Throw out the movie and television depictions of bankers as staid and boring.  Bankers are people just like you and come from all walks of life.  Meet some Minnesota bankers as they share their stories...

Chelsie F. - Enterprise Risk Management

I am Chelsie Forys. I live in St. Paul with my husband, our three kids (6, 9 & 11 years old) and our dog Moose. I work in Enterprise Risk Management and Compliance for Sunrise Banks. Working at a bank with a community focused mission is very important to me. 

Growing up I played many sports, one of my favorites was hockey. I started skating when I was three years old and played through high school, but Wayne Gretzky I am not. Now as an adult I have transitioned from being a player to being the coach. This past season was great! I coached my youngest child’s Mini-Mite team and also, my middle child’s Mite B team. It is an incredible joy to see how much the kids grow over the 5-month season. It is rewarding to see their smiling faces as they make passes, score goals and master skills like crossovers, backwards skating or even just stopping without falling over.

Outside of work I stay pretty busy volunteering at my local food shelf, exercising and spending time at my family cabin. 

 

Vanessa M. - Branch Administration

Hello! I am Vanessa Mauer. I’ve been in the banking world for about 10 years now. I work for BankCherokee (BC) in St. Paul and hold the current title of Branch Administration and Training Officer. Which means, I get to do a little bit of everything and work with every department in our bank. My days are definitely never the same and go really fast! 

Prior to what I currently do and where I currently am, I worked with MidWestOne (MWO) bank, FKA Central Bank for about 8 years. I started as a PT teller, worked my way up to a Retail Manager, and dabbled in some training and working with the Learning and Development department. Between MWO and BC, I took less than a year off to be home with my kiddos (we went from 1 to 3 kids!) and to focus on my Masters of Business Administration (which I happily completed in Spring 2019!).

Outside of work I love being with my family; my husband and three kids (6, 3, 3) doing anything that we find fun, especially if it gets us outside. But when I get some “me” time, my favorite thing to do is play softball (and I love gym volleyball too, but summertime outside….can’t beat it!). I have been playing the sport since my single digits days and I love being outside and playing with my friends. And who doesn’t like winning?!....I may be a little competitive. I also met my husband playing the sport, so it holds even more of a special place in my heart. I play co-ed and I also play on a couple of all women teams. I typically play league ball and a couple of tournaments at the end of the summer. I try to soak it all in, every season, as I know my time will soon come to an end as my kids start to enter their own world of extracurricular activities. Then I will become a cheerleader. 😊
 

Chris O. - Retail Manager

Hello. My name is Chris Owen and I am a Retail Manager for Deerwood Bank in Waite Park, Minnesota. My role is to oversee the retail banking department for my branch. What I love most about my job is the daily interactions I have with our great customers. It could be opening a new checking account for a prospective customer or helping someone get their first car loan. Either way, it brings me joy to help them and have them walk away feeling better for speaking with me that day. I started working as a teller after I graduated college and worked my way into a management role with a smaller bank. This allowed me to wear many hats in the banking world and allowed me to see what happens in all different departments. The reason I like retail banking is the one-on-one conversations I get to have with customers that truly shapes how we help and provide for the community. 

Outside of my time at the bank, I have become much more involved with charity events and tried to incorporate my family in these events as well. In 2019 I was asked to be part of “Dancing with our Stars” community event that was looking for local “Stars” to partner with local dancers and perform a dance routine all to benefit Woman and children in the local area by partnering with a local charity (Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central MN). Having a wife and a daughter, this seemed like something I had to do, even if it was outside of my comfort zone. This was also a great way to generate funds for local charities. For the next 8 months I had to learn how to ballroom dance and perform in front of the community. It slowly became something I looked forward to and can say that I may have even liked it! 

After participating in the event it taught me that there wasn’t really much I cant do, if I put my mind to it. This has translated into banking by allowing me to take a bigger role during a core conversion and spearheading any changes I would like to see from a corporate level. Since the event I have been involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central MN and have since been asked to be on their advancement committee.

The term “Banker” tends to have many different meanings and opens doors to plenty of other avenues but for me, the most important was having community involvement. For all that being a banker has brought me and my family, I can say that I am proud to be a Banker.
 

Matt M. - Credit Analyst

Hello, I’m Matt Meier, Credit Analyst for Star Bank. As a Credit Analyst I help support our lending department by assisting in analyzing commercial and agriculture loans. 
Each day is not like the other, just like not one business, person or loan request is the same. This makes each new day exciting and interesting as sometimes you don’t know what you will be working on or who you will be working with. As an analyst, I look at a lot of financials & reports such as tax returns & balance sheets to analyze potential risk associated with the loan request.
What I enjoy the most is that I get to work with and help my coworkers each & every day which helps build a strong team and overall contributing to building a strong foundation for the bank.

I have been in the banking industry for 10 plus years and have seen many benefits of building your career in the banking industry. I started as a teller to being a customer service representative and opening accounts to moving into consumer, agriculture & commercial lending. Each position in my banking career has always led to something greater and each has prepared me for the next advancement. 

My personal life is blessed with my wife of 8 years, 1-year old son and our dog Wallace.
We enjoy everything as a family whether it’s enjoying the outdoors, going to the renaissance fair or exercising our competitive side while playing cards & board games.
 

Adam D. - President/CEO

As a high school sophomore, Adam Dittrich embarked on his banking career by doing part-time odd jobs, wrapping coins, and shredding documents at Americana Community Bank in Sleepy Eye. It was a job he kept throughout college, transitioning from Teller to IT (including managing the bank’s conversion from dumb terminals to area networks) to starting the finance department at Americana shortly after graduating from Augsburg University. He became President/CEO in 2008.  

While Adam has thus far spent his entire 24-year banking career at Americana Community Bank, banking is just one of his passions.  It was another, baseball, that ultimately led to Adam’s second career as owner of Crusher Fitness + Health in Waconia. He found that as he got older, his body was having a difficult time keeping up with the demands of adult amateur baseball. After trying a bunch of different workouts, he gave Cross Fit a shot and found his magic bullet.  

Buoyed by his results, Adam began to share the workouts with his baseball teammates, then with their wives, and then with friends and family, eventually taking over a corner of the Victoria fieldhouse for group training sessions. Now wholly hooked, Adam earned his Cross Fit training certification and told his wife he wanted to start a gym.  He’s not sure she really took him seriously, as this was right in the middle of the great recession and they were dealing with a lot of stress and sleepless nights. Like many community banks at this time, Americana was struggling and according to Adam, it came as close to not surviving as any bank that did survive. Adam found that during this time of incredible pressure and anxiety, working out cleared his brain and allowed him to shut it off for an hour a day. Cross Fit kept his body and mind healthy and this convinced Adam more than ever that he wanted to share what he had learned. 

Eventually Adam located a foreclosure property in Waconia. He recruited a friend’s wife to run the gym and along with a group of friends and family, did all the demo and rehab. In December of 2013, they opened Crusher Cross Fit*. The name Crusher is very special to Adam. Crusher was the nickname of his nephew Lucas who tragically passed away in an accident at the age of 18. Adam says, “Crusher loved life. He gave it his all at everything he did, work or play. He loved large. Crusher was a big kid who put others in front of himself and didn’t let anyone pick on ‘his’ people. That is how he earned his nickname (along with some resemblance to the former wrestler), but he was also much more than that.” Crusher continues to inspire Adam to be his best self every day.  

Nowadays, Adam doesn’t work a lot in the business of the gym, but he embraces being present, teaching youth classes, and being part of the Waconia community. In this way, he sees the parallels to his day job at the bank where he gets to help people and businesses and see the positive impact they have on their communities. When he’s not at the bank or the gym, Adam enjoys time with his wife Jody and their four children. 

*Adam dropped Cross Fit from the name earlier this year in response to controversial statements made by the (now former) owner of the Cross Fit corporate brand. While Crusher Health +Fitness embraces and teaches the Cross Fit methodology, they are not a franchise.  

Denise T. - VP Regional Market Manager

My name is Denise Toussaint. I work for Sunrise Banks as VP Regional Market Manager. In this role I co-manage the Retail side of the bank and oversee Branch Managers, Teller Managers and a Retail SME. My career consists of 25+ years in Retail Banking and Lending. 

I began my banking career in 1993 as a teller for Norwest Bank, now Wells Fargo. Banking was very different back then. I remember as a teller working in the Drive Up and the lines being 10-15 cars deep, the lines in the lobby were even worse. In those days direct deposit was not popular, so everyone drove to the bank to make a deposit and cash their checks. The days flew by and we counted our money by hand, a cash counter was a luxury. 
The highlight of my career was getting a job at Midway Bank in 1999, which was located on the corner of Snelling and University in the Midway area of St. Paul. I started out as a Loan Assistant and moved on to become a Retail Banker, Supervisor and Regional Manager. 

Outside of work I love the outdoors in the summer, going for walks with our German Shepard Max-a-million, gardening or even just sitting in the backyard. My husband owns a Harley Davidson Motorcycle, and I enjoy going on rides with him. Three years ago, I obtained my own license to ride but prefer to ride as a passenger with my husband. I love the long rides on the back roads in the country and stopping at the small restaurants in Wisconsin for Cheese Curds. All these things are rewarding because the experience is peaceful, relaxing and gives me a sense of freedom. 

I can honestly say that once you really embrace the Banking Industry it can be rewarding and a lifelong career.

Kevin P. - Senior VP - Treasury Management

Hello, I’m Kevin Pleasant. I started my banking career 31 years ago at the bottom of the corporate ladder. My first job was as an administrative assistant in the Trust department for Richfield Bank & Trust Co. I eventually worked my way up to a Trust Officer position before leaving the department to join the commercial banking team in a role created just for me – Civic Banking. My time in this role was cut short due to an acquisition by M&I Bank. It was with M&I that I was given the opportunity to become a treasury management salesperson and I have remained in this field in various sales, sales management, and project management roles with M&I Bank, BMO Harris Bank, and for the last four years, MidwestOne Bank. No wonder I like marathons; this career of mine has been a marathon run and not a sprint!

Like so many others, I love to run. I took up running later in life and I was in my mid-thirties when I took it to an extreme and became a marathon runner, all 6 foot, 4 inches and 230 pounds of me. I’ve always been very involved in athletics, mostly team sports. But as my twins, Trent and Taylor, were growing up I found that difficult to continue. So, running seemed like a natural outlet for me to continue to get my athletic fix and balance the needs of my family. Two decades later, I continue to run and enjoy the health benefits of this form of exercise. These days, my race of choice is a much shorter 5k where at the end of the run my reward is a craft beer - cheers!

Last year, I made my professional acting debut for the employee recruitment video for MidWestOne Bank. (Check it out https://www.midwestone.bank/careers) My agent, RJ Lang, head of mortgage banking, did all of the negotiating and luckily my schedule was open. Okay, the real reason was they asked me. For some reason they thought I was natural choice for the role, maybe this should be my new “side hustle”!

I learned that acting is exhausting work. I practiced my lines 20 or 30 times right up to the time of my “performance”. From that experience, I gained a new respect for those that have a gift for that profession. It was also a good reminder of how important it is to do my homework and be prepared for anything that may come my way. Practice is synonymous with preparation. This is especially true today where more and more transactions are taking place digitally. Human connections are sought out by customers during those critical moments in time when technology alone cannot create a solution or solve an issue that is unique to that individual or company. As bankers, we must be ready to perform at all times!

Alissa H. - Digital Product Manager

I’m Alissa Hultman, Digital Product Manager for Star Bank, a customer-focused community bank with 10 locations throughout Minnesota. As the Digital Product Manager, I am responsible for all things digital, including our website, online banking, mobile banking, and other digital products.

My day at the bank is never the same—and I love that! One day you might find me troubleshooting customer issues and researching industry trends and the next day I might be planning a community event and creating graphics for the website. That’s what is so great about working for a community bank! There are many opportunities to work on a diverse range of projects. As a right-brained individual with a marketing degree, I never imagined myself as a banker. But I’m so glad that the path of life has led me here. Banking is one of those rare industries that are so intertwined in the fabric of the community. As bankers, we’re able to support local business and help our customers attain their financial goals, but our reach goes far beyond that. You’ll find us helping clean up parks, raising funds for local food shelves, or rooting for the home team as we volunteer at the local baseball tournament. We love supporting our family, friends, and neighbors!

When I take my banker hat off, I go home and put my gardening gloves on. My front yard is more garden than grass. I wouldn’t say I have a green thumb under those gloves, but it brings me great joy to soak up the short summer months admiring my plants and pulling weeds. When I’m not covered in dirt from my garden I love reeling in walleye at my cabin in northern Minnesota. There’s nothing better than a walleye dinner fresh from the lake! Fishing opener is my favorite day of the year, maybe only second to the Minnesota State Fair. Having my portrait made from seed art is definitely on my bucket list. It’s right up there next to having my likeness carved into a huge block of butter. A girl can dream, right?

Eric G. - Commercial Loan Officer

I’m Eric Guttormson, Commercial Loan Officer with Sunrise Banks. I studied music for 15 years and earned a bachelor’s degree in cello performance before starting a career in banking. As I grow as a banker, I continually realize how much studying music prepared me for my career including discipline, preparedness, clear communication, and meaningful connections. 

Music on the page follows a set of rules including key signature, time signature, tempo markings, and notes based on five lines per row, called a staff. There are many types of music, but they all follow musical form when written on a page. I found a meaningful connection to the way accounting principles are used to form a balance sheet and income statement. Regardless of the business, financial statements follow a similar set of rules. The knowledge and interpretation of those rules, whether music or accounting, is a discipline.

I remember well that looking at a written piece of music for the first time was overwhelming. Practicing taught me to break down the information into smaller sections or even just a few notes at a time before playing the piece of music from beginning to end. In the same way, starting a new credit presentation as a credit analyst or discussing a complex loan request with a potential borrower was too much information to take in all at the same time. Learning to compartmentalize information into smaller sections made credit presentations or lending discussions move with more ease and efficiency. 

I showed little natural ability in music early on. In fact, I was so far behind with technique and musical skills, I needed extra lessons in order to stay in the school orchestra. It was in one-on-one lessons that sparked my willingness to develop technique and skills necessary to excel. A series of inspirational teachers including a Catholic Nun, a Computer Programmer with IBM and avid Surfer, Soviet Defector, and Mennonite imparted their discipline and connection to the cello. My connections in music ultimately led me into new opportunities including a full-ride scholarship to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a seat in the cello section of the Pan American Symphony Orchestra in Washington DC. 

I am unlikely to receive applause or standing ovations as a banker, but the job requires just as much discipline, preparedness, communication, and strong connections to make good lending decisions and lasting relationships. 

Mel H. - IT Operations Officer

Hello! My name is Mel Haats and I have worked at Lake Region Bank in Willmar & New London for nearly 35 years.  I started as Real Estate Loan Processor in the Mortgage Department.  Since then I have held many titles including Mortgage Loan Originator, Consumer Lender, Y2K Coordinator, Cashier, and Operations Officer. Currently I’m the IT/Operations Officer & Consumer Servicers Manager.  Yes, I have just about done it all! I am incredibly grateful to Paul and Clark Vollan, the owners of Lake Region Bank, for the opportunities they have provided me to grow alongside the bank and to continuously learn new skills.  While anything related to real estate lending will always be my favorite area of the bank, working in IT and operations is definitely interesting and rewarding.  In my current position, my job is to make sure everyone else can do their jobs as efficiently as possible.  Our department also works hard to be sure our customers have a great experience banking with us, both inside the bank and digitally. 

Outside of work, I enjoy gardening, sewing, knitting & crocheting, hiking, biking, and camping - the list goes on and on! I’m generally game for just about anything that involves having a new experience and spending time with my family and friends.  My husband of 37 years and I have three grown children who have added three wonderful spouses to the family as well as five grandchildren and several “grandpets”. Family is truly my great joy.  

Having worked outside the home full time while our kids were growing up, I know how much time and energy it takes to manage a career while also scheduling daycare, helping with homework, shuttling kids to activities, and even just cooking dinner some days!  As such, I am so happy to see employers moving towards more flexible and work from home schedules whenever possible.  I am also very pleased that more women are moving into the IT and operations management sectors.  Banking is a great place to use those skills that get honed raising a family; just like at home, it takes communication, organization and a calendar to keep everyone headed the same direction!

Jeff W. - Fraud Specialist

Meet Jeff Williams. Jeff is a Fraud Specialist in the customer service department at Citizens Independent Bank in St. Louis Park. Fairly new to the banking industry, Jeff worked in sales prior to becoming a teller at the bank’s Robbinsdale branch in early 2019. A self-described helper, he says the most rewarding aspect of working in sales and now, as a banker, is finding the answers and solutions to customers’ problems. In Jeff’s words, “it all leads back to working with and helping people”.

Outside the bank, Jeff relishes time spent with his family, including his parents, older sister and eight-year-old daughter.  It was his older sister, in fact, that introduced Jeff to one of his great passions in life, electronic dance music (EDM). He was 14 when she brought him to First Avenue’s famed Sunday Night Dance Party and it was love at first sound. Now, years later, he’s on the other side of the turntable as an aspiring DJ.

Jeff’s new creative outlet began when he found a mixer controller on sale. A mixer allows a DJ to blend together multiple pieces of music, creating a cohesive mix, while the controller offers the playback tool. Jeff has been dabbling (his words) for a couple of years and has created dozens of mixes. While he’s still practicing and working up the nerve to perform live, he is having a ton of fun putting mixes together. Jeff loves to dance to EDM himself and he creates each mix with one question in mind – would it make him dance? He doesn’t just choose songs he likes; he focuses on creating an environment for others to dance. He believes that when people listen and move to music they enjoy, it takes them to another place, another world, where they can let go of insecurity, feel free, and just enjoy life for a while.

Jeff hopes that his hobby may someday turn into a paid gig, but until he’s ready to face the music (no pun intended) and jump into live performing, he’s happy to be creating something that others enjoy and that hopefully inspires them to just dance. He won’t be giving up his career in banking though.

Jeff admits that while he was excited to make the career switch and join Citizens Independent Bank, he didn’t realize at the time just how fortunate he was. He considers himself extremely lucky to have a job with a bank that cares so much about its employee and about the communities it serves. He’s doing all he can during this incredibly tough time to give his customers the best service possible, to connect with them personally, and to give them the human interaction they may not be have right now. His connections may be small, but he knows they hold so much more meaning now than a few months ago. And that’s his message to his fellow bankers, “personalize it, pass along that grateful feeling to other people”. Jeff concludes “It may sound cheesy, but right now we need all cheesy and positivity we can get!” 

Ready to dance? You can find a few of Jeff’s mixes at soundcloud.com/funky-chuck

Barry B. - Vice President

Barry Belknap, Vice President at Harvest Bank in Kimball, didn’t set out to be a banker. Raised on a family farm in the tiny southern Minnesota town of Ceylon, Barry planned to return to the farm after he completed a degree in business at Drake University.  But as it happens, those plans changed, and Barry spent the first several years of his career working as a financial analyst before meeting his future wife and embarking on a brand-new adventure as a Foreign Service Officer (FSO) with the U.S. Department of State.  Foreign Service Officers are a part of the official diplomatic track of the U.S. State and are the “face” of our country while overseas. The mission of a U.S. diplomat in the Foreign Service is to promote peace, support prosperity, and protect American citizens while advancing the interests of the U.S. abroad.* Barry compares the experience to being a small-town banker in that you do a hundred different jobs, all while interacting with the local community and building trusting relationships. 

Barry’s first assignment was in Georgetown, Guyana where he was a Consular Officer focused on applying U.S. immigration law in adjudicating visa applications and fighting immigration fraud. Living in a poor country like Guyana was a tremendous perspective builder, allowing Barry to gain an understanding how much of the world operates. He recalls fondly how warm and friendly the local people were during his travels around South America. 

The next stop in Barry’s journey was Frankfurt, Germany as Political/Economic Officer focused on financial developments in the Eurozone, as well as political and economic issues in SW Germany. Frankfurt is the home to the European Central Bank as well as the German Central Bank. This afforded Barry a front row seat during the European financial crisis and a chance to watch and meet with these bankers as they wrestled with very difficult challenges.  During this time, Barry felt very fortunate to work with Phil Murphy, the current governor of New Jersey who was the German ambassador at the time. 

The time spent as an FSO has served Barry well in his banking career as a loan officer at Harvest Bank. He credits the experience with giving him a broad perspective and insight into how financial decisions are made. Barry also references Edward Murrow’s quote, “The real crucial link in the international exchange is the last three feet, which is bridged by personal contact, one person talking to another.” in understanding that face to face, personal interaction is what is truly important; something that those in the community banking space inherently know. 

In his free time, Barry and his wife are parents to four active kids, aged 3 to 11. He enjoys running, biking, and being on the lake. And of course, he still has the travel bug, venturing out into the world whenever he can.

Ashley R. - Branch Manager

My name is Ashley Renollet and I work for United Community Bank as the Branch Manager and Loan Officer in their Frazee location. Growing up just outside of Frazee, MN, I never imagined that I would continue on in my hometown having the opportunity to make a difference in my community. My career started with UCB as a dare and a challenge. As most people who know me would say, “Just dare Ashley… she’ll try anything!” When I was 15 years old a friend that worked at the bank told me how hard it was to be a teller and that I wouldn’t ever be able to do it. My immediate response was “how hard could it be to count money?” The dare was accepted and the rest is history. Throughout the rest of high school I continued to work as a student teller discovering that being a teller was so much more than “just counting money”.

After graduation, I moved to Wisconsin to pursue my dream job of becoming a taxidermist. I know, taxidermist to banker, strange concept. Once returning from Wisconsin, I was offered a full time position as a teller.  After expressing an interest in becoming a more versatile member of the team, I was introduced to personal banking and lending. That led into the assistant branch manager position and now the branch manager position that I hold now. The most rewarding part of working through the positions was truly growing with our customers and coworkers.

Outside of work, when I’m not volunteering in various community activities and projects, I can be found enjoying the outdoors. Growing up in lakes country has given me an appreciation for the outdoors all year round. I am an avid hunter, love fishing and spearing, snowshoeing, ice-skating, ATV riding, camping with family, and exploring backcountry roads and road trips in my Jeep. My passion for hunting began when I was 10 years old, grouse hunting on my parents’ property. Around this same time is when the dream for being a taxidermist came into play. Now, on that same property I’m continually creating and maintaining trails and food plots.

Because of my love for the outdoors, I swore I would never have a 9-5 desk job. As I’m sitting here, behind my desk typing, I couldn’t even imagine how different my career path could have been, but thankful it lead down this back road!