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BELOIT, Wis. – Tom Barnes favorite loans are for motorcycles – especially Harley-Davidsons. In 14 years as president of First American Credit Union of Beloit, Wis., he’s had only one Harley repossessed. “We have lots of motorcycle loans,” he said. “Once it gets around that you’re a rider, that you understand bikes, then the bikers tend to come to you.” Barnes’ bike is a Harley-Davidson Electroglide Classic, a big touring bike that he takes on cross-country tours. So he knows motorcycle riders well. “Normally, (an owner will) take care of them and pay for them or sell them and get their money out of them,” says Barnes. His motorcycle, of course, is more than just a business experience for the 52-year-old Barnes. It helps him get away from the pressures of running one of Wisconsin’s largest CUs. “Once I jump on the motorcycle, within a few blocks of leaving my driveway I can feel the frustrations and the tension blowing away,” he said. Barnes got his start with credit unions in the early 1970s at Blackhawk Credit Union in Janesville, Wis. He had been a credit manager with the Associates in Janesville, and kept receiving loan payoffs from credit unions. These CUs were turning his variable-rate home loans into fixed-rate credit union mortgages. But, Barnes said, he didn’t know what a credit union was. So one day he hand delivered the papers closing out a loan that was moving to Blackhawk. While there, he asked the president and vice president what credit unions were about and what they stood for. He liked what he saw – an organization that was doing more than Associates, but for a lower interest rate. And the deposit side fascinated him. “I was dazzled by what they (credit unions) were doing.” he said. “I was really excited by what they were doing.” A week later, he applied for a job as a credit manager at Blackhawk CU and got the job. At the time, Blackhawk, he said, had assets of less than $8 million but was growing rapidly. Today it has assets of $170 million at May 31, 2001, according to its online financial statement. Barnes worked his way up the ladder and soon moved on to Parker Community Credit Union, also in Janesville. In January 1988 he was named president of what was then BIW Credit Union, the credit union for employees of Beloit Iron Works. At the time, he said, the CU was in danger of being liquidated. “It was a challenge, a big challenge,” he said. “They gave me a pretty sizable increase in pay, but they only gave me six months to turn it around.” Then he got another six months, and then the CU got federal insurance. “We’ve been on our own ever since,” he said. Today First American has 17,000 members and $80.7 million in assets, according to the year-end 2000 financial bulletin of the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions. It has a community charter that covers Rock and western Walworth counties in Wisconsin and the northern part of Winnebago County across the state line in Illinois. It has two offices in Beloit and one in Rockton, Ill. Barnes said that 30% of First American’s assets are in first mortgages. It keeps the adjustable rate loans and those that don’t qualify for the secondary market and sells the fixed rates loans. But it works with its in-house borrowers to refinance them into marketable, fixed rate loans. As he has grown into the credit union world, Barnes has taken a leadership role in the credit union business in Wisconsin. He first served on the government affairs committee of the Wisconsin Credit Union League and then became the association’s chairman. He’s also been involved with the governmental affairs committee of CUNA. Recently, he testified before a Wisconsin state Senate committee investigating the payday loan business. He’s mixed business with pleasure in the friendship he has developed with former Wisconsin governor and current Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson. He and Thompson have ridden the highways together several times, including one memorable trip around Lake Superior and another to Washington, D.C. “I see a lot of challenges for credit unions coming up,” he observed. “We’re being bombarded by competition from non-traditional sources – notably online. A certain percentage of the population is going to go that route.” It’s when his mind starts to dwell too heavily on such matters that Barnes hops on his Harley. He also has turned his vacations into road trips. Last May, he and his wife of seven years, Teri, made a trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C., a 2,500-mile roundtrip. Later this month, he has a trip mapped out that will take the couple west. “We’ll get to Denver, Yellowstone (National Park), the Beartooth Mountains (along the Wyoming-Montana border), Jackson Hole (Wyo.), and hit Sturgis, (S.D.) on the way home,” Barnes says. That will put him in the middle of 500,000 other Harley riders who congregate in Sturgis for the community’s 61st annual Harley-Davidson Rally. “The whole area around Sturgis is all motorcycles for 50 miles around. I don’t go every year, but I’ve gone several times,” Barnes remarks. By the time he gets back to Beloit, he expects to have put 3,000 miles on his Electroglide, a high-end touring motorcycle, which Barnes describes as a “full dresser” – meaning it’s fully decked out with saddlebags and the rest of a touring package, including a back seat with armrests for his wife. Barnes grew up as an Air Force brat but he calls Central Illinois home. He first fell in love with motorcycles when his cousin got a minibike when he was 12. Then, he noticed a neighbor’s Harley Electroglide. “He was an old-time biker, with a white-billed hat lace hanging everywhere off the motorcycle.” Over the years, Barnes has had a number of different motorcycles but, he said, “I’ve always come back to Harleys. I like Harleys, the way they sound, the way they feel, the way they drive.” Barnes puts some of his spare time into restoring old Harleys. Last year he customized a Harley 1200 Sportster, a smaller bike than the Electroglide, for his wife. Now he’s working on what he calls “an old dresser,” called an FLH. In what other spare time he has, Barnes dabbles in real estate. His biggest project has been as developer of a subdivision in Beloit Township of 90 single-family homes. In addition, with his son, one of his three grown children, he’s done some renovation work. “We buy a house, gut it out, rebuild it and try to make money on it,” Barnes said. “We do one a year.” His only regret, and it’s not really a regret, more a wistful yearning, is that he’s made his home in the upper Midwest. “I ride every chance I get. Sometimes I wonder why I live in Wisconsin, when good (motorcycle) riding time is limited to four months a year.” -

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