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HELENA, Mont. – In what might be compared to a walk-a-thon or more accurately, a drive-a-thon,Tracie Kenyon Karls, president of the Montana Credit Union Network, was determined to “set foot” in all 73 credit unions that comprise the League membership during her first year on the job. “I’m sure glad I did it because for me it helped develop what I hope will be a much closer relationship with the managers, directors and staff of every Montana credit union,” declared Karls. In a state which Karls describes as having “massive geography” stretching 700 miles from east to west-and which takes 12 hours to drive border to border-Karls accomplished the task of visiting all 73 CUs in September. Completing the statewide trek on Sept. 10, “I actually got to spend time that day at two Kalispell credit unions, Flathead Credit Union and Flathead Schools Employees Federal Credit Union,” recounted Karls in a journey that began when she took over the job Sept. 1, 2001. She actually began her first visit before getting on the payroll by stopping in at Rocky Mountain Credit Union here on Aug. 28, 2001 “where I opened an account.” What did she learn in her meetings with Montana execs? “I found out firsthand what folks really expect from their trade association, and on that score we’ve beefed up our compliance department. I also learned how difficult the Montana geography makes it for members to take part in educational sessions,” observed Karls. The former Utah League senior vice president said the visits also helped her set new priorities for the Montana staff in determining the real needs of member CUs. “I’ve got a whiteboard in my office that lists our organization’s top 14 priorities which include governance, dues evaluation, the `emerging credit union’ and member business services, to name a few,” said Karls. To keep costs down, the Montana League intends to use more audio conferencing and telephone hookups so CUs in remote parts of the state can take advantage of services. “I’ll be facilitating this month’s Webinar on Oct. 30 on the credit union philosophy, and we are partnering with the Illinois League to bring audio conferences to Montana credit unions,” said Karls. Karls said in her visits she was particularly impressed with the close relationships that CUs have with their members and civic brass. “At lunch with John Stephens and Bob Meredith at Southwest Montana Community FCU in Anaconda they knew every person in that restaurant and many they had gone to high school with,” said Karls. In Froid, “I met school administrators who serve on the credit union board” and “dinner with Fran Sommerfield at Community First Credit Union in Miles City turned into a veritable who’s who as she greeted everyone in the room” including the president of the local bank as well as civic leaders. One of the projects she promoted during her visits was “Project Differentiation” which boosts CU advantages and services. “At last count we’ve got 59% of our credit unions participating,” Karls said. Karls noted that she is often teased “about being a nag, but in the end most of the credit unions are very proud of their Project Differentiation statement.” During her year-long trip, she encountered a variety of weather driving through big snowstorms in October in Havre and May in Billings. “March turned out to be the snowiest. Three times I couldn’t get out of my driveway,” recalled Karls. In an unfortunate mishap, she killed a deer on her way to a Red Lodge conference, and she also remembers “pegging a couple of birds while driving in Eastern Montana.” She also was stopped for speeding May 2 near Missoula. ” I was returning home to Helena and going about 87 mph in a 65 mph zone when I was stopped by a highway patrolman who kindly wrote me a ticket for 84 mph. I told him I had just put in an Aretha Franklin CD and explained that `you just can’t go slowly when you’re listening to R.E.S. P. E. C. T.” She paid her fine and now Karls, perhaps taking the highways a bit slower, is embarking on a repeat tour of the 73 CUs in 2002-2003. “ I’m very pleased that I have a head start and have visited three credit unions last week. Next week I plan to make stops in four.” -

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