It All Started with Donuts: Celebrating the Career of Karen Razo

You just never know how certain moments in life will set you on a beloved path.

Karen SpotlightIn this edition of our INSPIRE Staff Spotlight Series, we recognize the incomparable Karen Razo, office manager of the DeanHouston+ Headquarters in Cincinnati.

Karen found one such path at DH+. Throughout her 26 years here, she has experienced a lot of growth and change, and an unyielding sense of shared passion for the company, employees, and clients who have become like family and countless fond memories.

But nothing lasts forever and all good things must come to an end. Karen recently announced that she’ll be retiring from DH+ in April 2022. With her departure looming, it’s a perfect opportunity for us to spend some time with Karen to talk about her storied career, her love of animals and future plans.

DH+: Hi Karen! Tell us a bit about your background and what you were doing before you came to DH+.
KR: I grew up the youngest of three girls on the east side of Cincinnati and graduated from McNicholas High School in 1974. My first job was as a typist at Ralph Jones Advertising, later to become Fahlgren and Ferriss Advertising. Back then, to type ad copy you used carbon paper between each sheet of paper to make copies. In the years to follow, I worked for two more ad agencies, Kings Island Amusement Park and Kings Entertainment Company which produced the musical shows, costumes and sets for Kings Island and five other amusement parks.

DH+: What drew you to DH+ and when did you start? Rumor has it there were donuts involved…
KR: In January 1996, I answered an ad in the newspaper for an office manager. My first interview was with Greg Houston and I needed to stand out. So, a couple of days later I delivered donuts! They remembered me and I started on February 5, 1996. I don’t know if the donuts did it, but there have been donuts at the office ever since!

DH+: There’s nothing donuts can’t do. How have you personally seen the company grow during your time here?
KR: When I started, there were eight people here including Dale Dean and Pam and Greg Houston. I had never worked for such a small company, and I really liked it!  Back then, with no internet, you looked up what you needed in the yellow pages. Dale was always wanting something, so I became good at hunting for what he needed and comparing myself to a hound dog! I look back now and wonder how we did it without the internet and cell phones. Dale used to draw client projects all night, drive to New Richmond in the morning to change clothes and then go make his client presentation. We started to outgrow each office almost as soon as we moved in. Darren Wight was the first remote employee and we thought we were so cool when we hired our first IT/web expert, Jim Molloy. Then we opened a second office in Chicago and welcomed Jason and Emma! We’ve been moving forward from then on and we ain’t stopping now!

DH+: What have been the best things about working at DH+ and what might you miss?
KR: One of the best things was and is the passion by Dale and Greg. Even though Greg is retired, their passion for the business and the people is like no other. The ideal that I will take with me for the rest of my life is the DH+ “Whatever It Takes” philosophy. I judge my life experiences by this phrase.

I will desperately miss the people – employees and clients alike. I have never worked with a better group of people in all my 48 work years. My wish is that DH+ thrives and carries on for 100 years or more, and with the “Whatever It Takes” philosophy it WILL happen. I wish everyone the absolute best in their careers and family lives.

DH+: Any favorite moments or stories during your time at DH+?
KR: My favorite moments were the long talks with Dale, at end-of-year time when Dale, Mary (Rafferty) and I would have all the receipts, checks and invoices on the conference table making sure everything was balanced. Also picking up Andy and Daniel Dean from McNicholas High School and bringing them back to the office, getting my first MAC, and Greg acting like a goofball! Another favorite memory was watching Andy’s firstborn coloring while he worked – she is currently attending her first year of college!

A favorite story was when I was leaving the office around 9 p.m. one night. I started to leave but noticed something wasn’t right – I had a flat tire. So, I pulled back into the parking lot and Dale proceeded to change my tire (what a nice guy!) While he was changing the tire there were a couple of shifty characters coming our way. All it took was a look from Dale and they left us alone! I think they could just tell that you don’t mess with Dale Dean!

Another story was when I brought Binky, aka The Binkster, to the office. He was the most laid-back cat I’ve ever seen. He even participated in our weekly staff meetings. He just sat on my lap with his front paws on the conference room table and took it all in!

DH+: Any favorite musical artists? Movies? TV shows?
KR: Music: I love 60’s music, Fleetwood Mac, Moody Blues and cowboy-inspired music.
TV:  Flea Market Flip, The Incredible Dr. Pol and the History, Military History, Smithsonian, and NatGeo channels.
Movies:  The Way We Were, Saving Private Ryan, Gladiator, Watership Down and Inglorious Bastards.

DH+: What are your favorite ways to spend your spare time?
KR: I love to read and have read two wonderful books recently, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens and If Cats Disappeared from the World by Genki Kawamura. I also read forensic mystery novels – you must have a strong stomach for some of the details!

My husband and I love driving the backroads to look for deer and eagles. I also love antiquing and visiting old shops for treasures.

We have also started going to Civil War battlefields for the magnificent monuments and stories and have traveled from Gettysburg to Andersonville, GA, to Vicksburg, MS. My dad was in the Army Air Corps during World War II, so we have visited Pearl Harbor, the Nimitz Museum in Fredericksburg, and ships in Mobile, Corpus Christi, Galveston, and Charleston. We’ve waltzed across Texas from the Alamo to San Jacinto to New Mexico to learn about the Lincoln County war, which involved Billy the Kid – and the movies Young Guns, Young Guns II, and Chisum.

DH+: Now that you’re stepping down from DH+, what’s next? How do you plan to capitalize on your retirement?
KR: First, I am going to spend one day in bed, sleeping and watching movies. Then the work at home begins! We have 12 pieces of wrought iron patio furniture that need to be sanded and repainted. Sprinkled in will be coffee and lunches with my friends! I am the last one to retire and now we can get together during the week! Then a vacation beginning in Savannah and on to Winter Haven to celebrate my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday. From there my husband and I will travel to St. Pete’s Beach to relax and celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary.

Then it’s volunteer work at a stable or horse rescue. I need physical exercise and I love horses so why not both! And where there are horses and a barn, there are CATS! Life will be oh so grand! I also want to spend more time researching my dad’s ancestry. My dad’s grandfather was the manager of an amusement park here in Cincinnati in the early 1900’s called Chester Park on Spring Grove Avenue. He beat throat cancer but couldn’t afford a voice box, so he invented his own and received a patent for it. His invention was written about in several medical journals.

My husband and I also want to look into volunteering on one of the Honor Flights to Washington DC. To be able to help a veteran experience a trip like this would be the highlight of both our lives. How do you thank someone who put their life on the line for your freedom?

DH+: Dogs or cats?
KR: Cats, most definitely! But I love doggie kisses!

DH+: Okay, word association time! We’ll list some random words, and you give us the first thing that pops into your mind.
DH+/ KR:
Karaoke / Hell no!
Las Vegas / Only to see a show.
Coffee / Love the smell, but I only drink lattes and cappuccinos.
Aardvarks / Never met one, but I wouldn’t mind saying hello.
Christmas music / 365 days a year!

Karen, from all of us at DH+, thank you for your dedication and amazing work throughout your wonderful career and congratulations on your well-deserved retirement!

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