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Longtime LifeQuest employees share reasons for staying with company for more than 15 years

Employees with at least 15 years of service or longer at LifeQuest gather for a group photo on Wednesday afternoon in the lunch room at LifeQuest. (Matt Gade / Republic)1 / 2
LifeQuest employees, clockwise from top left, Lynette Kingsbury, Denise Graves, Ronda Vetch and Kristi Schneider gather for a group photo on Wednesday afternoon in the lunch room at LifeQuest. (Matt Gade / Republic) 2 / 2

It's like a family.

That's how several employees describe Mitchell's LifeQuest, an agency that works with people who have developmental disabilities.

The agency's 185 employees work to help the people they support be successful with their health, dreams and goals in life. The agency serves 167 people in Mitchell, but more than 400 statewide through its family support services.

With that, it takes a team of dedicated employees to keep operations running smoothly.

For a team of devoted workers, LifeQuest is the place to go.

The business boasts 36 employees who have worked for LifeQuest for at least 15 years, and 19 of these employees have been there more than 20 years.

"We all believe in the same thing that works here and our mission," said Kristi Schneider, who has worked with LifeQuest for 17 ½ years. "I think, too, obviously we feel respected from the administration. We feel respected about how we do our jobs. We're treated well."

But it's more than just having a good employer. According to Schneider, along with three of her coworkers — Ronda Vetch, Lynette Kingsbury and Denise Graves — it's the family connection they've made at LifeQuest that's kept them going.

These four women, who have worked at LifeQuest for a combined total of 77 years, have gotten to know one another during their time working together. They lean on each other during the hard times, supporting not only the people they serve, but one another.

But while they all agree their fellow employees are a key part of their job, the people they support are more important.

"I think they have a dedication to those people and are committed to them," said Pam Hanna, the executive director of LifeQuest. "They want to see them have a good life — to work toward a life that they can be proud of and to be a part of that, is really a good thing. Just something to really feel good about."

And the four employees couldn't agree more. With the people they support at "the heart of it all," they continue to work at LifeQuest day after day. Somedays are harder than others, but they come back again and give it another chance because it's worth it, the four women said.

"It's such a rewarding job," Schneider said.

Meet the employees behind LifeQuest

Kristi Schneider

As a student of Dakota Wesleyan University, Kristi Schneider was on the lookout for a job in the Mitchell area. That's when she found LifeQuest.

That was more than 17 years ago, and she's still there.

A Menno native, Schneider moved to Mitchell after she graduated from high school in 1999 to go to Dakota Wesleyan, obtaining a degree in human services. After being encouraged from two of her classmates, she took a job with LifeQuest.

"I obviously liked it, because I never left and this is basically my only job out of college," Schneider said.

The 39-year-old is a residential supervisor of two group homes in the community. This means she supervises the staff and the people living in the homes, making sure needs are met and taken care of.

She's held the position for approximately 16 years, and Schneider said she wouldn't trade it for anything.

"I get to know staff and the people I support, and their family. I develop a lot of close relationships with their families, because I work with them so much," Schneider said. "It's just a rewarding job to be able to help people."

Denise Graves

What started out as a part-time job for Denise Graves, became much more.

At 18, Graves was in need of a job, and was encouraged by friends to try LifeQuest. Just a few months after starting at LifeQuest, Graves soon became a full-time employee. For the next 23 years, she held a variety of different positions.

Now, Graves serves as a lead direct support professional, which is the lead position in one of the group homes. Working with the individuals and offering support is Graves' favorite part.

And it's the people she works with, supports and the families she meets that kept her going.

"It's the family connection that we've made here," Graves said. "It draws us to this place. It makes work not seem like work."

The 41-year-old is originally from Dimock and still lives there. She briefly left LifeQuest when she started a family, but after seven months she was back with the employer she loved.

"It developed into my family and so much more," Graves said.

Lynette Kingsbury

Lynette Kingsbury considers herself a "people person," and her job with LifeQuest allows her to be that.

Kingsbury has been working at LifeQuest for 21 ½ years, and for a majority of the time has held her current role as a health support professional.

In this role, Kingsbury is tasked with scheduling and running all of the medical, dental and vision appointments for the people they serve — and she wouldn't have it any other way.

"That's what I love about my job, is it's never the same," Kingsbury said. "I come to work and I might be going this way or that way, but I never go to the same place."

The Alexandria native who now lives in Letcher started working at LifeQuest not only because of her outgoing personality, but also because she has a family member with a disability.

Kingsbury, 46, was first hired as a housekeeper, and didn't directly work with the people the group supports. But when her current job became available, she jumped at the chance to be more involved.

"I like to be out and about in the community," Kingsbury said. "I'm a people person and I just thought I'd give it a try. I was given the job and I loved it."

Watching the people she serves make their own health care decisions, with Kingsbury right there to help and guide as needed, is what she said is her favorite part of the job.

"The people are just like you and I," Kingsbury said. "They have dreams and they want jobs and they want to be successful. They want to be part of a community. It's about creating opportunities for other people. That's what we enjoy seeing those opportunities being met."

Ronda Vetch

Ronda Vetch has been working in the same room at LifeQuest since day one, which was 16 ½ years ago.

As a life enrichment program direct support professional, Vetch's job is to provide fun, meaningful days to those she supports.

Described as the "perfect job" for her, the 58-year-old said she fit right in when she first applied.

"I've always been in the caring field I just love to help people," Vetch said. "We see so many people come here and start at the bottom of things. They expand and they grow and fulfill their dreams and experience things in life that they might not have had a chance to experience before. You like to see the people succeed and have dreams of theirs fulfilled."

The Stickney native said prior to her job at LifeQuest, she worked in a nursing home and had a home day care for 17 years, fueling her "passion of working with people."

She moved to Mitchell in 1976 after graduating high school and started a family. And when there was a job opening at LifeQuest and her kids had grown up, she decided it was time to experience something outside of her home.

And she's still with the group today. As an LEP direct support professional, which Vetch describes as "fun-filled," she spends her days working on arts, crafts, volunteering or going out and making connections in the community.

"I think once you start here, it's just the passion of wanting to stay here and the drive to keep going," Vetch said.

A list of longtime LifeQuest employees

More than 20 years

Avis Bahm

Deb Brink

Roxi Brown

Lonnie Callies

Carla Eppel

Lisa Gorrell

Kenny Gunsch

Pam Hanna

Leonard Heckel

Jeannie Johnson

Lynette Kingsbury

Gary Lambert

Linda Powell

Kacee Regan

Carol Schoenfelder

Mike Sejnoha

Sharon Stern

Carrie Tesch

Betty Visscher

15-19 years

Tyra Fleury

Cheryl Graham

Denise Graves

Julie Gregory

Carol Limberg

Mark Limberg

Brian Loken

Michele Meservey

Jeanie Morgan

Rebekah Nelson

Jane Palmquist

Kathy Pickner

Nikki Riggs

Cathy Sand

Kristi Schneider

Sheri VanOverschelde

Ronda Vetch