Marilyn Scholl Recognized for Co-op Leadership

Marilyn Scholl Recognized for Co-op Leadership

  |  February 6, 2018

 Dave Gutknecht

Her name will be familiar to readers of this magazine—Marilyn Scholl has been a major contributor here for years, as well as the author of valuable food co-op resources such as the Patronage Dividend Primer and the Ownership Toolbox. Her professional leadership and many thoughtful contributions to cooperatives are receiving a deserved and lasting tribute.

Marilyn Scholl is to be inducted May 2 into the Cooperative Hall of Fame, a national resource administered by the Cooperative Development Foundation (CDF). For summaries of inductees for this year and past years, see As that page says, the members of this select group are quite diverse in their achievements and careers. “What they all have in common is a belief in the cooperative idea and a track record of accomplishments that have benefited the cooperative community.” Funds are raised in the name of each inductee and are dedicated to cooperative development through CDF. Theonline sales portal for the Cooperative Hall of Fame is now live:

Marilyn’s nomination was put forth by the CDS Consulting Co-op and supported by Cooperative Fund of New England,Shared Capital Cooperative, Food Co-op Initiative, and Cooperative Development Services.

Four decades of service

Marilyn’s start with the cooperative community was in 1978 at Milwaukee’s Gordon Park Cooperative, where she grew into the co-op’s general manager position; six years in Milwaukee were followed by holding the general manager position at Wheatsville Co-op in Austin, Texas. After ten years in food co-op operations and management, Marilyn returned to Wisconsinand UW-Madison.

At the University Center for Cooperatives, she helped create and deliver educational programs for all types of cooperatives, and in collaboration with Ann Hoyt helped create and administer the Cooperative Management Institute, which provided in-depth training and support to food co-op managers. While at UW Madison, Marilyn earned her MS in Continuing Adult and Vocational Education. She also assisted Ann Hoyt during the latter’s long tenure as lead organizer of the annual CCMA (Consumer Cooperative Management Association) conference, and she continues to help shape the CCMA program.

Later in the 1990s, working under the auspices of Cooperative Development Services with Bill Gessner and others, she helped launch a small consultant team and in 1999 became its coordinator. Within a decade this team grew into an independent and dynamic shared services cooperative with more than two dozen owner-members working in multiple sectors: CDS Consulting Co-op (CDS CC). Marilyn, by then settled in Vermont, was its general manager until the end of 2017, succeeded by Mark Goehring—but she has only semi-retired from cooperative work.

Initially the only CDS CC board trainer, Marilyn strongly influenced the adoption of Policy Governance methods by many food co-ops. Subsequently she helped develop a team of board trainers and laid the groundwork for the 2004 launch ofCooperative Board Leadership Development, a program which has attracted the participation of well over 100 co-ops. More recently, Marilyn has pursued further depth in understanding and achieving stronger co-op governance and operations through developing the “Four Pillars of Cooperative Governance” model.

Upon receiving an honored cooperator award at the 2004 CCMA, Marilyn called for an organized response by established co-ops to the increasing number of startup food co-op queries and projects. This led to the formation of Food Co-op 500 and later to Food Co-op Initiative, for which Marilyn continues as a valued board member and a collaborator in planning the annual Up & Coming startup conference.

Twice, during the initial formation and then during the later reorganization of National Cooperative Grocers Association (now NCG), Marilyn played a prominent and trusted role in generating a high degree of unity among the co-ops—initially throughadvising Midwest and New England co-op grocer associations, and then in 2004 by leading an intense process of member participation and debate that resulted in successful formation of a stronger-than-ever national association.

Read on for additional testimony to Marilyn’s wide and positive impacts and in support of her induction to the Cooperative Hall of Fame.


Said Dan Nordley, former publisher of Cooperative Grocer, “After 40 years of observation, if there ever was a person I could point to as the most responsible for the success of our food co-op movement, that person would be Marilyn Scholl.”

Robynn Shrader, CEO of National Co+op Grocers, reflected on Marilyn’s vital role in the challenging process of reorganizing its earlier federated structure and gaining member approval of a strong national food co-op body: “There was no debate within the Board that Marilyn had the skills, commitment, and credibility to lead the reorganization into a direct membership structure… Marilyn led a process and crafted a proposal that was so strategically sound that the vote was nearly unanimous… Today, the members own an organization with an operating budget of $33MM and a balance sheet of $43MM, because of Marilyn’s tireless dedication to collaborating, compromising, strategizing, communicating, and showing the kind of heroic leadership that positioned a cooperative sector to thrive and build.”

Karen Zimbelman at NCG, another long-time contributor to food co-ops, reiterated that Marilyn has “demonstrated the strength of her deep convictions, as well as many years of personal commitment and dedication to creating a world where consumer co-ops can provide significant impact in their local communities. She has brought focused, visionary leadership to our cooperative community for over three decades.”

“She combines and balances being a visionary and being an action-oriented leader,” said Bill Gessner, a co-founder and current member of CDS CC. “Marilyn has not done all of this work single-handedly. Instead, she has built, led, and inspired a team of self-employed consultants (perhaps like cats who refuse to be herded or managed) into a collaborative, cohesive cooperative grounded in the cooperative principles.”

Stuart Reid, executive director of Food Co-op Initiative (FCI), emphasizes that as Marilyn helped fulfill the original vision for organized startup support, she was “all the while sharing insight, pushing for excellence, and becoming one of my greatest mentors and friends. Without Marilyn, FCI would not be what we are today, and without FCI, 130 startup co-ops would have had fewer resources and many would never have opened. Add to those new co-ops all the mature co-ops that turned to her for guidance and training.”

Chuck Snyder, National Co-op Bank President and CEO, adds: “What truly makes Marilyn’s contributions to the cooperative movement heroic has been her passion and patience. She wears many hats. She has served as an advisor and mentor, team leader and trainer, providing the necessary technical support and training for food co-ops. She is more than a colleague—she is a friend.”

Marilyn’s colleague Rebecca Dunn, executive director of Co-op Fund of New England, says, “She is an unsung hero, a woman of humility and integrity who not only talks the talk but walks the walk of cooperation and cooperatives. I see her often in the background quietly seeing that things get done.”

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