WORTHINGTON — If a positive attitude can be catching, then Dee Bartosh is absolutely infectious.
Frequent smiles and laughs coupled with an always brimming bowl of M & M’s on Bartosh’s desk at the Hub International insurance office in downtown Worthington are ample evidence she sees the world sunny-side-up.
“I’m a positive person,” Bartosh confirmed. “I love being around other people — and I feel very blessed.”
Indeed, abundant photos featuring her beloved husband Doug, their four children and six grandchildren depict a woman who not only enjoys her profession but also cherishes her loved ones.
“Family is my passion now,” said Bartosh, 51. “I love to squeeze in as much time with them as possible.”
But Bartosh’s early life didn’t suggest she would see such a happy ending.
“I was born in Seoul, South Korea, and placed in an orphanage,” said Bartosh, who learned not long ago she was likely abandoned and rescued from the streets when she was around 18 months old.
“They just guessed at a birth date for me, thinking I could either be approximately six months older or younger.”
From the moment Gwendolyn and the late Donald Dressel, then of Hutchinson, began procedures to adopt Bartosh, the tide of Bartosh’s life turned. She has been riding the positive waves of love and family ever since.
“My mom says I was her ‘longest pregnancy,’” joked Bartosh, mentioning the Dressels’ nearly 18-month adoption process. Bartosh was about 3 when she was welcomed into the Minnesota family that already included four sons and one daughter.
“Mom wanted another daughter to go with my older sister Doreen,” said Bartosh. “They decided to adopt because mom was ‘done’ having children,” said Bartosh.
“But they had two more blessings after me and ended up with four boys and four girls.”
The senior Dressels — major fans of the letter “D” — lovingly added Dee to their clan that ultimately included Denaldo of Lakefield, twins Donahue and Donovan, Durand, Doreen of Brewster, Dorinda of George, Iowa, and D’Lisha of Comfrey.
Bartosh remembers adventurous family road trips in their trusty station wagon.
“Of all the kids, I was the one who would always get carsick, so mom had to remind everyone, ‘Dee gets the window,’” she laughed. “Otherwise, I’d get sick and we’d have to stop.”
Bartosh’s dad Donald sold real estate and was a pastor; Gwendolyn sold home décor in addition to maintaining a household with eight kids.
“We lived in Hutchinson for quite a while, and dad started churches in different areas,” said Bartosh. “We settled near Okabena.”
Despite having been born far from Minnesota, Bartosh fit in so seamlessly with her family that she scarcely realized she was adopted.
“For one thing, the birth date they assigned me was Nov. 10, and my dad, twin brothers and several other family members have November birthdays,” Bartosh said.
“I was such a loved and complete family member that I never thought of myself as being different,” she continued.
“I was in fourth or fifth grade before a classmate asked if I was adopted, and I wondered, ‘How does she know?’ — and when we moved to Okabena, I was the only person of color in the whole school.
“Doug remembers hearing, ‘There’s an Asian girl coming to school,’ and now that’s so funny to think about, but it was sure big news in Okabena at the time.”
New love and life
Bartosh was a ninth-grader when the Dressels settled in Okabena. It wasn’t long before she met a cheerful, strapping farm boy, Doug Bartosh, who was two years her senior. His parents were the late Charles and Joann Bartosh.
“We’d been dating for two years when he went off to college [at the former University of Minnesota, Waseca, agriculture campus],” said Bartosh.
Before Bartosh’s senior year, she became pregnant.
“That was difficult,” said Bartosh, recalling the mixed opinions of family members about what the young couple should do.
“I wanted to graduate from high school, and Doug wasn’t going to leave me.”
Bartosh gave birth to their daughter DeTasha in January 1988, graduated from Heron Lake-Okabena-Lakefield High School in the spring of 1988 — and married Doug, the love of her life, in October 1988.
One Bible verse that guides Bartosh’s life is Romans 8:28, “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.”
“Going forward, our personal experience made us more empathetic to other teen parents,” said Bartosh, mentioning that Doug is on the board of Helping Hands Pregnancy Center and that together they cared for numerous foster children — often troubled teenage girls — while raising their own family.
“We’re still close to some of our former foster care kids,” said Bartosh. “We started foster parenting when our twins (Ashley and Amanda, born in April 1992) were 2 or 3 years old.”
The Bartoshes completed their family with the adoption of son Matthew in August 1999, and for nearly 20 years they mentored other area youth as leaders of the Solid Rock Assembly youth group.
“We really tried to make something good out of what might have seemed bad at the time,” said Bartosh.
To top it off, the outgoing Bartosh has never had a job she didn’t enjoy.
“I’ve loved all my jobs,” Bartosh declared sincerely.
She cites a resume that began with high school employment at Hardee’s, proceeded to work at the former Crippled Children’s School, continued at the JC Penney customer service counter, advanced to a teller position at United Prairie Bank and progressed to a stint in day care.
“I was a licensed day care provider in Brewster for about five years,” she said.
“Then I took a job at Iowa Lakes Orthopedic-Back Care for Dr. Donahue, but with a young family, the traveling I had to do [between Worthington, Jackson, Windom and Sibley, Iowa, clinics] was harder,” Bartosh admitted.
She was approached about an opening at Farm Bureau Insurance, and because it seemed the position would be more flexible in accommodating her other responsibilities, she accepted it.
“I became licensed, going from knowing nothing about insurance to everything,” laughed Bartosh.
After about two years of learning to love the insurance business and its customer service aspect, Bartosh again switched gears to help Doug on the farm when his father died.
“I drove combine, helped with loading pigs — they were so much bigger than me — but I didn’t really like driving the trucks,” she said.
Still, she wasn’t actively seeking a job when Bank of the West Insurance [now Hub International] came calling.
“At first I said, ‘Oh no, I’m not interested,’ but Doug convinced me to at least go to the interview,” laughed Bartosh.
After starting as an assistant to Pat O’Neil in 2008, Bartosh ultimately put her insurance licensure to use when O’Neil moved to a more part-time schedule.
And Bartosh’s sister, Dorinda, joined the local Hub Insurance staff a few years ago.
“She does excellent work,” praised Bartosh. “It’s been great having her, and we get along well.”
Family and community
Bartosh has gained confidence in her profession and takes joy in helping others.
“I like helping people understand what they’re getting [in insurance coverage] and being there in tough situations,” said Bartosh.
“Some people think they’re paying for something they’ll never use, but in the end, when they need it, it’s so important to have.”
Bartosh has expanded her community concerns as a member of both the Worthington Noon Kiwanis Club and the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce Board.
“I’m in my second year on the Chamber board, and we’ve done very fun stuff,” she said.
After Doug had a heart attack in December, from which he has since recovered, Bartosh convinced him to also embrace her walking routine.
“Walking is my stress reliever,” said Bartosh. “He’s doing much better, but it was scary at the time.”
Daily, the couple cherishes their six grandchildren (currently three months to 8 years old).
“They’re all in Worthington, and that’s such a blessing,” Bartosh added.
This behind-the-scenes helper doesn’t like to “dwell on the negative,” preferring instead to find the good in all circumstances and in those around her.
“Sure, we have to deal with stresses and heartaches, but I like to think, ‘What can I do about this moving forward,’” Bartosh said.
“And I love the diversity of this area,” she continued. “It’s fascinating to meet people from so many different cultures — and everyone has a story.
“We are so lucky as a community to experience this.”