Mary NelsonVice President
Perhaps no other person in the Kemin Industries family epitomizes the core “Kemin cares” value more than Mary Nelson, who co-founded the now global manufacturing company with her husband, R.W., in a vacant wool barn on Des Moines’ outskirts in 1961.
At Kemin today, Mary “does it all.” From 1975 to the present, she has supervised administrative staff; managed customer service, printing, and human resources; acted as a liaison with attorneys on legal matters; managed the Kemin trademark portfolio; served on the board of directors of Kemin and its affiliated family of companies; participated in strategic planning, budgeting, special projects, and administrative decisions of U.S. and global companies; and assisted in the presentation of training programs for sales personnel worldwide.
“I’ve enjoyed and learned from each position,” Mary says. “I believe in the mission, values, and vision of the company. My personal goals are fulfilled because, through my work, I have been able to have a standard of living that I enjoy, work with a group of people I admire and like, and consider my friends.”
With such a range of duties relating to the overall health and wellbeing of the company, it’s no wonder that she lovingly refers to Kemin as her and R.W.’s “sixth child.” The company is an embodiment of the values the Nelsons instilled in their children, including a moral responsibility for corporate citizenship.
As chair of the Kemin Charitable Contributions Committee, much of Mary’s energy is devoted to guiding the company’s corporate philanthropic giving and creating a culture that reaches out to the disadvantaged and those in distress, both locally and globally.
When Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, Mary organized fund-raising efforts to help people living in the storm’s wake. At her urging, Kemin employees raised $30,000 in emergency aid to replace fishing boats lost to a tsunami that ravaged a fishing village in India where Kemin has a significant presence. In China, also an important base for Kemin operations, Mary coordinated the company’s fund-raising campaign to build a school, which was dedicated in 2009.
“We have a responsibility to return to our community and the world a portion of what we earn from our endeavors and that of the people who work with us,” she says.
Since 1997, Kemin has budgeted money for charitable organizations and causes, especially those in which employees participate or have an interest, giving employees strong incentive to “give back” — a value Mary has lived her entire life.
In her Des Moines hometown, Mary has been a tireless community volunteer and advocate for children and families, cultural understanding, and other community-building activities through such organizations as Anawim Housing, which provides low-income housing; the National Conference of Christians and Jews; and the St. Ambrose/Jewish Federation Vietnamese Refugee Committee, a faith alliance that served an important role in the resettlement of more than 130,000 Southeast Asians in Iowa after the fall of Saigon. She is active in various church organizations within the Des Moines Catholic Diocese, including her home parish, Holy Family, and Dowling Catholic High School. She currently serves on the board of directors for Banker’s Trust Co. and as vice chair of the executive committee of the Living History Farms board of directors.
Mary’s contributions to the community have been recognized with a prestigious complement of awards, including the Sisterhood Award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews (1990), the President’s Angel Award from Dowling High School (1996), the People of Vision Award from Prevent Blindness of Iowa (2002), YMCA Women of Achievement (2006), and Iowa Business Hall of Fame (2006).
Honored as a “Woman of Influence” by the Des Moines Business Record newspaper in 2010, Mary is proud of the opportunities the company has provided for women. At least half of the research and development staff is made up of women, and two Kemin business units are led by women. “We feel that women have been a very important part of the growth of the company,” Mary told the Business Record.
Mary graduated with honors from Iowa State College (now Iowa State University) in 1950 with a bachelor of science in home economics education. She taught high school home economics for a year and was a social worker for three years, working closely with about 70 families in the Des Moines Area receiving Aid to Dependent Children assistance, before joining her husband at the fledgling family business, which was called Chemical Industries Inc. for its first seven years.