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Consumer Blog

The 32 Leading Women of Credit Unions in Montana

March 8, 2018 5:39 pm

The credit union industry has long been a pioneer in championing women in leadership positions. CUNA reports that 57% of credit union CEOs overall are women which means that credit unions in the United States have a much higher percentage of female CEOs than other institutions and industries. In fact, according to Feigen Advisors’ 2015 New CEO Report, only 4% of CEOs at S&P 500 Companies are women.

And it’s not only in leadership that women shine. Seventy percent of credit union employees in the United States are women, which also exceeds the standard in other industries for female representation.

The landscape is no different in Montana. Women are at the helm in 32 of the 51 credit unions in the state. They are a diverse group with many ages and years of experience, a testament to the credit union industry’s support and investment in helping women climb the ladder.

In celebration of International Women’s Day today and Women’s History Month, we wanted to honor these 32 leaders by telling a few of their stories and spotlighting the achievements of their credit union legacy.


Darla J. Card

CEO of Valley Federal Credit Union


Darla began her financial career right out of college, serving for three years as a Finance Specialist in the Army. From there, civilian life took her to the world of banking, where she worked for 32 years in commercial banks as she worked her way up the corporate ladder.  Secretary, Teller, Customer Service, Personal Banking Manager, VP Card Services, SVP Marketing, Operations Manager and VP Cash/Treasury Management were some of the many roles she filled before being recruited into the credit union world.

Valley FCU hired Darla in February 2009 to review all their products and services, do a cost/profitability analysis, and oversee all retail functions. During the past nine years, she has taken on several roles and responsibilities that ultimately led to Darla becoming the first female CEO for Valley Federal Credit Union in November 2014.

Of her career, Darla says, “I take this position very seriously and with a great deal of pride knowing in my heart what it took to get here. As CEO, I expect to be informed on all aspects of what we do every day for our members, but definitely believe that “it takes a village.” I have the utmost faith in our staff and our leaders to make decisions in the best interests of the credit union and our members. This is probably the most intense position I have ever had, but I consider it a privilege to serve in this role, doing what I love and loving what I do!”



Sydney Elvbakken

Manager of Homestead Federal Credit Union


At 19, Sydney knew nothing about credit unions, but she fell in love with the people, their stories, their lives, and the ability to help them through the credit union difference. Credit unions became her passion.

Sydney started at Homestead FCU as a receptionist/teller, answering phones, helping members with simple transactions, and building a rapport with them. She learned what a credit union truly means to the people they serve and wanted to be a bigger part of the movement.

From there, Sydney took every opportunity to take on more — learning lending inside and out, shouldering larger roles with vendors, implementing policies, and updating how Homestead FCU did business.

Sydney says “The greatest honor in my career is being the manager of Homestead FCU.  I have had the amazing opportunity to graduate from Western CUNA Management School in 2016 and “crash” the GAC and the ACUC.  I am always so blown away by the incredible people in our movement!”



Deb Evans

President/CEO of Embark Credit Union


Deb is an Iowa native with more than 37 years of experience with credit unions, banking, and insurance, having a long career with Norwest Corporation in Omaha and Montana. Deb graduated with a BS/BA in Finance from the University of Nebraska and also graduated from the Executive Development Program at Pacific Coast Banking School at the University of Washington.

Deb is very active in the Great Falls community, serving on the boards of United Way of Cascade County, American Red Cross, Great Falls Symphony Association, University of Great Falls, and the Great Falls Development Authority. She is also currently serving on the Great Falls International Airport Authority.  She has volunteered for many organizations including RSVP Commodity Food Program and the Rescue Mission.

In 2006, she received the Chamber’s Athena Leadership Award and she was recognized as the Montana Credit Union Professional of the Year in 2017.



Leslie Womack

President/CEO of Montana Educators’ Credit Union


Leslie began her career as a teller at U of M FCU in 1980.  That credit union merged with Missoula FCU a year later and saw Leslie working there as a Loan Officer, Senior Loan Officer, Marketing Director, and VP of Service and Support. In 1996 she and three others formed the Montana Educators’ CU, the only credit union chartered in the state since 1963. Leslie became president and CEO in 1999 and has served on Montana’s Credit Union board of directors since 2014, where she represents credit unions with a membership under 3,000.

Leslie graduated from the University of Montana with a BA in Journalism in 1979 and is an avid Grizzly Football fan.  She and her husband Bob are proud parents of three and grandparents of five.



Rhonda Diefenderfer

President/CEO of Altana Federal Credit Union


With nearly 40 years of experience in the financial services sector, Rhonda has brought a wealth of knowledge to Altana FCU for the past 25 years. For 16 years, she’s held the position of President/CEO, growing the credit union from $56 million in assets to $246 million and expanding the credit union to include over 80 employees serving members across seven branches and counties.

During her tenure, Rhonda has been actively involved at the local, state, and national level, serving on the Treasure State Corporate Credit Union Board of Directors, the CUsource Board of Directors, and CULAC committees (including the Executive Committee). She is currently serving on the Montana Credit Union League board and as a Trustee for the Montana Credit Union Health Insurance Trust.

In 2011 she was recognized as the Montana Credit Union Professional of the Year.



Lindsay Beaty

President/CEO of Lincoln County Credit Union


Lindsay has been fortunate to work with members in a variety of roles at Lincoln County CU over the past 11 years. In June 2007, she left her position as a bank teller to come and work for the credit union full-time where she went on to work as a Lead Teller, Operations Manager, Collections, Lending, VP of Operations, and EVP.

In January 2017, Chari Lucas, who had been President/CEO of Lincoln County CU for 29, reached retirement. Chari saw the potential in Lindsay and gave her the opportunity to step into the role of President/CEO.

Prior to working at Lincoln County CU, Lindsay had been in the financial industry since she was a senior in high school.  She is a mother of three children (aged 6, 9, and 11) and is happily married to her supportive husband of 14 years.

In her spare time, Lindsay enjoys participating in Spartan races, volleyball, and outdoor activities.



Kathy Briggs

CEO of Family First Federal Credit Union


Kathy received her bachelor’s degree from Washington University in St Louis in Planetary Science with a quantum physics minor. She had planned to work for NASA, but moved to Montana to marry her college sweetheart. Discovering that Montana had a serious lack of jobs in planetary imaging, she changed her career field to credit unions.

Starting with a job as a part-time teller, Kathy became the accounting supervisor and eventually assistant manager of a local credit union.  In March of 1986, she accepted the position of manager of Family First FCU (formerly Health FCU).

For the last 32 years, Kathy has led the credit union through countless changes — from relatively simple things (like new services and loan products) to the more complicated (like multiple data processing conversions), along with the endless regulatory compliance changes. Her passion for the cooperative business model of credit unions and the ability to make a positive difference in the lives of the credit union’s member-owners has been the core of her professional life.

Kathy has been married to Joe Briggs, Cascade County commissioner, for over 36 years and has two grown children. Her daughter Jessica is an author and works at United Way with the RSVP program. Her son James is a high school English teacher.



Darci Parsons

President/CEO of Ravalli County Federal Credit Union


Native Montanan Darci has been in banking for the past 18 years and in the credit union industry for the last 6 ½ years.  She’s passionate about the credit union philosophy of “people helping people” and feels fortunate to be part of such a wonderful organization and movement.  She is happily married to her husband Ronnie Parsons, with whom she has two wonderful children: Desiree and Daniel, who are both enrolled at the University of Montana (go Griz!). Darci also currently serves as a director for the Ravalli County Chamber of Commerce.







Emily Guldborg

Manager of McCone County Federal Credit Union


Emily has been with McCone County FCU for 11 years but originally learned about the credit union movement while working part-time at Missoula FCU while obtaining her MA in Resource Conservation from the University of Montana.

She loves to talk about the importance of cooperatives in rural America and the difference that they can make in keeping small towns vibrant and alive.

Emily lives on a family farm and ranch in Brockway, Montana, with her husband and two kids.







Shelly Stovern

CEO/Manager of Wolf Point Federal Credit Union


Shelly was born and raised in Wolf Point, Montana, and has been married to her husband Eugene since 1993. They have two sons, James 23 and Jesse 21. The Stovern family has grown to include daughter-in-law Kaileen and granddaughter Emma Grace. The credit union world has been a large part of all of their lives.





Annamarie DeYoung

President/CEO of Sky Federal Credit Union


Annamarie started her career at Sky Federal Credit Union in 1982 and was hired as President/CEO in April of 1997. She’s been leading the charge ever since.








Eileen Whalen

Manager of Northern Montana Hospital Federal Credit Union


Eileen has been with NMHFCU for just over one year, working with the board on their investment and financial training.











Connie McNamara

Manager of Northwestern Energy Employees Federal Credit Union


Debbie McConaughey

Manager of MM Employees Federal Credit Union


Debbie Pedersen

Manager/CEO of Shelby Community Federal Credit Union


Janice Lehman

President/CEO of SEG Federal Credit Union


Jeanine Blehm

Manager of Big Sky Federal Credit Union


Joann Jenkins

Manager of Tricounty Federal Credit Union


Karen Mandic

Manager of Butte Community Federal Credit Union


Kathy Transue

President/CEO of Bitterroot Community Federal Credit Union


Kristy Sokolich

President/CEO of Mile High Federal Credit Union


Leah Salazar

Manager of Mountain West Federal Credit Union


Michelle Sickler

Manager of MDU Employees Federal Credit Union


Peggy Davis

Deer Lodge County School Employees FCU


Sheila Brown

Manager of Miles City Federal Credit Union


Shiloh Smeltzer

President/CEO of Badlands FCU


Silvia Davis

Manager of St. Pat’s Employees Federal Credit Union


Suzy Russell

Manager of Froid Federal Credit Union


Tammy Hatfield

President/CEO of High Peaks Federal Credit Union


Jenifer Knutson

President/CEO of Glendive BN Federal Credit Union


Julie Post

Chairman and Interim Manager, Fallon County Federal Credit Union


Betty Willman

CEO Manager, Kootenai Valley Federal Credit Union

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