Gratitude, Praise for Dr. Susan May’s Exemplary Leadership
Dr. Susan May was about halfway into her distinguished career with Fox Valley Technical College when she followed the advice of a friend and became a credit union member.
Fast forward to July 2021 when, after 38 years with FVTC, including the last 13 years as President and CEO, May retired to well-deserved praise and acclaim as a passionate, highly-regarded educational leader and collaborator. Under her leadership, FVTC weathered a major challenge the first year with the 2008 fiscal and housing crisis. But, thanks to May’s strong and steady guidance, FVTC persevered, grew and succeeded, earning a reputation as one of the finest technical colleges in the U.S.
Community First honored Dr. May with a special tribute at the 48th Annual Member Meeting on May 9. President/CEO Cathie Tierney expressed gratitude for May’s 16 years as a leading member of the credit union’s board of directors and noted her board retirement in December 2022.
Long-time fellow board member Jay Fulkerson called it an honor to serve all 16 years with May, who represented “Community First with distinction and grace. Dr. May, a great community leader, added a great deal of professionalism to the board and I will miss her insights and contributions,” Fulkerson said.
“Community First and its board of directors have been fortunate to have enjoyed Dr. May’s valuable leadership and the organizational excellence she had demonstrated over many years at FVTC,” said board member Dan Ferris. “She was instrumental in helping the credit union’s governance practices evolve as it grew, always remembering our duty and obligation to member-owners.”
Over the years, Ferris said May “has always been the voice of reason and a mentor to many on the board. She will be missed but we can only extend our deepest gratitude and well wishes in her retirement.”
While serving as FVTC’s academic vice president back in 2006, part of May’s duties involved building new business and community partnerships. One of the business leaders she had met along the way was Cathie Tierney, who shared the credit union’s story and subsequently asked May to consider joining the board. May served several terms as board chair (2011, 2012), vice chair (2009, 2010 and 2018), secretary (2007, 2008 and 2017) and also chaired the board’s governance committee.
“Community First has experienced incredible growth over my time on the board due to the tireless and focused efforts of the organization’s leadership and staff, never wavering on service and support for members,” said May.
During her FVTC tenure, May was praised for new program creation, partnerships and collaborations with regional employers, emphasizing customized workforce training and continuing education. She championed a major capital referendum featuring main campus expansion/improvements plus creation of the Public Safety Training Center with a new Airport Rescue and Firefighting Training Center. FVTC’s FabTech Education Center, Advanced Manufacturing Technology Center and Health Simulation Training Center were also developed under May’s leadership.
May points to Community First’s origins and leadership by its founder and credit union pioneer, Maury Dresang, as a hallmark and solid foundation for its amazing success. “Time spent with Maury and Cathie was always enjoyable as they would share stories of the early years and incredibly humble beginnings, including Maury operating out of the trunk of his car,” May said. “The story of Community First is a wonderful example of the essence of a cooperative, of shared community, and of entrepreneurship. Considering that this one-man suitcase operation would eventually become one of Wisconsin’s largest credit unions and one of the nation’s highest performing credit unions is truly remarkable.”
Community First has been a significant regional employer for over four decades while providing outstanding service to members and many business partners. “While Community First is now a very large organization in terms of assets and many other metrics, I marvel at the continued commitment to personal service for its members,” May said. “This can only happen through very deliberate, focused attention on relationships and maintaining personal connections.”
‘Part of the Fabric’
Equally as impressive for May has been Community First’s “engagement and generosity” that annually helps many nonprofits and causes near and dear to members to fulfill their missions. “I believe that CFCU’s level of community engagement – and giving back to the community – is what sets it apart from other financial institutions and a significant factor in the organization’s growth over the years,” she said.
“Community First is an integral part of the ‘fabric’ of this region today thanks to very direct and personal connections by staff and leaders.”
According to May, serving on the Community First board was an opportunity she relished. “It’s been an honor and privilege to be just a small part of this remarkable organization in my 16 years of board service.”
Tierney added, “Dr. May has been an exceptional educational leader throughout her career and we are grateful that she willingly shared her skills to help guide and govern our credit union. Her contributions to Community First have been impactful and amazing. And, personally, I am honored and blessed to consider Susan a cherished friend.”