Making a Mark: Fargo attorney says everyone is capable of making change

Document Type

News Article

Publication Date


Campus Unit

School of Law


Name: Michelle Kommer

Position: Chief administrative officer and general counsel for Western State Bank and founder of the North Dakota Heart Gallery

Her story: Michelle Kommer does not relish personal attention, but she will do what she can to promote the causes she believes in. The founder of the North Dakota Heart Gallery, a nonprofit devoted to raising awareness about the need for adoptive parents in North Dakota, said there is nothing extraordinary about her. She believes anyone is capable of making a difference once they stop and ask themselves, "What do I stand for?" The key is to then live a life in accordance with those causes.

For Kommer, two of those are child welfare and the empowerment of women.

North Dakota Heart Gallery: Kommer got the idea for the nonprofit while watching a segment about Diane Granito on the nightly news with her husband, Toby Kommer. The longtime foster parents were inspired by the story of the caseworker from New Mexico who recruited professional photographers to take pictures of foster children, which she then featured at a gala as a way to raise awareness about the need for foster parents.

With the help of Granito, her own caseworker and other stakeholders, Kommer established the North Dakota Heart Gallery here nine years ago.

The nonprofit has been successful in its primary mission of raising awareness. Although she said they cannot take credit for adoptions because of the work also done by caseworkers and adoption agencies, she estimates the Heart Gallery has played a role in facilitating more than 25 "heart connections" over the years.

Kommer said an unexpected benefit has been how much the children have enjoyed the process. She explained the kids are given money to purchase a new outfit for the photo shoot. Many of them have never had new clothes before, let alone an outfit they picked out themselves. She said that experience has proven to be a big confidence-builder for the kids. She related a story from Dave Arntson of Milestones Photography, an original board member. He said one young woman was hamming it up so much for the camera that he said, "You must have done this before." His heart stopped when she replied, "No, no one has ever wanted my picture before."

It is stories like this that keep Kommer and others involved. The North Dakota Heart Gallery exhibit is portable and Kommer said they are always looking for organizations willing to put it on display.

"Our objective is that it's never in the box," Kommer said.

Women Connect: With three daughters, Kommer is also passionate about empowering women. She said she has had the fortune of serving on the executive team of some great organizations over the years and has noticed two things: "1) We're not quite as advanced as we'd like to believe we are when it comes to women's role in the workplace. 2) Women can be terrible to each other, but also each others' biggest inspiration."

Kommer shared those observations at a Women Connect event in April called "Women for Women: Female Relationships in the Workplace."

More than 400 women attended the monthly networking event for women where Kommer shared ideas based on her experiences, and several years of research of the obstacles created by society, media and even one another that interfere with healthy and supportive relationships.

She shared specific actions to take to recognize these disruptors and enjoy a more confident self, eliminating the competition and comparison that sometimes interferes with female relationships. She said once those obstacles are removed, women can enjoy the meaningful, inspirational relationships they were designed to have with one another.

Kommer is finalizing a book that was the basis for the Women Connect speech. Those interested in booking her to share her message can reach her through LinkedIn.