WORTHINGTON -- Bob and Lori Bristow are getting to be experts on collaboration.
Their primary joint project, of course, is their family -- 8-year-old daughter, Abigail "Abby" Jean, and 1-year-old twins, Andrew Robert and Aliana "Ali" Jennifer.
But the Bristows also collaborate professionally as the owners of The Demuth Agency, a full-service insurance business located on Worthington's Oxford Street. Just as they nurture their offspring, they also nurture the business -- together.
Both Bob and Lori have roots in the small communities surrounding Worthington -- Bob to the east, Lori to the northwest.
Bob was in the last class to officially graduate from Brewster High School, although the district had already partnered with Sioux Valley-Round Lake.
"They asked us the first week of school as seniors how we wanted to graduate, and we decided to still be just Brewster," he explained. "There were only 12 in my high school class, 28 when combined with Sioux Valley-Round Lake."
To further his education, Bob first attended what was then Worthington Community College before heading to St. Cloud State University for a bachelor's degree in business. With a newly minted diploma in hand, he returned to southwest Minnesota.
"After four years in St. Cloud and going to the Cities all the time, I kind of missed the rural area," he said. "I interviewed for jobs in the metro area, was offered jobs in the metro area, but for some reason I didn't take them. I didn't think I could survive the starting pay they offered while living up there, and I also had some friends who graduated at the same time who had also come back here."
During college, Bob had envisioned a career in real estate, and his degree emphasis was in real estate appraisal, but the opportunity he found in Worthington was completely different. An acquaintance mentioned that Bob Demuth Jr. was looking to hire someone at the Demuth Agency -- a full-service insurance agency -- and the position hadn't been advertised.
"I called him, came in and talked to him, and after about 15 minutes I had a job," recalled Bob.
In 1992, the same year that Bob graduated from college, Lori, a Wilmont resident, graduated from Worthington High School. She also attended Worthington Community College before enrolling at the University of South Dakota, Vermillion.
"My sister-in-law went there, and I had really liked the campus when I visited," Lori explained. "I knew I wanted to go for business, and it was far enough away, but not too far away."
Lori's first degree emphasis was in accounting, but she decided that she didn't just want to "sit and crunch numbers all day long," so she switched to marketing and business. But there were few opportunities available in advertising at the time, and Lori didn't see herself as a city girl anyway.
"My first job was at AVCO financial, which was downtown here," she said. "They put me in the management training program. The only problem was, after a year and a half they closed the office here. I could have transferred up to Mankato or somewhere else, but I didn't want to move."
Instead of continuing with the AVCO program, Lori began to sell advertising for the local radio station. One of her clients was Mike Clark, then owner of Worthington Ford, who recruited her as the dealership's finance manager.
Bob and Lori's paths first crossed when Bob was shopping around for a new vehicle. He didn't buy a new car at that time, but he did -- eventually -- acquire a girlfriend.
Building a family
Bob and Lori tied the knot on Aug. 24, 2002, and daughter Abby arrived on the scene a little more than a year later.
As part of his contract with Demuth Agency, Bob had acquired a 49 percent partnership in the business, and he sought a commitment from Demuth to eventually buy out the entire business, which happened on Jan. 1, 2008. Lori joined the agency at about the same time.
While they expanded their business interests, Bob and Lori's desire to expand their family wasn't as immediately successful. But Lori finally got the news they'd been waiting five years for while Bob was on a fishing trip in Canada. Right from the start, Lori suspected that there might be more than one baby, and an ultrasound confirmed those suspicions -- again, while Bob was on a fishing trip.
"I had to call him again and tell him it was twins," she recalled.
"My grandfather was a twin, so we knew it was a possibility," said Bob, who was somewhat prepared for the news.
"We'd been trying for five years, and now I know why the good Lord had us wait, because this was in the works," added Lori. "I couldn't imagine having twins if Abby had been 2 or 3 years old at the time."
Abby was thrilled with the prospect of becoming a big sister two times over.
"I didn't know if I wanted two brothers or two sisters," Abby said. "So I decided I wanted a baby brother and a baby sister, and that's what we got."
Abby also had a hand in picking out her siblings names.
"I wanted everybody's name to start with an A," she said.
Long before the twins made their entrance into the world, their presence was felt in the Bristows' lives. Quite early in the pregnancy, Lori's movements were greatly restricted because of pregnancy complications, and she was on complete bed rest for four weeks before they were born.
Because of the risks associated with multiple births, the Bristows had planned for the babies' arrival at a Sioux Falls, S.D., hospital, but the infants weren't willing to wait for that. Lori went into labor a few weeks before her due date -- on March 19, 2011, Bob's birthday -- and there was no time for to make the trip to Sioux Falls.
"I said from the start they were going to be born on my dad's birthday," said Ally.
"The night before, I had been encouraging Bob and Abby to go do something special together for his birthday since I couldn't do anything, but they wouldn't do it," said Lori.
"Good thing we didn't," said Bob, who spent most of his birthday in the nursery at Sanford Worthington Medical Center, holding his new son and daughter. "For some reason their oxygen level would drop off as soon as we put them down, so I just sat there and held them."
Going from a family of three to a family of five overnight pretty much turned the Bristow household upside down, and they don't anticipate that things will calm down anytime soon.
Ali and Andrew are now both walking and talking -- exploring everything on two legs and vocalizing excitedly about it.
"They're climbing now," said Lori. "Ali is the spitting image of Abby at that age."
"They love throwing stuff," added Abby.
"Every meal is an adventure," Lori said. "Then the dog comes in and cleans up afterward. Ali and Andrew don't stand still for nothing."
And things haven't been much calmer at their Oxford Street office, where a major remodeling project has been under way. The Demuth Agency staff has become used to the sounds of drills and saws and hammers in the background and construction workers underfoot as they go about their business.
The building itself is still jointly owned by the Bristows and Demuth, and Woodbury Construction has been in charge of the project.
"It had to have a new roof, and we didn't want to go with a flat roof again," explained Bob about the drainage and ice difficulties that came with the flat structure.
"And we wanted to put some usable space up there," Lori added.
Now nearing completion, the new pitched roof with dormers will house room for expanded office and storage space, and the entire building will be given an updated look. The Bristows have some ideas of how they want to use the expanded footage, including a play area for when their children are on the premises and a conference area for dealing with clients.
"I'm just excited to have the storage space," said Lori. "There are certain documents that we have to keep for so many years, and you start to run out of room."
The Bristows see the project as an investment in their business and the community where they make their home. They enjoy living and working in what they see as a highly vital and diverse community and having the support of their families close by.
Both Bob and Lori's parents live in the area and are enthusiastic about their grandparenting duties, which has been especially appreciated since the twins' arrival. And there are other relatives and close friends who can come to their aid in a pinch.
"I grew up here with all my grandparents close by," said Lori. "I can't imagine not having that."
"I can't imagine how we would do this without the grandparents being around," Bob said. "It has worked out pretty good."
Owning their own business also provides the Bristows with a flexibility that comes in handy with their growing family. They have one full-time employee, Josh Miller, who helps keep the office staffed during business hours. Just recently, the Bristows have weathered bouts of both pneumonia and stomach flu in their household and were able to schedule around absences at work. They have a small cabin -- which seems much smaller since the twins' arrival -- on Star Lake in Ottertail County and are able to get away for summer weekends there.
While life may have not turned out as they imagined in their younger years, Bob and Lori feel blessed by the life they've built together and the surprises that have come their way.
"When you go away to college, you have big dreams," said Lori. "But it's nice to be home. This wasn't in my plans, but life has been good. ... I wouldn't move for nothing."