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Serving So Others Have Opportunity


Linda Kimrey has met challenges in her life, but she's living proof that things can turn out for the best. Besides managing a workshop in Lebanon, she and her husband raise bloodhounds, including some used in search and rescue work.
Linda Kimrey’s story is a good reminder that even the worst things can turn out for the best.

At the age of 27, Linda was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disorder that causes severe inflammation of the joints. For a time, the affliction was so severe she could not wear shoes or use her hands. “I felt that having this disease was the end of the world,” she said. “But things turned out for the best.”

Linda looks back on this time as the turning point in her life and credits God for where she is now. “I feel it was through this disease that I ended up with a degree and doing what I do,” she says.

That’s the short version of her tale. The longer version includes working with Missouri Vocational Rehabilitation to find ways to adapt and overcome her disability, which included attending Drury University. She is thankful for the support of good people who helped her along the way, including VR Counselor Ron Yeamans, who saw her potential and helped her navigate the complicated college structure in order to graduate.

Treatment options for RA improved as well. In time a new class of medications restored her ability to function physically again. There are still good and bad days, but overall things have improved.

Not-for-profit centers were Linda’s immediate calling. While completing her degree, she worked at a domestic violence shelter. After graduating, she went to work at a day habilitation center and helped to open an adult daycare center. One of her last stops involved a developmental center in Springfield.

Long Drive

A drawback to all of these jobs was commuting. Originally from the tiny community of Plato, Missouri, Linda and her husband, Gary, now live in Lebanon. Her jobs were all good, but she often spent hours commuting on Ozark highways.

“There were a lot of evenings where I had to stop to nap at the rest areas on my way home,” she recalled. “It was tough sometimes.”

In 2005, the board president for Laclede Industries in Lebanon called and asked if she would like to be director of that workshop. The position would allow Linda to continue in human services and end her long commutes, but there were challenges.

“When I came in, the bank had the keys (to the workshop),” she recalled. “But we’ve been really fortunate; we’ve been blessed.”

Reversing the financial situation was complex. In a rural community, it is never easy to find contracts providing employment for the 30 some workers with disabilities then at the shop. A strategic change was needed.

“We had to diversify,” Linda explained. “Even though we have a lot of manufacturing here, there’s not a lot we can work with. Plus, the economy was pretty poor when I came in, so we had to be creative. We have to constantly look for options.”

Success Through Diversity

When Linda joined the shop, the primary income-generator involved wooden pallets. Today, the workshop serves over 50 certified workers and is heavily involved in recycling, does some packaging and assembly work, provides janitorial and yardwork services for several businesses and the City of Lebanon, in addition to maintaining the Conway Welcome Center. There’s also a satellite that focuses on cardboard recycling.

Not surprisingly, Linda and her team stay busy. “I wear a lot of hats,” she said. “I also have a great staff. There are only seven of them, but they make so much possible.” Each staff member is willing to do whatever is necessary to meet the needs of the community and certified employees.

She also credits the people of Lebanon and surrounding areas. “We have a lot of good community support,” she stressed. “The community has been fantastic.”

Linda brings an impressive background. Her bachelor’s degree from Drury is in both business and psychology, and she jokes that, “If I can't mess with your money, I can mess with your head!” She has a certificate in employment services from University of Missouri Columbia, is a state-licensed emergency medical technician, and is expecting to complete her master’s degree in business from Webster University in May.

And More

With all of this, she also finds time to serve on the MASWM Board of Directors, representing Area VIII in south central Missouri. At home, she and her husband, Gary, raise bloodhounds, including several that have been used in search and rescue work. In her spare time, she blows off steam by visiting the shooting range. Another hobby she enjoys is standing on the end of a boat in the dark, usually in freezing temperatures, spearing suckers by lamplight. This is called gigging by the few willing and able to attempt it. She’s used to others being surprised by her.

“It’s kind of an odd hobby for a girl,” she laughed. “I don’t know what there is about it, but I just love it.”

Linda and her husband have two grown children and two grandchildren. Their daughter is a registered nurse, and their son a restaurant manager.

The people served by workshops are never far from her mind, however. “It’s important to remember that the people that we serve are here because they want to be, not because they have to be,” she explained. “We are all one birth, one accident, one illness from having a disability that can profoundly affect our lives.”

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MASWM The Missouri Association of Sheltered Workshop Managers
If you have questions, please contact: President Aaron Martin – (816) 796-7070 or amartin@jobonekc.org;
or Legislative Co-Chairs: Kit Brewer – (660) 263-6202 or kbrewer@rcsiemployment.org
and Brian Hogan – (816) 483-1620 or bhogan@bvinds.org