The past several years Ken Hunt drove 55 miles each day from his home in a suburb of Lansing, Mich., to work at a General Motors facility, while wife Carla drove 40 miles in the other direction for her job as a paraprofessional in a school.
Now Hunt can walk less than a mile to work at City Hall, where he is Iola’s new human resources manager.
Hunt relishes the next-to-nothing commute, but even more he is delighted to be back in his hometown, near daughters Jennifer Ellis and Janel Stanfield, and five grandchildren. Carla will arrive full time as soon as her school commitment is completed in June.
The Hunts called Iola home before they were married — he grew up in the 400 block of South First Street and she, then Carla Stanley, on a farm southeast of Allen County Airport — and for years have been eager to return.
His job as HR manager, vacate for several years before city commissioner decided to fill it again, came open at just the right time.
Hunt had worked for General Motors since shortly after being graduated from Iola High School in 1971 and with the stalled economy he was offered an opportunity for early retirement.
“I was asked if I’d be interested and my reply was ‘Yes!,’” Hunt said. “We had been driving back to Iola every six to eight weeks to see children and grandchildren, and had planned to move back as soon as we could.”
The city position coupled with his early retirement last fall accelerated the process.
Carla’s parents, Carl and Mary Ellen Stanley, moved into Iola from their farm a year ago and his mother and stepfather, Pearl and Oren Nelson, lived here until health concerns prompted them to move to California where his bother, Don Hunt, lives and practices law. They also have other relatives nearby, including Iolans Don and Vickie Snavely.
“I was here during the flood (in 2007) helping Don and Vickie move out of their house,” on South State Street, Hunt recalled.
HUNT GOT his start with General Motors a few weeks after being graduated from Iola High School, when he enrolled in General Motors University.
“I alternated six weeks at the university in Michigan and working with General Motors in Kansas City,” he said. That went on for 4 1/2 years, with the last six months devoted to writing a thesis.
He remained a GM employee until his retirement last September.
Hunt initially worked in supervision, labor relations and health and safety at the Leeds plant in Kansas City and then was assigned to the GM technical center in Warren, Mich., for 2 1/2 years. He returned to Kansas City and the Leeds plant, working there until it closed in 1988. Until retirement, Hunt was back in Michigan, living in the Lansing area and making the long commute.
During spring break for his wife this year, he interviewed for the HR job with Iola, was hired and started work on April 19, the day after he arrived in town and moved into his stepfather and mother’s home in north Iola.
His more recent responsibilities with GM prepared him for work in human resources with the city. He was involved in corporation policy consultations and affirmative action and discrimination cases. As human resources manager Hunt deals with employee issues, including compensation analysis, payroll processing, discipline — ”I don’t expect that to be much of an issue” — and whatever comes up day-to-day.
Just over two weeks into the job, Hunt said he had been impressed with the Iola work force.
“Iola has a hard-working, close-knit group of employees,” Hunt said. “It’s a lot different from the corporate world,” particularly in the last few years when the economy led to many people losing their jobs through no fault of their own.