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<p>MADISON, Wis. – Credit unions have been a part of Charles “Chuck” Eikel’s life – and his family’s – for as long as he can remember. His retirement on April 24 from CUNA Mutual Group where he’s worked for the past 25 years as a public relations professional, does not mark the end the family tradition, only a different phase of it. Growing up, Chuck said credit unions were a regular part of his family’s every day conversation. “Words like members and loans sharks were part of the household lingo, my dad talked about loan sharks all the time,” he recalled. So much so, in fact, that Chuck laughingly remembered when his then-10 year old sister Lucia once told her friend’s father that, “My dad works for CUNA and he’s a loan shark.” His father, the late Charles “Charley” Eikel, was a credit union pioneer and CUNA & Affiliates organizer in Louisiana and 14 other states. He later served as president of CUNA Mutual Insurance for 17 years and retired in 1973. He died in 1988. Chuck’s father-in-law, the late Jim Girvan, was a CUNA & Affiliates director and credit union leader in Pennsylvania. Despite being immersed in the credit union industry, Chuck did not start his professional career pointed in the direction of working in it. His original plan was to teach. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and holds a Master of Arts degree in history from West Chester College in Pennsylvania, and it was those credentials that later opened the door for him to work at CUNA Mutual. Chuck actually has a dinner invitation to thank for landing him his first job at a credit union. One night he was invited to join his dad who was CEO of CUNA Mutual at the time, for dinner with Jim Girvan, who was president of K of C CU and Railway Express CU in Pennsylvania. Chuck accepted a job offer from Girvan to work at K of C. That job stint only lasted four months when Chuck was drafted and joined the Air National Guard, but the short lived working experience at the credit union allowed him to get his feet wet working in the CU movement. Chuck spent six months in active duty and the next five-and-a-half years in the reserves. When he came out, he taught history and married Jim Girvan’s daughter, Claire (they’ve been married now for 34 years). The family moved to Pennsylvania and then to Madison, Wis., where Chuck said he intended to pursue a PhD. The doctorate degree never happened, but what did happen was Chuck applied for a job at CUNA Mutual Group. He doesn’t recall the exact position he applied for, but he remembered he was rejected for the position because he didn’t have a journalism degree. That was in 1978, and CUNA Mutual Group had just moved into a new building and wanted to set aside space for a museum of credit union history. The company hired Chuck to research historical credit union information for the museum and write about how CUs fit in with the social and economic history of Europe and North America. Over the years, CUNA Mutual’s “resident historian” was often called on to host international credit union guests of the Credit Union Center. In addition to his responsibilities with the credit union museum, Chuck spent the next quarter of a century at CUNA Mutual Group writing for the company’s Dimensions magazine, as well as the company’s employee publications. For Dimensions, his regular column was “Risk Management” which offered CUs advice on loss prevention. He also wrote stories on the international aspects of CUNA Mutual and the credit union movement, and was a contributing writer/editor for CUNA Mutual Group’s Annual Report. In all of his years working with credit unions, Chuck said he kept in mind something he heard his father say repeatedly – “Don’t take credit unions for granted. Credit union organizers met with a lot of resistance when they want to set up a credit union.” Chuck recalls the several life threatening experiences his father had when he tried to organize credit unions in Mississippi. One time, for example, when his father was trying to organize a credit union in the state among railway workers, he was sent packing out of town and later found out that the railway union boss was a loan shark. Chuck said his father also had run-ins with the Klu Klux Klan. “The people involved with credit unions today need to appreciate those who came before them and all the work they did,” says Chuck. Now that he’s preparing for his own retirement, he’s had the chance to think about the legacy he hopes he leaves with CUNA Mutual. He told Credit Union Times he wants to be known as someone who truly believes in credit unions and what they do. Chuck graduated with the first CUNA Mutual Credit Union Development Educator (DE) class in 1982. The program includes about 350 CU volunteers worldwide. It requires rigorous initial training and on-going educations, and also requires participants to make a commitment to initiate development projects and carry the CU message, history and advocacy to the communities where they live. He is a recipient of the “Horizon Award”, the DE program’s highest award for DE activity. Chuck plans to continue his DE work after he retires from CUNA Mutual. Leveraging his years of experience working for CUNA Mutual and what he learned about CUs from his father, Chuck advises credit unions to not let the banks become a divisive force between large and small credit unions. “Your basic credit union philosophy isn’t tainted by bigness. Whether a credit union has 2 million, 20 million or 200 million members, you’re still doing your job if you keep your focus on the credit union philosophy and mission,” said Chuck. Chuck is also taking with him one other important lesson he learned, this one from CUNA Mutual Group – “If you treat people well, you will be treated well.” [email protected]</p>

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