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WASHINGTON-Contrary to popular belief, economics is not all about numbers crunching. It’s about telling a credit union board how the numbers could affect their credit union. Likewise, economics is not all that economists live for. For CUNA Chief Economist Bill Hampel, it’s about the open road. Hampel, an avid cyclist, drives partway in to CUNA’s Washington office from his Clifton, Va. home, but when the traffic gets unbearable closer into the city, he parks, unloads his bike, and glides the rest of the way into the office at a much faster pace than any of the cars sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic. But Hampel’s biking experience is not confined to the blacktop of the city. When he gets the chance to go to Maui, aside from his family, his trusty bike travels with him. Hampel begins his ascent of the volcano on the Hawaiian island in the morning and coasts back down from the top by evening. Competitive cycling is not something that Hampel is interested in though. “Life is full of competition as it is,” he said. Aside from cycling, Hampel enjoys going trail riding on one of his two horses that reside on the five-acre lot he and his family live on. Originally, when the Hampels moved down from Madison, Wis. to Virginia during CUNA’s `Renewal,’ Hampel made deals with his children. His daughter, Yvonne, wanted enough land to have a horse. Hampel decided to also get one for himself so he could keep an eye on her. Now, at 14, he said, she is usually too busy to go riding, so he has the horses mainly to himself. Of course his oldest child, Alan, now 16, could not be left out of the deal making. He wanted a satellite dish so he could still catch the Green Bay Packers football games, which he and Hampel watch together. While his children seem to enjoy the life of an average American teenager, Hampel’s was not quite so typical. Hampel’s father was a pilot during World War II. After the war, he flew commercial planes for Pan-American Airlines and was based in Johannesburg, South Africa. When Hampel was very young, his parents split, and he lived with his mother in Johannesburg while his father returned to the United States. His mother died eight years later, when Hampel was just 11. An aunt brought him to the airport to fly back to the U.S. to live with his father. The cultures of South Africa, under apartheid, and Dallas, Texas in the early `60s was like day and night, Hampel said. It did not take long for young Hampel to realize, “Whoa, that’s screwed up.” He added that some of his peers in South Africa were involved in the anti-establishment movement. Hampel said he tries to return to Johannesburg every four or five years. Hampel did not say that his experiences growing up influenced his decision to study economics and their social consequences. Instead, he admitted that he accidentally fell into it. Hampel attended a small liberal arts college to start without any particular objective in mind. He originally was drawn to the science courses, but soon became disillusioned. He said the analytics of the sciences were interesting to him but not the subject matter. “It was all inanimate pieces of rocks and metal,” Hampel explained. He was taking a course in the principles of economics. His first exam earned him a D and the second an F. In a brown-nosing effort, to “weasel a better grade,” Hampel told his professor that he was considering majoring in economics and asked for help. What began as a floundering effort to pass a course became a career. “I found it so fascinating, I think I got the best grades on the rest of the tests,” Hampel said. Still, after graduation, he said, “I didn’t have any clue what I wanted to do when I grew up.I was having so much fun I decided to go to grad school.” After earning his PhD in Economics from the University of Montana, Hampel still was not sure what he could do with it other than teach, so he did. He taught about 20 hours a week he said and fooled around the rest of the time, even inventing with some of his friends an early version of Frisbee-golf. At 26, Hampel started feeling guilty and also possibly facing staff reductions at the college, he began to search for another job. Though he eventually found out that his job would be spared, his wife, Diane, still wanted to move. So Hampel attended a job fair of mostly jobs in academia, but with a small, non-academic fringe section, including CUNA. The credit union movement quickly won Hampel over. He explained how credit unions impressed him as different from all other financial institutions. “They really are different.Ultimately, they’re there to help their members and not some outside investors,” he said. Hampel also emphasized that, while he does crunch numbers for CUNA’s member credit unions, that’s not what being an economist is about. “It’s easy to collect numbers.What’s more difficult and interesting is to make sense of them,” he said. But economics is only about a third of Hampel’s job, he said. He added that about one-third of his job is administrative, running the Economics and Statistics Department is Madison, and one-third general trade association work, such as his position as senior staff representative to the Renaissance Commission. Hampel has also served on the board of CUNA Credit Union since 1991 and chaired the last two years. [email protected]

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