Name: Terry Denmark
Credit Union: Dearborn VillageCommunity CU
Asset size: $18 Million
CEO Since: 2000
First Employed in CU Movement: 1976
According to Mapquest, a trip from Alpena to Dearborn is 252 miles and takes four hours and 45 minutes to complete. Throw in an Uncle Sam-sponsored trip to Duluth, Minn., a return trip back to Alpena, a detour to Waterford and you have a snapshot of the 20-yearplus road Terry Denmark took prior to becoming president/CEO of Dearborn Village Community CU (MW).
A devout Christian, Denmark believes credit unions do a world of good on a number of different levels. “I’ve always held the opinion that the credit union business is as close to doing God’s work as one can be without being in the ministry,” he says. “According to the Bible, religion that God accepts as pure and faultless is ‘to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.’
"Of course, I’m not proposing that only orphans and widows be credit union members, but I do believe the credit union movement fulfills its most pure purpose when it’s helping people of modest means.”
Denmark didn’t begin his work with smaller credit unions in traditional fashion. A graduate from Alpena Catholic Central, he enrolled at Ferris State University, majoring in business and economics. With the country engaged in the Vietnam War, Denmark was invited to join the Army. Instead, he joined the Air Force where he worked in accounting and finance.
During his enlistment, Denmark opted to join the honor guard instead of taking an obligatory shift of monitoring aircraft.“The thought of watching a stationary F-16 fighter for hours on end didn’t appeal to me, so I joined the guard,” he says. “The most honorable and saddest thing I have ever done in my life is present the American Flag to a
grieving mother. I’d do that over starring at a plane any day.”
After leaving the Air Force in 1976, Denmark began his work with credit unions at Bessar CU (BO) in Alpena. “After three years in the movement, and a desire to become CEO of Navy FCU by the time I was 45 years old, I became the manager of K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base CU (UP), which is just south of Marquette,” he recalls.
For the next 12 years, Denmark worked all over the state for troubled small-asset-sized credit unions. “I fell in love with these small credit unions and began to enjoy the challenge of fixing the problems,” he says. “What a thrill it is to be able to snatch a troubled credit union from the jaws of merger-mania.”
After an interview for a management position at yet another small credit union in 1990, Denmark felt inspired to get out of the credit union business and head back home to Alpena. While in Alpena, he and his wife operated a restaurant by day and a teen hangout center by night. “My wife and I promised ourselves that if we couldn’t see the financial possibility of retiring from this business/ministry at a reasonable age, then we’d return to the credit union business, which we did in April 1995,” he says.
With a brief stay at Holbrook Avenue FCU, now Motown First (ME), he took an opportunity to assist Dearborn Village Community CU (MW). “The League’s Doris Brown had heard that I was planning on leaving Holbrook and called me to ask if I could make a stop at Dearborn Village Community CU,” he recalls. “The accounting manager at
Holbrook Avenue FCU, Doris Graham, had resigned about the same time as I and was willing to join me in the endeavor.
“We had planned on assisting the credit union for 90 to 120 days until they had time to find a new management team. But we thanked God for the wonderful blessing of working at Dearborn Village Community CU, and I plan to stay until retirement.”
Dearborn Village Community CU sits on the border of south Dearborn and southwest Detroit, giving it a particularly diverse membership.
What has kept Denmark rooted in the Dearborn community for the past 10 years is his joy in helping others. “For me it’s the pleasure of knowing that we get to offer our members a financial institution that they can trust and treats them with dignity and respect,” he says. “The satisfaction of acting as interpreter and advocate when working with auto dealers and other financiers so our members don’t get ripped-off because of language barriers or simply not understanding financial matters — it’s tremendous.
“To me, the greatest reward is knowing we’ve made a difference in the lives of our members. Just experiencing their thankfulness for what we do makes it worth doing again and again.”