Induction Category & YearProfessional 2008
Home TownGeneseo, IL
Fort Bragg, NC

   Sue Brown
Champion of Excellence

 Sandra Sue Zimmerman was born July 13, 1945, in Fort Bragg, N.C., to Gifford and Carol (Mathwig) Zimmerman. Gifford entered the Army from an optometric practice in Mitchell, and Carol was raised just below the South Dakota border in South Sioux City, Neb.

After Giff was discharged from the Army, the family moved to the Zimmermans’ hometown in Geneseo, Ill., where Giff provided professional optometric services to the community for five decades. There, the couple instilled the lifelong values of public service and philanthropy in Sue, her younger sister, Terry, and brother, Gifford Ross. Their father, Giff, founded and served for decades on the Geneseo Park District, raising money for and supervising the building of the community’s first swimming pool. Carol and Giff started Geneseo’s waste management system. Carol served the community through many philanthropic projects.

Sue participated in all the family’s business and civic pursuits. She administered the community’s Red Cross swimming education programs. At commencement for Geneseo High School in 1963, she spoke about the importance of individuality. She received the community’s good citizen award. In 1967, she graduated cum laude from Lawrence University in Appleton, WI, with a major in political science. While an undergraduate, she was a member of Delta Gamma Fraternity, Mortar Board, Student Senate, the President’s Council, the Honor Council, and other service and fraternal organizations.

Family friend and fellow Geneseo native William “Doc” Farber, a professor at the University of South Dakota, introduced Sue to Richard E. “Dick” Brown, from Dell Rapids, S.D., on New Year’s Eve in 1965 and the couple was married June 17, 1967.

Sue spent the first five years of married life in Washington, D. C. She served as legislative secretary to Congressman Tom Railsback (R-Ill.). A year later, she began a career with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as a housing specialist with the Department’s research and development arm. Her work centered on affordable, integrated homeownership opportunities. When the couple moved to Omaha, Sue served as a Community Development Specialist for HUD, managing more than $20 million in federal projects.

Following the birth of their three children, Dick wanted to return to South Dakota to raise their family. In 1979, he accepted a position as head of the Downtown Development Corporation in Sioux Falls.

Sue embraced her new home, professionally and philanthropically. She established a research and community development consulting practice, which allowed her to specialize in helping communities in South Dakota and surrounding states apply for and administer federal grants. Princeton University has published her work on Sioux Falls components of national Public Service Employment and Community Development studies and on the impact of “Reaganomics” on a multitude of programs. Recognizing her housing expertise, then-governor William Janklow appointed her to the South Dakota Housing Development Authority. She served on civic organization boards, such as the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Rotary, and on many nonprofit boards, including the Sioux Falls Housing and Redevelopment Commission, Habitat for Humanity, United Way, Volunteers of America, Dakotas, and the YWCA, which she also led as an interim executive director.

Sue served two terms on the Sioux Falls School Board, spearheading a community-based, 20-year facilities planning project that resulted in the construction of two new high schools and three new elementary schools. The effort gained recognition from the National School Boards Association in 1989 as a model for community-based school planning. Her interest in improving the quality of life for all residents led to her serving on the steering committees for Sioux Falls Tomorrow I and II. These planning projects produced visions and 10-year goals for the area’s education and infrastructure systems, cultural environment, and business economy. As planning concluded, Sue continued to volunteer for housing, education, and other task forces charged with furthering Sioux Falls Tomorrow’s goals.

She received many awards for her community service, including the David Birkeland Memorial Community Leadership Award from the United Way, the YWCA LeaderLuncheon award, and the Bowden Spirit of Youth Award from Volunteers of America, Dakotas.

Sue worked briefly as a financial services representative for her husband’s business, but in 1995 took what she considers the best job of her life when she accepted the position as President/CEO of the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation. Under her leadership, SFACF evolved from a small nonprofit with $5 million in assets making $500,000 in annual grants to one that managed more than $50 million in assets and awarded nearly $6 million in annual grants. Much of this growth was fueled by SFACF’s selection as one of six community foundations in the nation to participate in The Kresge Foundation’s “Partnership to Raise Community Capital” program. The $10 million endowment-building campaign benefited 18 neighborhood nonprofits and earned SFACF an additional challenge grant from The Kresge Foundation. But Sue’s favorite part of her job was working with donors, each of whom had a unique idea about how to give back to Sioux Falls and make it a better place to work, live, and raise a family. She retired from SFACF in 2006. Other than being a mom and grandmother, she’s proudest of her work to increase the region’s charitable assets. Sue and Dick created their own philanthropic legacy through SFACF, USD, and the Outdoor Campus in Sioux Falls.

The couple moved to Custer in 2007 to be near Nancy, Ryken, and Lincoln Brown, the children of son Matt, an attorney, and his wife, Joy Falkenburg, a physician. Their daughter, Terra Brown, is with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago. Daughter Jeni Briley Brown and fiancé Mark Holloway live in Denver, where Jeni is a forensic psychologist. Sue’s sister, an artist, and brother, a corporate attorney, remain in Illinois.

Sue continues to serve her community and enjoys reading, sewing, and growing things. She hikes and has run several half-marathons. She spends time with her grandchildren and contemplates God’s many blessings, each day.

Home Town (Geneseo, IL)
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