SEATTLE, Wash. – Often in our society of people rushing around to earn a dollar or to honor their many commitments, a single human being can bring it all into perspective about what's truly important. Robert L. Coleman is one such person. "He may be best described as a most remarkable individual," explains John Annaloro, president/CEO of the Washington Credit Union League. Coleman is president/CEO of Northwest Baptist FCU in Seattle, a CU with $4.1 million in assets, 887 members and located in a 700 square-foot converted house on the grounds of Mt. Zion Baptist Church. Despite its small size, the CU still offers special savings programs for members, such as the current high 6% interest on 1-year Share Certificates with a minimum deposit of $2,000. Coleman, an affable man with a perpetual broad smile, has conquered the hearts of young people in his CU and astounded his membership and national community development CUs with his vision, dedication and actions. Don't tell Robert Coleman something can't happen. He'll prove you wrong. He will be the first one to tell you, however, special partnerships are essential in meeting goals. In fact, "PARTNERSHIPS.That Make a Difference" was the fitting theme for Northwest Baptist FCU's 43rd Annual Meeting and Year 2000 Annual Report and continues to guide credit union activities. The membership fully supports their credit union, with more than 500 attending that annual meeting and never less than 300 at any annual meeting. Several years ago, it was inevitable that Northwest Baptist would require an advanced data processing system to provide additional needed services for members. Coleman met with Gary Oakland, president/CEO of Boeing Employees CU (BECU), to inquire if they could set up a dedicated line to the BECU system. Instead, Oakland provided them $15,000, half of the total cost, for Northwest Baptist to purchase new computers for their own system and provided complementary training for staff. Coleman early on realized many in Seattle's Baptist community were not being served with credit union services. So in 1990 he proposed to his then-named Mt. Zion Baptist FCU Board to open credit union membership to four other area churches of American Baptist affiliation. "This was no minor accomplishment," joked Coleman, "although I'd never heard of anyone being excommunicated out of a credit union. But everyone finally bought into the idea." Coleman was also instrumental in establishing in 1993 the successful, popular Youth Outreach Association (YOA), formerly named the Youth Credit Union Program, first of its kind in Washington. The program includes internships in managing and operating a federally chartered CU, learning to establish and maintain good credit, and learning concepts in accounting. Coleman proudly recalls that every one of the original 13 youth group members went to college, and one recently earned a full scholarship to medical school this fall. And this April the dynamic youth group sponsored an elaborate auction that raised $40,000 for scholarships. Why does Coleman devote so much time to the youth? "Selfishness," he quipped. He went on to explain with laughter in his voice: "Dealing with kids keeps one active, motivated and up with current slang – the vernacular of the day. If you want to keep up with the world, you have to run with the young kids." Popularity with young people is only one of his skills. Coleman appears to be a natural for winning prestigious awards. Recently, the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions (NFCDCU) recognized him with its prestigious Ninth Annual Annie Vamper Helping Hands Award. NFCDCU Executive Director Cliff Rosenthal is high on praise for Coleman. "Almost everything you could say about him would sound somehow cliched or insincere – but for the fact that it's true," said Rosenthal. "Coleman inspires by kindness, by consideration, and by a thoughtfulness for people that goes beyond anyone I've ever met in the credit union movement. Time and again, our staff has been touched by his personal generosity. "But there is so much more," Rosenthal added. "His devotion to his youth project has produced a group of remarkably poised, positive young people. He is a man of faith and a person of integrity. He is one of those people I have met in the CDCU movement who have, through his example, made me ask myself: `How can I do more? How can I better help others?'" Coleman, married for 47 years to his wife, Joyce, and with three children and two grandchildren, has come a long way in reaching his current prominence. Born and raised in Houston, Tex., he graduated from Prairie View A&M University. After graduation, Boeing Corp. in Seattle hired him as an engineer. After 13 years at Boeing, he decided to change courses. "I finally decided I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and it wasn't working as an engineer," Coleman laughed. He was more interested in people issues. So in 1972, he joined the U.S. Civil Service, later to be named the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Later, he was appointed head of the Certification and Processing Unit of the Seattle Service Center. This January, he retired from this full-time position. But he continued working as part-time CEO at the CU. After retiring from the government agency, Waterfront FCU, a $27 million asset-CU in Seattle, called upon him to serve as interim president for four months after their president/CEO resigned. He continued managing NWBFCU since it was only open two evenings mid-week, plus several hours after Sunday church services. One would figure his entire life must have been devoted just to his credit union work. Not so. In both 1994 and 1995, he received Seattle's honored Entrepreneur of the Year Award for the business community. He currently serves as chairman of the Youth Advisory Committee of the NFCDCU, and is past president and board member of a number of state and national organizations. Coleman takes great pride in his recent certification from the Development Educators Program after attending the 2001 summer training session in Madison, Wisconsin. "I didn't think it was possible for me to get any more motivated about credit union philosophy," said Coleman, "but I really got turned on with the DE program." Coleman, it seems, is turned on with life, and shares his joy each day with others. John Annaloro said of him, "Robert Coleman is proof that we are all in the position to make this place a better place. His unselfish actions are an example for everyone. His perspectives on credit unions are often inspiring." – [email protected]

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