HELENA, Mont. – Tracie Karls doesn’t know where the time has gone. Up until six years ago she was living in Oregon and working at various credit unions in the state. For the past six years Karls has been at the Utah League of Credit Unions, working her way up from a training manager to senior vice president, dues supported services. On Aug. 25, Tracie and her husband Mick packed up their car, put their 15-month old daughter in the baby seat and headed North to Montana. On Sept. 4, Karls began her new job as president/CEO of the Montana Credit Union Network. She succeeds Herb Walberg who was in the position since 1973 and retired from May 1. “It’s amazing how quickly things have gone,” said Karls, recalling the miles she’s covered and experience she’s gained over the years. Karls cut her teeth on credit unions working at the former Educational Community Credit Union (now Rainier Pacific Bank) in Washington State. From there she worked at various credit unions in Oregon (where she hails from) including First Technology CU, Beaverton; United Association NW FCU, Portland; and Northwest Resource FCU, Portland, where she met her husband Mick. In August 1995, when Mick who was then working at the Oregon League of Credit Unions accepted an offer from Children’s Miracle Network to be the organization’s national director of credit union sales, the Karls’-team relocated to Salt Lake City. On a hunch, Tracie sent her resume to the Utah League of Credit Unions “because I knew how credit unions networked, and I thought they might know of a job opening at a credit union in the area,” she recalled. The league wound up hiring Tracie themselves as their training manager. Thinking back to what ULCU was like six years ago, Tracie said the league has changed more in its philosophy and focus, and less infrastructure-wise. “Six years ago, the league’s focus was in order of priorities, providing educational opportunities for credit unions, public relations efforts, and government relations. Now government relations are the Utah league’s top priority.” Why the Utah league’s change in priorities? Tracie attributes the cause to the grassroots effort behind the push for the eventual passage of H.R. 1151 and mostly to the massive state level effort that began in 1998 to pass the state’s credit union bill. “It was an amazing feat and a scary one also,” said Karls about the state legislative exercise. “The Third District Court had just ruled against us in a field-of-membership lawsuit filed by the Utah Bankers Association, and it looked like our credit unions’ fields-of-membership would be shrunk down if we didn’t react fast. “We quickly mobilized to build relationships and work more actively in the political process. We had done some political work before, but this was a major wake-up call,” Karls said. Just as Karl’s tenure with the Utah League of Credit Unions happened unexpectedly, her new position with the Montana Credit Union Network was just as unforeseeable. Karls said she was contacted by a headhunter inquiring if she knew of someone who met the qualifications MCUN was looking for in candidates to fill the president/CEO spot left vacant when Walberg retired. “I brought it home and told Mick about it, and after looking at the qualifications he said, `Tracie, that’s you.’ ” But Karls was still unsure if she should throw her name into the hat as a contender for the spot. She talked with ULCU President Scott Earl about the contact she’d made with the headhunter and her husband’s remark. “ Scott was wonderful,” said Tracie. “He was very supportive of me and told me to go for it.” Which brings Karls to the president/ CEO’s chair she’s now occupying at the Montana Credit Union Network. She already has her priorities lined up too – refocus MCUN’s resources on its primary functions including legislative advocacy, public relations, and education and training; an internal public relations effort with MCUN-affiliated credit unions; reviewing the MCUN service corporation; and developing a longterm strategy for MCUN’s structure and staffing. That should prove to be an interesting challenge for Karls considering the profile of credit unions in Montana compared to Utah – the largest credit union in Utah, America First CU has $1.9 billion in assets, and the second largest-Mountain America-has $850 million in assets. In Montana there are 78 credit unions. The largest-Whitefish CU Association-has $329 million in assets. “I want the Montana Credit Union Network to be a trade association of choice, not default. I am very excited about being with the Montana network,” said Tracie. Credit Union Times spoke with Karls on one of her last days with the Utah League. Understandably she was feeling a mixture of excitement over her new job and regrets over leaving her former colleagues at the Utah League of Credit Unions and the many friends she and Mick made among credit unions in the state. She especially wanted to thank her mentors ULCU President/CEO Earl and Shelley Clarke, president/CEO, Goldenwest CU and former ULCU chairman “for what they’ve given me.” -

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