed by recent U of M graduate Nick Alm and employing college students as paid interns. “Almost all minorities have parents who are members of the same minority,” says Charlie, immediately noting that this is not true for the LGBT community. Mossier seeks, among other things, to address this lack of intergenerational “passing on of knowledge” about the culture and history of LGBT. Many of the students with whom Charlie and Mark work at Mossier “don’t know what older gays went through,” says Charlie, “and we don’t know what it’s like to come out at 15.” Understanding each other better also helps Mossier address questions like what can Minnesotans do to improve the life of a lesbian in Kenya. “Minnesota has the resources to be the source of change for LGBT status throughout the world,” says Charlie.

 Mark brings a different set of skills to the table. With 20 years of experience in the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors, helping nonprofits define members’ roles and build teamwork, for example, or strengthening a board of directors, are tasks in his areas of expertise. “It’s important to remember,” says Mark, “that when a couple works together it’s not always 50-50.” Rather, each of the capable partners of this couple leads in areas tied to their experience.

 And what about that other 50-50? How do Mark and Charlie keep work and life balance? “One challenge,” says Mark, “is to separate things when you don’t separate. Work comes home because work IS home.” A solution is distinct work spaces, on two floors of the house they share. Mark has learned that “we don’t need to do everything holding hands. You have to delegate work to the other partner and then let it go.” The pleasures of working together, however, easily override any difficulties, the couple says. “So many people are friends of ours, together,” says Mark. Charlie adds, “We are truly fortunate to have so many dynamic leaders in our lives.”
 
Life (and Love) after The Loft
You may know Jocey Hale as the former executive director of The Loft Literary Center, a position she held for eight years. Her husband of 24 years is Glenn Miller. They met in the summer of 1992, when Glenn was an employee at Twin Cities Public Television. One of his co-workers had a meeting with Jocey and afterward introduced the two. “We met at Figlio’s, had drinks and went to a double-feature documentary,” says Glenn. The rest is history. They are now the parents of two young men, ages 21 and 23.

While Jocey worked at the Loft, Glenn worked at home in his video and event production business, Glenn Miller and Associates. Even as Jocey took six months off after stepping down in 2015, requests for freelance work came in. One of the first:  a project with the Kresge foundation to do an impact evaluation on artists in Detroit. “My consulting work was built on my experience at the Loft,” Jocey says. “The skills are much the same.”

In the meantime, Glenn wanted to update his corporate communications website. The couple was also considering a move from a house to a condo. They talked about the possibility of working together at home. Serendipitously, their search for a condo culminated in the purchase of a house near Cedar Lake with twin, side-by-side offices in a lovely second-floor suite, complete with a common sitting room. They bought the house and rebranded as MillerHale Associates, although both Jocey and Glenn are quick to point out they do more “parallel play” than actual working together. An example is a project with the McKnight Foundation involving a survey of over 100 nonprofit organizations. Jocey conducted 20 personal interviews while Glenn designed and distributed an electronic version of the survey. They also split “the back of the house” responsibilities, says Jocey, like health care and billing.

Daily communications include a swift  bang on the wall between their offices followed by a shouted-out question. They have a Dropbox  where they share files and keep a common calendar. “We also share one car,” says Glenn. “We couldn’t do that if we weren’t both working at home.”

Since Jocey’s work keeps her busy many evenings, she and Glenn often make an effort to eat lunch together. “We say, ‘I’ll meet you in the break room,’” says Jocey—aka, the kitchen. One of the first Mondays they worked side-by-side in their offices, Glenn recalls Jocey coming into his office, taking a seat and asking, “So how was your weekend?”

“There are no pitfalls of our working together like this,” says Glenn. When people say, “How do you manage it?” with a groan or a grimace, Glenn considers it a (not-so-terrific) statement about that couples’ marriage vs. their own. Jocey says their ability to work together is part of the nature of their relationship. She uses words like friendly, respectful and fun, even while admitting she can be quite loud. It doesn’t seem to bother Glenn one bit. “Working out of our home is wonderful.”