A history-making promotion at bank

By Jason Nordmark, Turtle Mountain Star — When Dawn Fitzgerald walked into Dacotah Bank in Rolla 26 years ago, sitting behind a desk in the big office in northeast corner of the building was not on her mind.

Neither was making history.

Last week, however, Fitzgerald accomplished both. She was named president of the bank and that office in the corner is now hers. So too is the achievement of being the first woman to hold that position in the bank’s 130-year history in Rolla. She is also the first woman president in Dacotah Bank’s system, which includes 36 institutions across North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity presented to me,” Fitzgerald said, while playing down the female aspect of the promotion. “I would hope this sets an example of how something like this can happen to anyone who works hard.”

As well as being president, Fitzgerald will continue her supervisory role in the lending department. She had previously held the position of business banker and has 25 years of banking knowledge.

As a young girl, Fitzgerald said she “dreamed of being an elementary teacher.” In 1992, she arrived in Rolette County with her husband, Brad, and both worked at St. John School.
Dawn’s job as a teacher’s aide was funded through a grant program and when the money ran out, she was out of a job. In September of 1993, she went into Dacotah Bank looking for a position and was hired as a teller.

From there, Dawn worked her way up, earning promotions to customer service representative, loan assistant, personal banker and most recently, business banker. 

In 2005, after more than a decade at the bank, Dawn graduated from the Dakota School of Banking, as have several of her current and former co-workers.
As far as the president’s office, however, Dawn said that was one position she did not have on her radar. 

“I never thought about it, never dreamed of it and never pursued it,” Dawn said. 
All the employees at Dacotah Bank, as well as many people in the area, are still working through the tragedy of losing the bank’s former president, Kelly Bursinger. He passed away earlier this month at the age of 53 after a battle with cancer and ALS.

Dawn called Bursinger her mentor and friend for the past 17 years. She said it’s been comforting to share her memories of him with fellow staff members as well as several customers since his passing. 

Another former president of Rolla’s Dacotah Bank, Dan Vollmer, who is now a regional president for the financial firm, approached Dawn about taking over the leadership position. 
While Dawn said she appreciated support from her fellow employees as she enters the new job, she also harkened back to a couple of important people in her life. On the day she was officially hired as president of the bank, she thought of her parents.

“My dad was the one who always told me ‘don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do anything,’” Dawn said. “My mom gave me my business sense. On our family farm, my dad would make decisions, but it was my mom who was the accountant as well as a full-time nurse. She took care of the books and that’s where I got my business sense.”

Dawn added that she owes a great deal of credit to her husband, Brad, and their two children Hailey and Brett, for their support of a working wife and mom.

“That’s never easy and I’ve had such tremendous help from my husband. Ours is a true partnership,” Dawn said.

Originallly from Belfield in the southwestern part of the state, Dawn grew up on a farm where she said her family had a “huge sense of community” and were very active in their church. 
That rolled over into the communities of St. John and Rolla when the Fitzgeralds arrived a quarter century ago.

Dawn has served as president and board member of the Lake Region Bankers Association. Currently, she is the secretary for Immanuel Lutheran Church of Rolla and a member of Rolla Job Development Authority. Brad is a teacher, athletic director and technology coordinator at St. John School.

“In our 25 years here we’ve had a strong commitment not only to Dacotah Bank but the communities we live and work in,” Dawn said. 

In 1888, W.N. Steele and C.F. Wilbur opened what is now Dacotah Bank a month before the railroad arrived in Rolla. Steele was the first president in a long line of men who managed the bank during the past 130-plus years. It is one of only two original businesses in Rolla that continues to operate since the day the city was founded.

According to Dorothy Lick, senior vice president of education for the North Dakota Bankers Association, said out of the state’s 150 banks, which includes those with multiple locations, there are only a dozen women presidents. That means a woman makes up just 8 percent of the total bank presidents or branch managers. She added that the first female bank president was in Stutsman County in 1964.

Being the first woman to hold the job as bank president in Rolette County isn’t lost on Dawn, but she noted that several women have made their mark in Rolla and county.
“Look up and down Main Avenue in Rolla, or any other town in North Dakota and count the number of business owners who are women,” Dawn said, bringing up familiar names of women who operate successful stores and restaurants. “It’s not uncommon for women to be leaders anymore.”

Last week, from her new office in the corner of the bank, Dawn said her primary goal is the same as it was when she walked in the door seeking out a job as a teller.

“I enjoy helping people,” Dawn said. “Helping a young couple buy their first house or a college kid buy their first car, I realized I really loved that. That’s what I want to continue to do: Help people in the surrounding communities as well as being a part of the communities we live and work in.”