Brenda Lippens


Brenda Lippens smiling

According to Bark River resident and Bay College graduate Brenda Lippens, her college education and career have panned out a bit differently than she expected back in high school. But that’s not a bad thing – currently, she works as the president of Embers Credit Union.

In 1983, Brenda graduated from Bark River-Harris High School. Shortly after her graduation, she started taking classes at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, MI.

“When I graduated from high school, I wanted to leave the area and go see what else was out there. I enrolled in classes at CMU, but I was only there for a few weeks,” she said.

She decided to head back home for several reasons, including the size of CMU’s campus and classes, the university’s location downstate, and issues with her roommates. When she got to Bark River, she signed up for classes at Bay College. Fortunately, she caught up quickly, even though she started after the semester had begun.

“They made it very simple for me to get into the classes. I was able to take a full load that first semester, and I really enjoyed the class size,” Brenda said.

Brenda had developed an interest in finance – particularly accounting – well before entering college. Taking classes at Bay allowed her to explore this interest and narrow down her career options in the field.

“When I was in high school, I took a business class and it really intrigued me. I’ve always known I wanted to do something in the business field, I just wasn’t sure what it was. But as I started taking my accounting classes at Bay, I really fell in love with accounting. I decided to major in that and see what happened – I really wasn’t sure what I was going to do after,” she said.

Two of Brenda’s instructors – Milt Brinkman and Doug Gavriloff – had a sizable impact on her life trajectory.

“They were great accounting instructors, and I think they really instilled in me a love of accounting and business,” she said.

Eventually, Brenda decided to study accounting at Bay in the long term and earned her associate degree there. She was also able to complete most of the requirements for her bachelor’s degree in Escanaba thanks to a partnership between Bay and Sault Ste. Marie’s Lake Superior State University.

“I decided to pursue that because it allowed me to stay here for three years and only go there for my final year. It was a natural progression – even though I graduated from Bay with my associate degree in accounting, I started taking my classes at LSSU for my final year and got my bachelor’s in accounting,” she said.

Once she graduated from LSSU, Brenda considered starting on a master’s degree in taxation right away. Though she decided to focus on establishing her career at that point, she returned to LSSU two years later.

“I ended up getting my master’s in business administration from Lake Superior, but the partnership that they had with Bay College allowed me to take 90 percent of my courses at Bay. That was a really, really nice partnership – I think I was part of the second class to go through the program when they opened it up,” she said.

Even before she earned her bachelor’s degree, Brenda had taken her first steps into the finance industry.

“While I was going to college, I started working as a teller at First National Bank in Escanaba. I worked there in the summers while I was going to college, and then when I graduated from college, I came back to the bank working as a teller for a short time,” she said.

Later, Brenda found employment elsewhere in the Upper Peninsula.

“There was an opening in the audit department at Michigan Financial Corporation in Marquette – I worked as an auditor for a couple years. Then, I came back to First National Bank’s accounting department in Escanaba and did a variety of different jobs. I was fortunate to work my way up in the bank, and I was there for 17 years before I came over to the credit union,” she said.

In 2002, Brenda decided to change careers, motivated in part by First National Bank’s acquisition by Wells Fargo. She found a new position at the credit union now known as Embers Credit Union and has stayed there ever since.

“I got hired at the credit union as a vice president – four months later, I was named CEO. I’ve served in that capacity the entire time until we merged with Embers Credit Union, and now my title is president,” she said.

Though she has not taken classes at Bay for years now, she is still closely connected to the school.

“I really think it gave me such a great foundation for the rest of my education and even my career. I love Bay College – in fact, I have served on Bay’s Accounting Advisory Board since 1989,” Brenda said, noting she is also involved with the Professional Advisory Board for LSSU’s Lukenda School of Business.

While she had not planned on taking classes at Bay when she graduated from high school, Brenda said she is glad her education worked out the way it did.

“It wasn’t my first choice, but it definitely ended up being the right choice for me,” she said.