September Feature: Jim Kugler of Kugler Financial Services

Jim Kugler has been active in the MetroNorth chamber for many years and is a favorite among the members. For this month’s Tales of the Chamber, I was fortunate enough to sit down with Jim and chat at one of his favorite meeting spots; Good Earth.

“I meet a lot of people at Good Earth,” Jim said as we met in the front lobby. “And you want to know why?” I nodded. “The tea. They have excellent tea.” I asked Jim if he was a tea drinker. “Ehhh…” he said flipping his hand forward and backward, “I usually drink a lot of decaf coffee.”

I decided to order a single buttermilk pancake since they’re always absurdly large at breakfast places and got ready to ask Jim my first question. Since I’d heard through the grapevine (pun intended) Jim was a wine aficionado, I told Jim I heard he knew a lot about wine. “I don’t know a lot about wine,” Jim said, eliciting a puzzled look from me. “If you want to really know about wine, you need a lot experience and knowledge.” I nodded, now understanding what Jim meant. When you actually begin to understand wine, you understand there’s a lot you don’t know.

“Here’s what you need to know about wine,” Jim said. “If you like it, drink it. If you don’t like it, don’t drink it.” I laughed. “I’m part of the wine committee at the chamber. It started out as kind of snobbish, but now it’s really the drinking committee. Now it’s ‘eh. Give me a Bud Light or a Coors Light. So it’s morphed into something that…well, it’s just morphed.”

Jim explained to me that a group of ten or so might gather to do a wine tasting, and they’ve even done blind taste tests by using a brown bag. This way, you get to sample a lot of different wines. I asked Jim if he liked craft beer. “Not really into the craft beer thing,” he said. “We’ve done some beer tastings which doesn’t have to do with wine.” Jim paused momentarily before he said, “Well, yes it does. It’s brown wine, you see.”

Our conversation about wine segued into talking about the Lion’s Club, something Jim is very passionate about and has been for many years. “Somebody asked me, ‘Do you want to be a part of the largest service organization in the world?’ And that sounded interesting. The Lion’s Club is an organization that provides services to the community. Every club is different because every community is different. The Lions are working to fill that community’s need.”

In Spring Lake Park specifically, the Lions Club has a huge emphasis on kids. Years ago, a foundation was started to give out scholarships to students graduating Spring Lake Park High School. The Lions Club gives away as much as thirty thousand dollars in scholarships every year. They also have a program which screens preschool school kids for vision problems and alerts parents so they can take action.

“There’s this thing called Halloween,” Jim deadpanned. “Ever heard of it?” I grinned and nodded. “We do something called ‘trunk or treat’ where we decorate the trunks of cars and give out candy. Last year, over four hundred kids came through and we’re planning on five hundred this year. We dress up in costumes and the kids are in costume.”

I found those numbers to be quite impressive, and it’s a testament to the Lions’ place in the community. They have a program where kids can participate in service projects, put on a free pancake breakfast and open up a Christmas store so kids can buy their parents a gift. The Lions is dedicated to serving those around them, and it was really wonderful to hear Jim talk about it so adamantly.

“Now the other thing the club does,” Jim said leaning in with a smile, “Is a mystery trip. The price varies, but you’ll get on a bus for an overnight trip, and that’s the only thing you know. The biggest clue I ever gave anybody was they would need a valid passport. We’ve been doing these mystery trips for fifteen to twenty years and there’s never been any redundancy.”

I asked Jim if he was the one who plans the mystery trips. “Oh yeah,” he affirmed. “I plan the trips. If you will, I’m the ‘social chairman of the club,’ so the trips are crazy. One time we staged a fight between me and the bus driver.” I gaped, then started laughing. “At a predetermined location, I told the bus driver to pull over, and we started arguing about where we were going.”

Jim’s Lions group has a knack for mischievousness so his stunt with the bus driver fits right in with his crowd. Jim told me about one year where they stopped in Eau Claire at a brewery and everyone had beer at 9:30 in the morning. “The people who usually come on our mystery trips are in their mid 60s to 70s. That year we saw Footloose in the round. There was lots of energy and at the motel, the management told us we were making too much noise and we had to calm it down.”

In addition to mystery trips, the Lions Club also hosts five-day trips and excursions. One of those five-day trips was to the Badlands and going on a Jeep tour. “It was rain or shine,” Jim said, “And it was pouring rain when we went out.”  Jim leaned forward slightly. “Do you know what a bison is?” I nodded. “Have you ever seen one up close?” I shook my head ‘no’. “My lord they’re huge! So, that’s one of the things we’ve done.  We’re known as a group of travelers and we do strange things at strange times.” I told Jim that sounded like a romp. “It is!” he exclaimed. “We work hard and we play hard.”

I also wanted to hear about Jim’s actual work, which, I learned was in health insurance. “I play with health insurance,” Jim confirmed. “It’s only three to four months out of the year because people can enroll in health insurance between October and February. In terms of busy, it’s like tax people. Other than that, I screw off. The other months it’s kind of whacky. Someone might need to go to the doctor here or have a question there. So, you have to help people through that stuff.”

Jim’s been in health insurance for a really long time. He told me he’d been “tinkering with various forms of health insurance for thirty years,” and now more than ever, it’s important to have someone in your corner who you trust and who is knowledgeable. A lot has changed, and it can be really confusing. Jim and I also talked about how the Affordable Care Act (Obama Care) has greatly benefited some and has hurt others. This is a touchy subject for many, but I found it refreshing to discuss ACA with someone knowledgeable, who sees the big picture and discuss it without any sort of emotional charge.

“For a lot of folks, they would never be able to afford insurance,” Jim said. “I talked to one guy who used to make fifty thousand a year, and that went down to twenty-five thousand. Because of this, his premium went down from four hundred dollars to one hundred dollars, but if there wasn’t the ACA, he wouldn’t be able to afford any insurance.”

“The other side is that if you’re not eligible for the subsidy, you get screwed,” Jim continued. “For an eighteen thousand a year premium, it’s a thirteen thousand deductible for a family of five. That’s thirty-one thousand for something you may not ever use. That’s like paying for a car but not being able to use it.” I nodded, as those numbers sunk in. “There’s ways to get around, to ‘kick the tires’ if you will, to figure out what makes sense. Then you can start laying out options.”

Jim and I also discussed Medicare, and how it’s really beneficial for those sixty-five and older. For Medicare, you only pay fifty dollars a month for medications and two hundred dollars a month for everything else.

“So that’s my sandbox when I work,” Jim said wrapping up our conversation. “Right now the Lions take up the most time. Those people are absolutely great. We work hard together, and it’s like a big family. Sometimes it’s like negotiating with your siblings,” he said with a large smile, “And there’s always new people being added to the family.”

Our time was up, the tea, coffee, and pancake paid for, and we both had to get to the next thing on our to-do lists. As I was closing my laptop Jim said, “Oh! There’s one more thing I need to add.” I reopened my laptop, curious as to what Jim wanted to say. “The girl I’m living with,” he said with a smile, “We’ve been together for fifty years.” Realization dawned on me as I offered Jim my congratulations and how glad I was that he mentioned it. “We had our anniversary back in June. There were about a hundred and twenty-five people there. I’ve probably been married longer than you’ve been alive.”

I laughed, assuring him that was indeed true, and Jim told me his kids bought them a hot air balloon ride to celebrate.

After chatting for just a couple more minutes (for truly, it wouldn’t be right without a Minnesota goodbye) I left Good Earth feeling happy I got to spend time with Jim and jazzed up for the rest of my day.

You can contact Jim at 763-600-6289 or