Longtime community advocate dies at 77

The Brainerd lakes area lost an innovative community leader, savvy businessman and dedicated family man, friends of Ray Burnett said Tuesday. Burnett, former president/CEO of Mid-Minnesota Federal Credit Union (MMFCU) and board member of numerous...

Ray Burnett
Ray Burnett

The Brainerd lakes area lost an innovative community leader, savvy businessman and dedicated family man, friends of Ray Burnett said Tuesday.

Burnett, former president/CEO of Mid-Minnesota Federal Credit Union (MMFCU) and board member of numerous nonprofit organizations, died Sunday surrounded by family following years of illness. He was 77 years old.

"He's just one of those very special people that we have in our community that really touched a lot of lives in very many ways," said Chuck Albrecht, current MMFCU president/CEO.

Burnett arrived in Brainerd along with wife Joan in 1968 after serving in the U.S. Marine Corps and graduating from St. Cloud State University. He assumed the top post at MMFCU in 1980 and held it until his retirement in 2003. During his tenure at the credit union, the business grew from roughly $6 million in total assets to just more than $100 million, according to Albrecht.

"Ray (Burnett) built a very strong organization, which has helped lead us to our success over the past few years as well," Albrecht said. "I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to step into an organization 12 years ago that was set up so well."


Burnett was active both on the state and national levels in advocating on behalf of credit unions and was the founder and first board president of the National Association of Community Credit Unions.

When he wasn't running his business, Burnett invested much of his time in community organizations including Trinity Lutheran Church, Crisis Line, the Brainerd Housing and Redevelopment Authority, Brainerd Charter Commission and the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce. Burnett was a founding member of the Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corporation (BLAEDC), a nonprofit created to encourage development and job growth in the area.

"Ray (Burnett) was kind, yet strong in his convictions for our community and the role BLAEDC should play in helping grow our area and create job opportunities for area residents," wrote Sheila Haverkamp, current BLAEDC executive director, in an email.

Burnett was heavily involved in Kinship Partners, an organization focused on mentoring youth, and served on its board for more than decade along with longtime friend, Dick Breen.

"He was the type of guy if he was going to be on a board, it wasn't just to show up, it was to get something done," Breen said. "He brought a lot of innovative things to those particular boards."

At Kinship, Burnett helped to grow the organization through improving financial giving and was instrumental in establishing the Bridge Builder program, a program where donors give monthly. Executive Director David Downing described Burnett as foundational to the organization, which will celebrate its 30th anniversary next year.

"Ray (Burnett) is one of a handful of people where you can see his fingerprints ... for getting Kinship Partners to where it is today," Downing said.

Downing said despite his serious commitment to the community, Burnett had a light-hearted side that brought humor to the board room. He recalled another former board member, Karen Owen, sometimes forgot to turn off her cellphone ringer during meetings. When it rang, Burnett and Breen would stand up and start dancing to the "jazzy" ringtone.


Another organization where Burnett was actively involved was Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), an association that led to his close relationship with Breen, who is set to speak at Burnett's memorial service today. Although they knew one another through service on bank boards, it was not until Breen called upon Burnett for help with his own struggles with alcohol that their friendship blossomed.

"He introduced me to AA and a lot of good friends," Breen said. "That was 28 years ago. During that time, it was not only myself. I know he helped many, many people in that struggle."

His presence in the community was most visible in his involvement with area organizations, although those who knew him said what really defined Burnett was his devotion to his family. He loved to show off photos and often traveled to the Twin Cities to babysit his grandchildren, Downing said.

Breen said he believed Burnett's commitment to his family stemmed from his own family experience: he was an only child and lost his father in World War II.

"That had a lot to do with his being so family-oriented for the rest of his life," Breen said.

He loved to travel with his family and spent time on every continent except for Antarctica. He particularly enjoyed warm weather during the winters and Marco Island, Fla., was one of his favorite destinations.

Burnett is survived by his wife Joan, three children - Charles, Caralyn and Cristin - and six grandchildren. A visitation is set for 9:30 a.m. today at Trinity Lutheran Church, 1420 S. Sixth St., followed by a memorial service at 11 a.m.

Memorials may be designated to Kinship Partners, Trinity Lutheran Church or Crisis Line.


CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 855-5874 or . Follow on Twitter at .

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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