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Feb 03, 2021

Kersten and Monson: Dynamic Duo are cornerstones of all that is Rock Valley Physical Therapy

Cornerstones.

Men of character; fixtures, if you will.

Faces you know.

Leaders.

Mentors you trust and turn to. Men the Rock Valley Physical Therapy family  — and beyond — have grown to respect and admire through a combined six-plus decades in their profession.

Both are nationally recognized clinicians —  ever-skilled — yet grounded, forever humble, give-back types, long-striving to maintain their hometown values. Greg Monson and Todd Kersten are gifts, driving forces behind the success that is Rock Valley Physical Therapy.

Oh…Have we mentioned humor? Though neither will cop to it, they are arguably two of the funniest dudes to ever grace the Rock Valley landscape.

“Greg Monson and Todd Kersten live by the motto: “Never take a patient off,’’ said Rock Valley founder Steve Layer. “They are dedicated and caring, each with an amazing — and subtle —  sense of humor.”

“Both harbor the willingness to do whatever it takes to get something right,’’ added Layer. “Tremendous leaders, amazing mentors and phenomenal owners. They are stewards of what they have had a hand in building. One of the pleasures in my life is to call them friends. Rock Valley would not be what it is if not for them.’’

What Rock Valley is — 50 clinics, 400-plus all-for-one-and-one-for-all employees over seven regions and two states — is a reflection of the longtime efforts of the Dynamic Duo.

Today, Monson and Kersten are in Phase I of their work-related transition. From years as dedicated clinicians, longtime owners, clinic leaders and executive team stalwarts, to what both hope will be a day they can begin the next phase of their lives.

Retirement…

Gone, hopefully, are 12-to-14-hour days — though neither have ever lived by a timeclock. Soon —  at whatever speed they choose — that final rotation will come. That day, it must be noted, is entirely up to Monson and Kersten.

A time though, when every day, will finally be Saturday.

“My wife and I sat down five years ago and discussed this very thing,’’ said Kersten, a father of three (Josh, Jake, Sarah) and dedicated husband to Amy, a 24-karat gem herself. He is also brother to Kelly Kersten, clinic manager, mentor, amazing dude, and first-rate therapist with Rock Valley.

 “Everybody’s career comes to an end sometime and being prepared is one thing we have always tried to do throughout life whether it’s careers, raising kids or getting ready for retirement,’’ added Kersten, who like Monson, was an outstanding prep athlete and remains an avid runner. “We sat down and planned it out. It was reflective and eye-opening. The many people I have talked with say if you know what you want to do in retirement it’s great, but if you don’t it’s a challenge.’’

For Monson, there is one challenge that stands above the rest before he closes the book on a brilliant career.

“Relevance,’’ said the husband to Krista, also a 24-karat gem, and father to Connor.

“The realization that you get to this point and know it (Rock Valley) will survive without you, so you begin to search for that equal purpose,’’ Monson added. “I have thought about it, but I can’t say that I’m there. It’s a work in progress. A key will be to take care of myself and remain physically active. You cannot assume you will be able to do the things physically we do now down the road.’’

The road to Rock Valley, to working together for several years, to ownership and to today’s transitional first phase, was a different path for the pair.

There was, however, one common denominator in the equation.

“We like to joke that the pattern of my career is simply following Steve Layer,’’ said Monson, who took over managing a Sterling physical therapy clinic that Layer led before he set off to start Rock Valley 36 years years ago. It was also Monson, at Layer’s urging, who came to Rock Valley and managed its clinic in association with Illini Hospital in his first years. Oh by the way,  Layer and Monson also attended the same PT school.

“I guess if you are going to follow someone, following Steve Layer is the right person to follow,’’ Monson said with a laugh. “But I also knew (longtime owner) Wanda Robb from our days at Franciscan Hospital together and had great respect for her.

“The sports euphemism: “Outkicking your coverage,’’ applies to me, because I got far more out of my association with Rock Valley than I ever dreamed I would. You know, sometimes you’d rather be lucky than good and the reality of it is, I was lucky enough to meet a guy named Steve Layer.’’

For Kersten, it was a roll of the career dice that eventually led him to Rock Valley. With an emphasis on “eventually.’’

 At the suggestion of his father-in-law and Gary Larson, the then president of Illini Hospital, Kersten went in search of what Layer and Rock Valley were about. The Oklahoma State University grad, who did his post-graduate PT work at Oklahoma’s Langston University, shared a two week, on-site get-to-know with Rock Valley. After a lengthy stint in Oklahoma, Kersten appeared to be headed home.

“I was taken with the place,’’  Kersten, the son of the late Jim Kersten, the legendary track coach at Keokuk (Iowa) High School, said of Rock Valley. “The atmosphere was amazing. The relationships among therapists and patients was something I had never seen before. It just felt right. So I signed a contract to come to work for Rock Valley.’’

So what did Kersten do to celebrate joining the Rock Valley family?

 He opts to stay in Oklahoma, to work with legendary therapist, Australia’s Barbara Stevens. It was an opportunity Kersten — at the time — felt he could not pass up, but one that could have easily meant a closed door to any relationship with Rock Valley.

The phone call to Layer and his mother-in-law in the Quad-Cities, were not easy ones.

Layer especially.

“Steve will tell you when he hung up the phone that day I was never coming home,’’ Kersten said. “He was also as honest as he could be when I asked him — if presented with this situation — would he do what I was doing? He said he would. He was honest. He’d said he would go. I said I wasn’t going to do it if it shut the door forever with Rock Valley. He was honest and said he could not guarantee anything, that he needed me there at that time and he was left scrambling to find somebody.’’

What was to be a 12-month stay working at a spine clinic with Stevens, turned into 22 months for Kersten. To his credit, he called Layer once a month over that period, making sure the Rock Valley door never closed.

“Steve and Wanda hired me in 1994 and I will forever be in their debt,’’ said Kersten, who noted — in his transition —  his clinic rotations have been sliced from five days to four and he is working to scale back from a 50-to-60-hour work week to 40-to-45-hour week.

 “When I started you had Steve, you had Wanda, you had Mark Levsen and you had Kevin Farrell. What a team.’’

Eventually Monson and Kersten’s paths would cross, taking — and running with — the growing industrial therapy side of Rock Valley Physical Therapy.

“Coldest building in history,’’ Monson said of the Moline-based site which housed a movie theater before it became a Rock Valley property, the clinic that first brought the two together. A clinic that once boasted a $3,000 winter heat bill.

 “Culture is a word that is used too much, but those days were just easy,’’ Monson added. “The relationship with Steve and Wanda was easy. The relationship with Todd and (longtime PTA) Larry Ratigan was easy. Same goes with (CFO ) Randy (Boldt), (COO) Eric (Sacia) and (CEO) Mike (Horsfield). It was the freedom to do what you thought was right. If you came up with an idea it was respected and most times it was tried to see if it worked. Much of the time it did. That openness to doing things  — the ability to take some chances and be given some latitude — were instrumental to all of us.’’

Eventually the Dynamic Duo would move into ownership and lead in a variety of ways, covering a bevy of in-house duties. Both called the move the perfect progression even though it was a huge financial commitment.

“It was more money than I had ever put on any home I had owned,’’ Kersten said with a smile. “But you trust your gut feeling.’’

And that gut feeling for both Monson and Kersten was knowing the people they worked with, other owners and the rest of the Rock Valley family, would not fail. That working with people you like and trust leads to success.

“We would travel to conferences across the United States and we would always travel together and socialize and hang out together when we did it,’’ Kersten said. “Other clinicians from across the country would come up and ask if we always hung out together. They could not believe business partners shared time together and were amazed we liked each other. That hasn’t changed.’’

That said, having a hand in leading a company, mentoring and making decisions that impact the lives of hundreds, does present challenges.

“We have had strong disagreements and some difficult choices to make through the years,’’ said Monson, who in his longtime compliance role, became affectionately known as the “Covid Czar’’ because of his relentless pursuit to keep staff and patients safe during a pandemic..

“It’s unique, the confidence we have in each other. I believe that’s why it has worked. But nothing is accomplished without amazing therapists and staff and the tremendous connection they have with the patients.’’

For Monson, there is a plan to travel when the next chapter arrives, having  just returned from a winter’s break in Arizona to see his son, Connor, and visit friends. Still, plenty remains to accomplish before that final day arrives.

“It’s been great  to be at the table with all that has happened and to be able to contribute to that, has been special beyond what I imagined,’’ Monson said with a smile. “To be able to do what I have done and now to walk away when I want, you can’t get any better than that. I am blessed beyond belief.’’

 For Kersten there will be travel and volunteering when that final day arrives. His always busy hands will remain busy.

“My dad, when he got out of  teaching and coaching, he worked on cars,’’ Kersten said. “He always worked on cars. And I started  that process about four years  ago. I’m keeping a journal and a ledger of everything I have worked on.

“My wife and I are to the point we gained so much from this that we are trying to pay it forward and give back as much as we can. Amy has been a volunteer at Project Renewal for years and is an absolute mainstay down there and loves the job. We have done some work with families that have needed cars with Project Renewal, at what we call a “family’’ discount. I truly love working on cars. My high school aptitude test said I was to be a musician or a mechanic. I play the guitar — at the lowest level possible — and working on cars is a lot like working on patients. You are trouble-shooting, you are recognizing and you are repairing. I’m sort of the body guy. So there is a plan to stay busy when that day comes.’’

One thing that will not be missed?

Meetings.

“The one word in the human vocabulary that will not allow us to realize our full potential is “meeting,’’ Kersten said with a chuckle..

And the one word to describe Greg Monson and Todd Kersten and their Rock Valley Physical Therapy careers?

Cornerstones.

Written By: Johnny Marx, Storyteller