HURON — Donna “Muffy” Starr Christen, who worked with her husband to build the First Western Bank system, helped establish community foundations throughout the state and served on numerous boards and committees passed away Sunday, Jan. 6, in Huron. She was 89 years old.
Christen was born in Mitchell on July 16, 1929, and graduated from Mitchell High School and Dakota Wesleyan University. In 1951, she married her high school sweetheart, Paul Christen, who she met at a youth program at their church. The couple would continuing working and supporting each other throughout the remainder of their 58 years together.
Following graduation from Dakota Wesleyan University with Bachelor of Arts degrees, the couple moved from their hometown of Mitchell to Huron, where they opened, owned and operated Ruby Ann Bakery. Working side by side, they built their first successful enterprise. They worked hard but still found time to give back to their local community. When Paul attended the National Boy Scout Jamboree as an adult leader, Muffy ran the bakery – even while expecting her first child.
Paul and Muffy welcomed their first daughter, Rebecca, in 1954, and their second daughter, Kathryn, in 1957. Their daughters, Rebecca (Robert) Pohlad and Kathryn (Jim) Ramstad, now both reside in Minneapolis. Paul and Muffy have four grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
In the early 1970s, the Christens began acquiring banks in western South Dakota, operating them under the name First Western Bank. Under their leadership, the organization grew from $10 million in assets in 1972 to $1 billion in 2007, with a total of 18 banking locations.
Muffy was active in the business, serving as director for their three largest charter banks. “We just loved the people and they loved us,” she once recalled, as she described their decision to sell the banks in 2008 to First Interstate Bancsystem, Inc., a bank holding company located in Billings, Mont.
Together with the late Dr. Paul and Carol Hohm and the late Jeannette Lusk, the Christens contributed $1 million to found and establish the Christen Hohm Lusk Greater Huron Area Foundation in 1988. This foundation was established to respond to the financial needs of the greater Huron area; Muffy served as the foundation’s chair and director. The Christens were also instrumental in founding and establishing other foundations in the communities of Sturgis, Wall, Custer, Hot Springs and Belle Fourche. She served on the board of directors of the South Dakota Community Foundation. During her tenure as a member of the foundation’s investment committee, its assets grew from $10 million to more than $300 million.
Muffy was involved in and committed to civic activities at the community and state level. She was instrumental in the establishment of the Spirit of Dakota award and was a charter member of the South Dakota Judicial Qualifications Commission, appointed by Governor Kneip. She also was active in leadership roles in the following organizations: Huron Center, Inc. (The Crossroads Hotel and Convention Center); South Dakota State Fair Foundation; Huron University Foundation, Inc.; Huron Regional Medical Center Foundation of Huron; Huron Airport Board; Community Development Finance Fund; Huron College (later known as Huron University); Methodist Hospital; Methodist Church of Huron; Methodist Official Board; YWCA, Huron; Our Home, Inc.; and she was instrumental in establishing the Huron United Way.
Most recently, Muffy served as director and chairman of the Christen Group, LLC; director, vice president and assistant secretary/treasurer of CG Properties, LLC; and a member and manager of Christen Co., LLC, all of Huron.
Memorials are preferred to South Dakota Community Foundation, The Dakota Wesleyan University School of Nursing, First United Methodist Church of Huron, or P.E.O. International, in support of the Cottey College Endowment. Services are planned for 10:30 a.m., Thursday, Jan. 17, at First United Methodist Church in Huron.