by Shawn Marie Brummer, Communications Specialist
For more than 46 years, Deb Kruckenberg has been the familiar voice callers hear when they call the Dakota Credit Union Association, the first face they see when they arrive at an association event, and the person many reach out to when they have a question. As we like to say around the office, “If Deb doesn’t know the answer, she knows where to find it…”
With that in mind, Deb has chosen her retirement date: August 31, 2022. While no one person is irreplaceable, the departure of someone so key to the organization certainly leaves some “big shoes to fill.” As we prepare for her final workday, we take a moment to reflect on her decades of service to the credit union industry. This is Deb’s story.
A lifelong resident of Bismarck/Mandan, Deb was born the youngest child of seven children. As a young girl her dream was to become a professional dancer; she enjoyed the exercise and loved watching the New York City Rockettes. She has many fond memories of her childhood and growing up in a close-knit, religious family. Church on Sunday mornings was the norm at their house; no matter how late one arrived home on a Saturday night, everyone was expected to attend – no excuses allowed!
Her appreciation of family comes directly from her parents, who were married during the depression with just $25 to their name. They had three children in four years, and a tough life being farmers. 1950 was a particularly hard year for them: her dad’s father passed away in March; in May their house burned down taking all their possessions; in July their infant son died; and in August their crops got hailed out. Still, they persevered.
“My dad always said that hard work paid off, he was very demanding on any job you were working on and taught me how to maintain my car with oil changes, tires, air filters, all the things that most girls didn’t know how to do. My mom stayed home and ran an in-home daycare; she taught me patience and to be a caring person. She was a great cook and gardener – our daycare kids had fresh fruits, vegetables, and homecooked food for every meal, not to mention her homemade breads and baked goods. She always looked for the good in people, no matter what. I guess that is one trait that I got from her,” Deb shared.
While all her siblings hold a special place in her heart, she fondly recalls spending much time at her older sister’s farm, milking cows, collecting eggs, feeding the pigs, hauling hay bales, harvesting crops, and picking rocks – lots and lots of rocks! “Every kid should spend a summer on a farm to learn what hard work and working together is all about,” she stated.
She attended elementary school at Christ the King School in Mandan until 5th grade, when her family moved to Bismarck and she began attending Wachter Junior High, one of the first students to step through the doors of the new school. She then attended St. Mary’s Central High School where she was a member of the choir, graduating in 1975.
Her first job was working for the trailer court where she lived, sending out the monthly rent bills and collecting payments. She also counted and rolled coins from the on-site laundromat and vending machines and answered the phone for maintenance calls. It was a perfect part-time job for a student, but she began looking for full-time employment once she had her diploma.
She interviewed with the ND Credit Union League for the first time in the fall of 1975. She was not immediately hired, but in January of 1976 she received the call for another interview and started working shortly thereafter. At the time, her main goal was to find gainful employment; Deb started her long career not even knowing what a credit union was! Arnold Paulson was the CEO who hired her, and the first thing he told her was, “I may be your boss – but the credit unions are who you work for. They pay dues to pay your salary and they are the folks that you answer to.” Since then, Deb has ascribed to that philosophy, always choosing to answer the needs of association members above all else.
Her first duties at the league were that of a bookkeeper, when everything was done on manual ledgers. Back then, the league and ND Central Credit Union shared staff, and Deb worked closely with Trudy Wise, VP of ND Central at the time. However, as the organization grew, more advanced accounting knowledge was needed, and that’s when Deb began making herself indispensable as an office assistant. She assumed all the non-accounting tasks, including meeting planning, chapter notices, mailings, self-learning courses, and the Pee Wee Penguin program. While her title has been updated several times to her current title of Member Support Specialist, her job description at the league has remained basically the same: “All tasks as assigned!”
Deb has served as “backup” to every department over the years, with exception of CEO. She has seen the transition from a time of no computers to the first DOS based models, to the current high-tech networked models and programs we currently use. With a minimum amount of training, she has been able to learn and understand several new software systems, to the point that she is the association’s “go to” person with all database questions or needs. Need a list created, sorted, or refined? Better ask Deb! Set up online registration for a webinar or meeting? Add an item to our events calendar or need to know how many Pee Wee Penguin orders were filled last month? That’s right, Deb will tell you.
“I am amazed at the technology changes over the last 46 years,” she says. “I can’t imagine doing our jobs without computers or the internet – we would have to double the staff to get done what we do now!”
In addition to her “regular” job duties, Deb has enjoyed working on various credit union outreach programs as well. She was instrumental in the FIT (Family Involvement Team) that conducted classroom presentations, organized various Youth Week and Youth Month activities, and helped plan events such as employee holiday parties and team building projects.
At one time, the league had 25 employees and each month an “employee of the month” was selected. In 1990, Deb not only received that honor, but was named Employee of the Year. In 2009, she completed the Introduction to CUNA Regulatory Compliance School course, which has helped her to understand more about the burdens that credit unions and their compliance experts face.
Deb is leaving the association in a few short months, but the people she has worked with across the industry will always hold a special place in her life. “I’ve met some astounding people over the years; we have lost some great leaders and we have some great leaders in place now. Many of us will be retiring over the next few years, and the longevity we have in this industry still amazes me. No matter what we do or where we go, we are still part of the movement. It has been an honor and privilege to work for you, and I will miss all the folks that I have met over the years, but we can stay in touch! This isn’t good-bye, it’s see you later,” she concluded.
In her personal life, Deb has been married to her husband, Rick, for 34 years. They have two adult children: Jennifer who is married and has two boys; and Kyle who will be getting married this October.
As for her future plans, Deb says she will continue to help friends and family wherever there is a need. She will spend more time in her vegetable garden in the summer, sharing her produce with many. Once she is officially retired, she and Rick also plan to do more volunteer work at a local soup kitchen, as well as assisting those in the community with no family who need help with grocery shopping, errands, and basic cleaning.
Finally, once Deb does have more free time on her hands, she intends to dive into her many crafts. For those who don’t know, Deb is a talented needleworker who creates works of art in crochet, Swedish weave, and counted cross stitch.
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