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In the CEO Spotlight This Week
Story ID:8770  
Date Posted:  September 29, 2017

by Shawn Marie Brummer, Director of Communications 

Fran Sommerfeld, CEO of Sioux Falls FCU, grew up in Red Lodge, Montana, and graduated from Bridger High School in Bridger, Montana. As a young child, he remembers going to the local Elks Club to listen to his dad’s band play at night. His father played several instruments; guitar, piano and accordion, all self-taught - and he played by ear.

Fran’s first job was working in his father’s NAPA store, doing various tasks from cleaning to stocking shelves, inventory and waiting on customers. He remembers a time when he was about 10 years old, when his dad gave him an assignment to count the many nuts, bolts, screws and washers in the display - one screw at a time. Only later did Fran learn that the entire display was counted as one item for inventory purposes – but it kept him out of trouble and out of his dad’s hair for a few days.

Despite his dad’s little “trick”, Fran has many fond memories and high regard for his family. “My folks taught me so many things growing up, and like many people, we didn’t really grasp many of those lesson until we got older,” says Sommerfeld. “My dad taught me to be calm and to work hard, with passion and purpose. Mom taught me to be patient - she did raise 8 kids – as well as strong and dedicated. They both taught me the value of faith and instilled Christian values in me from the beginning.”

When Fran (photo right) became old enough, he stopped working for the family business at “family pay” and went to work in the grocery business, which kept him employed all through high school and college. He worked in many positions and many departments, including the meat department, bakery, and produce. By the time he left the grocery business, he was the assistant store manager and held a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from the University of Mary.

Fran’s next career move was in the food brokerage business – which, unexpectedly and completely by accident, led him to his first job with a credit union. Working for a brokerage company based in Fargo, Fran was newly married with a baby and living in Flasher, North Dakota. Unexpectedly, he was part of a staff reduction – not a good position for a young father. There was, however, a job opening for the manager position at Flasher Community Credit Union. This was a stroke of luck for Fran in two ways: first, it led him into the credit union industry; and second, as he put it, there just “weren’t many job openings in Flasher in those days.” Fran jokes that he was the board’s second choice – but the rest, as they say, is history.

If you have been following the CEO Spotlight series, you may remember the interview with Darla Schafer, who mentioned that she was serving on the board of directors at Flasher CCU when Fran was the manager there. (When Fran left for his next job in 1993, Darla accepted the manager position, which she still holds today.)

Following his experience at Flasher, Fran’s next job was with Community 1st FCU in Miles City, Montana, where he worked from 1993 to 2005. Next, Fran made the move to Pueblo, Colorado, where he worked at Power Credit Union from 2005 to 2009. Each time he moved to a new credit union, he gained valuable experience and knowledge – which led him to his current position, CEO of Sioux Falls Federal Credit Union in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Sioux Falls FCU was chartered in 1934 as the Sioux Falls U.S. Employees Federal Credit Union. The credit union served the U.S. Postal Service and Government employees and their immediate family members. The original one-room office was managed entirely by volunteer members, and was located in the old Post Office – which is now the Federal Building. In 1974, the credit union expanded its field of membership to include the EROS Data Center. Now, they were in a larger two-room office, and had a staff of two full-time, and two part-time employees. The credit union began to grow rapidly, and by 1981, they were over $5M in assets.

Growth continued – and the location changed again in 1982, when the credit union moved to 412 S. First Avenue. The Sioux Falls Teachers CU merged in 1982, and at this time, the name was changed to Sioux Falls Federal Credit Union. Later in 1982, the Central Plains Clinic was added to the field of membership, along with the Harrisburg School System and the Blue Shield Office. By 1984, the credit union was at $9.6M with 12 employees. More expansion occurred when the Sioux Valley Medical FCU merged, bringing assets to a nice even $10M.

In 1989, SFFCU moved into a newly constructed building at 700 E 14th Street, and the Southwest Branch at 5107 W. 41st St was opened in 1992. In 1998, the credit union changed to a community charter, and shortly after, purchased land for a permanent branch office in the southwest part of Sioux Falls – the Meadows on the River Branch. In 2001, the credit union opened the South Cliff Branch, and the Arrowhead Branch opened in 2010. Finally, Air Guard Federal Credit Union merged in 2013 adding one more location. The South Louise Branch was opened in May of 2017, bringing the count to 6 branches plus an administration office in the Sioux Falls area.  

Today, the credit union has 113 employees, all working toward the vision of “Helping People Live Better.” Fran has been leading the group for the past eight years, since 2009. “The best thing that happened to me was getting started in the industry, even if it was by accident,” says Sommerfeld. “It didn’t take long to find my passion and love for what credit unions do each and every day. It’s a true blessing to have a love for what credit unions represent,” he added.

Fran particularly enjoys the collaboration and the shared values of the industry, and names several key players that helped him along his career path. Ron Lindeman, former president/CEO at Capital CU, helped Fran when he was first getting started in the industry. “Capital was one of the ‘big’ credit unions, but Ron always had time to listen, provide guidance and answer the many questions I had. He always made me feel welcome, and we had many visits in his office,” he recalled. Another influential force was Galen DeBey, who worked as a consultant at the North Dakota Credit Union League. “Galen spent many hours mentoring and teaching me about the credit union industry.” And finally, Fran even names a former examiner, Jim Laidlaw, as a positive force. “Jim was a credit union examiner for the state of North Dakota. While he was a tough examiner, he believed in me, and always had time to answer my questions, and offer an opinion. He gave me the confidence to believe I could do the job.”

Doing the job – and doing it well. Fran not only leads a large and successful credit union, he gives his time to help serve the greater credit union community as well. He currently serves on the CUNA CU Powers Sub-committee, which provides feedback to CUNA staff on pending legislative and regulatory proposals affecting credit unions. He is also a member of the Federal Reserve Bank Community Depository Institution Advisory Council. His past volunteer work includes serving on the Montana Credit Union League Board of Directors, MT Credit Union League GAC Chair, MT Credit Union League Chapter Board, the Colorado CU League GAC Committee, and the State of Montana Board for the March of Dimes. He is actively involved with Feeding South Dakota, has taught in the classroom for Junior Achievement, acted as a strategic planning facilitator for adult literacy with REACH, and has volunteered with a music ministry, the March of Dimes, and Operation Paintbrush, to name a few. Fran is also a graduate of CUNA Management School, and is a Certified Credit Union Executive (CCUE).
On a personal note, Fran has been married to his “amazing and patient wife”, Gail, for 28 years. She is the VP of Mission at Avera Health in Sioux Falls. They have two children. Their son, Matthew, is the airport manager at Brookings Airport. He is married to Shelly, who is an administrative assistant at Daktronics, and they have blessed Fran and Gail with their first granddaughter, Kinlee, who is 5 months old. The Sommerfeld’s daughter, Emily, is entering her senior year at University of South Dakota, studying nursing. She works as a patient care tech in the ICU at Avera McKennan Hospital.

When Fran is not working, he enjoys golf, fishing, and admits to taking many naps on the weekends. You might be surprised to learn that, like his father, Fran has a musical side. In fact, his first semester of college, he was a music major. Once, he even starred as Snoopy in a musical at Mary College! His love of music started at a very young age, and he can remember carrying his guitar home from school in the second grade – and paying the price when a gang of bullies made sport of him.

Like his father, he was self-taught, playing by ear. By high school, he participated in band and choir and received some training, but he says he never really learned to read music very well. Still, that didn’t stop him from learning to play multiple instruments; besides the guitar, Fran learned to play many brass and some percussion instruments - including the triangle! In college, he sang and played at a few weddings to make extra money, and was even in a rock band for a short stint.

Today, the one instrument that Fran continues to play is the guitar. While he has changed his address, his career, and his college major, one constant in his life has been his love of music. Through high school, college, and still today, he continues to be involved with his church’s music programs. He is currently part of an amazing group called the “Jubilation Singers.” And he says, modestly, that he is an average guitar player with an average voice – but it’s never really been more than a hobby for him. That’s worked out well for the credit union industry, where his talents are being put to good use!