Women 360: Steeped in service, Julia Nelmark highlights a lifetime of service
As a child, Julia Nelmark was taught to step in and help others whenever she could. She draws on that upbringing today, in her work as president of Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corporation. “I love helping people, and the community. When something needs to be done, I’m going to be there,” Nelmark said.
Editor's Note: The following originally appeared as the cover story of the Detroit Lakes Tribune's Women 360 magazine, which was included as a free insert in the Dec. 12, 2021 issue of the Tribune. Read the magazine in its entirety HERE online, or for a print copy of the magazine, pick up a copy of the Dec. 12 Tribune on newsstands now.
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With deep Midwestern roots and an upbringing steeped in goodwill toward others, Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corporation President Julia Nelmark has built her life on a foundation of service.
The fifth of seven children in her family, Nelmark was taught the importance of helping others by her mother, a nurse, and her father, an accountant. Her parents were role models in terms of always stepping in to help others and doing whatever needed to be done.
Nelmark continues to live out those values in her grown-up life today, through her work at the nonprofit MMCDC, as a volunteer for her kids’ sports activities, by supporting various events and fundraisers at Holy Rosary Catholic Church, and by serving on the church’s finance council as well as the board of directors of the Boys and Girls Club.
Nelmark manages to balance a full-throttle position, family life, and volunteerism with an ease that seems to come naturally to her.
Her upbringing in Springfield, Illinois led her to the big city of Chicago for college, where she earned her degree in accounting, following in her father’s footsteps. There, she met her husband of 31 years now, Tad Nelmark, who became an insurance underwriter while she began climbing the corporate ladder in finance.
“I was working 60 to 70 hours a week,” she recalls. “We were both commuting over two hours each day through city traffic, and I was pregnant with my third child. We realized it was not the life we wanted, and the city wasn’t where we wanted to raise our kids.”
Her husband had begun to split his time between his corporate job and returning to the Wolf Lake area with his twin brother to work on their parents’ farm, and it was those northern Minnesota family ties that eventually brought the couple to Detroit Lakes. He became a full-time dairy farmer (until 2020, when he returned to insurance underwriting), and she joined TEAM Industries, while their children attended Holy Rosary and then Detroit Lakes High School.
She took a position at MMCDC in 2003, where she says she found the spark she had been missing. She became president of the organization in August 2018.
“Something was missing in my former life in Chicago and working in for-profit corporations,” Nelmark says. “Detroit Lakes is a great community, and MMCDC has given me the purpose and satisfaction I was seeking. I love what I do!”
MMCDC, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, is responsible for a significant amount of downtown Detroit Lakes’ redevelopment, including the building where the organization itself houses its administrative offices, the 100-year-old Graystone Hotel. Its lending operations occupy the Blanding building on the opposite corner of the block, and the entire block is owned and operated by MMCDC.
Through the organization’s funding and efforts, it has supported renovation and development of many buildings in Detroit Lakes and beyond, reaching into the White Earth Reservation and communities throughout Minnesota.
Nelmark is particularly interested in her work on the White Earth Reservation, as she believes relationships, understanding and support for the Native American community are essential. MMCDC’s Native subsidiary, White Earth Investment Initiative, works to serve the reservation and Native Americans throughout the state, including many White Earth members living in the Twin Cities.
Along with the White Earth Investment Initiative, efforts that support business growth, employment, affordable housing, homebuyer education, and free tax services are the core of MMCDC’s efforts.
Nelmark herself has put in substantial work on New Markets Tax Credit financing, locally and regionally, and has been instrumental in assisting several Detroit Lakes area businesses and nonprofits with obtaining this needed funding. The New Markets Tax Credit program attracts private investment in low-income communities through tax credits, incentivizing community development and economic growth.
“New Markets financing helps businesses to start, grow, and thrive,” Nelmark says.
Jamie Marks Erickson, the development officer at MMCDC, describes Nelmark as “exceptional.”
“With experience ranging from corporate America to rural America, she is highly qualified to lead MMCDC,” Erickson says. “Despite her incredible resume, she is down to earth, not to mention enthusiastic with a capital E!”
As big as her career is, and with as much as she has accomplished, Nelmark remains incredibly humble.
“The most rewarding thing in my life has been watching our kids become thoughtful, caring adults,” she says. “When I hear their views and see them help others, I think, ‘We have succeeded!’”
Their daughter, Claire, 25, is working on her Doctor of Philosophy in chemistry, while Sam, 22, is a student at the University of North Dakota studying managerial finance and accounting. Matt, the youngest, is 20 and studying computer engineering at North Dakota State University.
The Nelmark family takes summer rafting trips together (with a bit of whitewater thrown in), and has visited several locations throughout the country. Glacier National Park is a favorite, along with trips to Duluth, Wisconsin and Michigan, West Virginia, and western Pennsylvania.
Puzzles are also a favorite pastime of Julia’s, and she laughs as she compares her hobby to her work.
“Structured finance, and community development, is like putting a puzzle together,” she says. “We have to figure out how to put pieces together and make them fit to assist communities.”
“I love helping people, and the community,” she adds. “When something needs to be done, I’m going to be there, jumping in to do what it takes to make things happen.”
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