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BERKELEY, Calif. – Keeping up with Maudelle Shirek is no easy task. On a typical weekday, she’s out doing errands, shopping or keeping appointments in the morning, then it’s off to the YMCA at noon where she volunteers by helping serve lunch in a community-based meals program. She moves around the room, chatting with the women while they eat and later while they play bingo, then heads back to the kitchen where she helps clean up and put away the food that she had shopped for at the grocery store. From there, Shirek is off to City Hall, where she is the city’s vice mayor, having served on the City Council since she was first elected in 1984. Later in the day, Shirek might be at a board meeting at Cooperative Center Federal Credit Union, where she is vice chairman of the board. “I don’t get around as much as I used to,” she complained. At 91, Shirek hasn’t slowed down all that much. Nor does she intend to. Her term on the council is set to expire in 2004 and she hasn’t ruled out another run for office. “We’ll see when the day comes,” she said. “I just live each day as it comes.” Shirek, whose grandparents were slaves, came to Berkeley from Arkansas in January 1943. “It was during war time,” she said. “You came for jobs.” One of the first things she did when she arrived in Berkeley at age 32 was join the Consumer’s Cooperative of Berkeley, Inc., which made her eligible to become a member of the credit union. The concept of a buying cooperative – and the cooperative nature of the credit union – held strong appeal for her. “We had a way of living in Jefferson, Arkansas, that was a cooperative way of living,” she recalled. “The different families there cooperated in harvesting and using one another’s plows and so forth. It was just sort of the same way of life for me.” Although the Co-op Market Chain no longer exists, the credit union remains. Shirek said members of the cooperative, then their children and their children’s children, have remained the credit union’s most loyal members. “There are a lot of cooperative minded people around still,” she said. “These members see the credit union as their primary financial institution,” officials note on the credit union web site (www.coopfcu.org). “This inherently stable `core’ membership has provided a solid foundation from which to build.” Shirek served on the credit union’s board previously for about eight years and was recruited within the last few years to serve again to help address some problems at the financial institution. The credit union has assets of approximately $60 million and serves 14,000 members throughout the Bay area. “It’s a membership organization. This is what I had to remind some of the board members about,” she said. “It’s not like a bank. Of course, it isn’t for charity either. It’s members helping each other. “I think we’re getting back on (the right track),” she added. “It takes a while.” Shirek previously worked at the credit union, starting out as a file clerk and later becoming a branch manager. “It’s changed a lot,” she said of the advances in technology and services. But, she noted, “It was changing when I was there as a worker.” “At one time we used to have passbooks,” she remembered. “A lot of the older members never liked that change having a book where you kept records like the bank did.” Having been associated with the credit union and the city for so many years, Shirek is well known around town. “People in the community seem like my big family,” she said. As for her long stint in city government, she admitted that she never really had political aspirations. “I was always very active in the community but I never expected to be an official of the city,” she said. “It’s quite a job. But I enjoy it.” She attributes her popularity – and her being re-elected since 1984 – to her willingness to listen to her constituents. “They feel I’ll do the right thing,” she said. “I think that’s the main thing. It’s not for selfishness. It’s not for greed or popularity. I think it’s working with the people and understanding the issues.” She credits her father, who worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad before attending a school for slave children and becoming a school teacher, with instilling her with the idea of community service. Her father was born of slave parents, who eventually were freed and moved to Arkansas, where they homesteaded 160 acres of land. Her mother was one of her father’s students. “My father always taught me that when people come to you with their problems, you don’t think what you can’t do,” she said. “You’ve got to figure out what can be done.” He also developed in her a strong work ethic. “You dignify the job, the job does not dignify you,” she insisted. “If you’re a street sweeper, you dignify that broom by being the best street sweeper you can be.” Shirek said there is still much to be done on the City Council and at the credit union. She’s also involved in other programs and activities in Berkeley. On the city side, there are important issues that need to be addressed such as joblessness, homelessness, public works and public and vocational education. “It’s hard to keep up with everything,” she said. “There’s so much work to be done.” At the credit union, where she is in the first year of a three-year term, Shirek said her greatest accomplishment has been helping members become financially literate. “I’d like to see us put out these check-cashing businesses,” she said. “But I guess that’s a long way off.” Asked why such businesses seemed to popular, she replied, “They make themselves very available. People have a need for cashing their little checks. It isn’t enough to carry them through the week or the month and then they get caught up in borrowing. It’s very expensive.” Shirek said she believes credit unions need to do more to educate members about the impact of check cashing and mortgage lending services. “It’s very important that a real thorough job be done on that,” she said. “I think they’re trying, but you have mortgage lenders that are very aggressive. There isn’t a day that passes that I don’t get a call from a mortgage lender about how they want to help you.” She suggests providing information to members in an easy to understand format. “It should be made simple,” she said, adding one possibility would be to publish a booklet on budgeting “so people could see where they’re really at.” Shirek said she learned about financial matters and other issues “by doing.” “You learn every day,” she said. “You get a lot from your parents, from people that you’re around. For instance, we didn’t have money . . . you learn not to be wasteful in any way, in any manner.” She also offered some advice for young people. “I tell young people all the time to be curious about how things are done and what’s going on around you,” she said. “And do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Then, before getting behind the wheel of her Peugeot and driving off to City Hall, she added, “It’s still a beautiful world.” [email protected]

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