Fostering Social Change Through Business

Kevin Mossier understood that business was a key way to enact social change, and he put this belief into practice throughout the entirety of his life—as both a business owner and philanthropist.

In 1970, Kevin founded The Travel Company of Minnesota, Inc. The company was the first Twin Cities agency to implement groundbreaking technology such as the automated reservation system, and was known for treating its employees well.

When Helen Dehner walked into the travel agency in 1982 to apply for a job, she never could have imagined that it would lead to a 15-year commitment and her rising through the ranks to become President.

“I remember walking into the office one evening in July,” Helen said. “I sat down opposite Kevin for my interview. I was a newly-divorced mother of four with only one year of specialized training under my belt, but he hired me anyway. He took a huge chance on me, and I’ll never forget that.”

Kevin’s compassion and dedication to people was exemplified in his leadership style as well. “He was the most generous employer that anybody could hope to have. He was fair, he shared profits, travel perks, and plane tickets,” Helen reflected. “He realized that this generosity would garner a far greater return: dedicated, happy, loyal employees.”

He treated his employees like family, recognizing the value of building a work culture that was welcoming and supportive. Looking back, Helen remembers that Kevin “fostered an environment of inclusiveness way ahead of the curve. Gay or straight—employees were free to be exactly who they were.”

In the late 1970s, Kevin went on a trip to Key West with his partner. Assuming that people in Key West would be more tolerant, the couple and their friends were ready to enjoy themselves as out and proud gay men. Unfortunately, they were subjected to verbal harassment on the trip—some of it quite ugly and frightening.

After that experience, safety became a huge priority for the couple. This ultimately led to the establishment of RSVP Travel Productions—the first openly LGBTQ leisure travel company.

Kevin founded the company in 1985, at the height of the AIDS epidemic and rampant homophobia, with the goal of creating a safe space for LGBTQ couples and families to vacation.

Over the years, the company continued to grow and thrive, reaching more people and more destinations. And while the success of his business was important to Kevin, it was equally, if not more, significant to him to provide a safe haven and respite for LGBTQ people in the midst of the tragedy and despair of the AIDS crisis.

“Kevin was a businessman first, always for the right reasons,” Helen fondly recalled.

In addition to supporting our community through his business practices, Kevin also led the way in LGBTQ philanthropy.

“From the beginning, he believed in giving back to the community that supported him—contributing five percent of his annual profits to LGBT organizations locally and nationally,” said Helen. “This wasn’t something that many people were doing in the early 1970s. He also held numerous benefits to raise funds for the AIDS crisis through his travel agency. His generosity was truly an inspiration to all of us.”

However, Kevin’s largest act of generosity came near the end of his life. Shortly before he passed away at the young age of 47, he put everything in motion to establish the Kevin J. Mossier Foundation, naming five close friends, including Helen, as trustees.

“In the end, Kevin left his entire estate to the LGBTQ community,” Helen reflected.

The foundation launched early in 1997, with a focus on advancing the rights and opportunities of the LGBTQ community. Since opening their doors, The Mossier Foundation has distributed more than $3.5 million in support of LGBTQ organizations, including Funders for LGBTQ Issues, GLAAD, PFLAG, Lambda, and Freedom to Marry. Now, as the foundation prepares to sunset and distribute the last of its funds, the trustees have designated the remaining assets to continue building on Kevin’s legacy of social change and LGBTQ equality.

Thanks to the generosity of Kevin Mossier and the trustees of the foundation, we are proud to announce the creation of the Kevin J. Mossier Scholarship Fund at Pride Foundation.

“My goal is to honor his memory,” said Helen, who is now living in Bend, Oregon. “Kevin was all about giving people chances. This scholarship will ensure that deserving LGTBQ students are able to benefit from his generosity. That’s why I did this.”

Kevin always had a deep connection to place—seeing a great need for philanthropy and support in his home town in Minnesota. Helen now sees that same need where she lives in Oregon, and knows that Kevin would fully support having a local impact; “I believe with all my heart that Kevin would look at me [and the creation of this scholarship] and say great job.”

The impact that Kevin had on those whose lives he touched is undeniable. When talking with Helen, you can feel the deep and strong connection she had to him and his vision of LGBTQ equality.

By touching the lives of LGBTQ and ally students from Oregon in similar ways, Kevin’s work will come full circle—allowing students to live up to their full potential and developing the leadership and drive that was displayed so clearly by Kevin throughout his short life.

Our 2015 Scholarship Application is now available online; please help us spread the word so we can continue to support the promise and potential of LGBTQ and straight ally students throughout our region.

Zachary Pullin is Pride Foundation’s communications manager. Email Zachary. 

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