In the Spotlight: Meet Shelby Gondzar
by Shawn Marie Brummer
Communications & Media Specialist

Following in her mother’s footsteps, Shelby Gondzar was brought into the world of credit unions at a very young age. Shelby’s mom is Angie Cumbee, who recently retired from Dakota Rail Line FCU. Prior to that, Angie had been the CEO of Rushmore Electric Federal Credit Union when Shelby was still in middle school. Shelby truly enjoyed spending time with her mom at work, where she would help with shredding, putting together new member packets, and assembling board packets and getting them ready to be mailed.

“I was attached to my mom’s hip so I loved it when I got to go to work with her,” Shelby recalled. “When she would let me do these important tasks, I really enjoyed it!”

Growing up in the small town of Piedmont, South Dakota, Shelby was a talented runner. She even returned once to her birthplace in New Mexico to run a full marathon. She graduated from high school in Sturgis, and after receiving her diploma, she landed a teller job at Minuteman Federal Credit Union in Rapid City. Later, she found more opportunities when she went to work for Rapid City Telco Federal Credit Union, starting as a teller, and then training in loan processing and collections.

At different times, Shelby had explored other jobs, including working in daycares, and housekeeping and front desk at hotels, but nothing compared to working in the credit union industry. There was a time when she thought she might study nursing, but she always found herself drawn back to the financial industry.

So, when Shelby received a call from Angie Cumbee in 2015 stating that she needed some help – and fast – at a credit union in Huron, she packed up and quickly moved. By now, Shelby had ten years of experience working at credit unions, and Angie had just begun the daunting class of trying to clean up a bit of a mess at Dakota Rail Line FCU. The credit union was in prompt corrective action, and every single loan file, storage box, and random stacks of paper had to be sorted and documented. Policies and procedures had to be written, and literally years of accumulated paper had to be evaluated and either filed or destroyed.

Dakota Rail Line Federal Credit Union is a credit union for the railroad employees and their families. The credit union’s history goes all the way back to October 3, 1954, when the credit union was named Huron CNW Federal Credit Union. An electrician at the railroad in Huron had formed the small credit union along with a couple of store clerks by pooling their money. They opened share accounts and began making small loans to railroaders. Over the years the railroads have changed, but the members have always remained loyal, so the credit union was worth fighting for.

“I was doing teller work, loans, collections, repossessions, processing ACH payments, and whatever else fell on my lap,” she shared. Meanwhile, Angie continued to tunnel through the paperwork. Working hand in hand, the two managed to bring organization and clarity to what had been quite a unique mess. Shelby earned the title of Operations Manager and continued to wear many hats over the next five years. When Angie announced her retirement, Shelby Gondzar was named the next CEO, assuming the position on April 27, 2020.

“I am very proud of where this credit union is now compared to where it was before we cleaned it up,” says Shelby. “We put in a lot of hours and brainpower in the beginning, I remember going home after working the first few weeks, constantly still running numbers through my head. I could literally feel my brain throbbing!” Now it is 2020 and Dakota Rail Line FCU will be having their 65th annual meeting.

“I love working with numbers, but being able to help people is my biggest joy in working in the credit union industry,” Shelby continues. “On the other side, my worst stories always seem to be about the repossessions. The worst ones can break your heart because you know they are great people, but they are in a tough spot that they just can’t get out of.”

To stay up to date with her training, Shelby takes advantage of online courses with CUNA. She also tries to utilize many educational opportunities through CUAD organized events. However, there is one word she doesn’t like to hear: CECIL!

Along with the Central Chapter, Shelby volunteers with meals on wheels, the backpack program, and helps with the annual “Ditch Clean Up” each year. She also supports the chapter when they contribute to local organizations such as Salvation Army, People’s Transit, Helping Hands, Jan Manolis Safe Center, the Humane Society, and others.

In her personal life, Shelby has been with her husband, Justin, for 15 years. However, they waited until 2018 to be married. They have a beautiful 8-year-old daughter, Summer, who is active in gymnastics and other sports. The family also has a black lab named Maddy, and some pet fish. When she is not working, you are likely to find Shelby out hunting with her husband, fishing, or riding dirt bikes and four-wheelers. “There never seems to be a dull moment,” she concluded.



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