VANCOUVER, Wash. – Ask Marv Showalter what were some of the pressing issues for the credit union industry nearly 30 years ago and one quickly gets a sense of dj vu. As a former director and chairman of the Credit Union Executives Society, Showalter, 69, testified in 1978 before Congress on the issue of taxation, a perennial banking industry contention. The argument has remained the same, but what’s clearly at stake is rising above the fray and settling upon the cornerstones of the movement, he explained. “Taxation was a big issue but more importantly, there was a compelling argument because credit unions were created to serve those who weren’t being served,” Showalter said. The native Washingtonian began his career in 1959 as a volunteer at what was then SP&S Federal Credit Union (now Columbia Credit Union) chartered in 1952 to serve SP&S Railroad employees. Here, he served on the credit committee, having a say in the approval of all loan requests and worked his way up to managing director in 1969. During his tenure, Showalter saw the credit union’s growth more than triple from 900 members and $75 million in assets. In 1975, SP&S’ charter changed, enabling the credit union to serve both railroad employees and surrounding communities. What is quickly becoming happenstance today with the proliferation of credit unions expanding their charters, Showalter recalled the brouhaha SP&S conversion stirred. “It was a pioneering move and it took a difficult three years to make the conversion,” Showalter said. “There was a 25,000 limit on membership. Some were concerned about the move.” Still, the expansion helped Columbia to blaze a trail for innovative products and services. In 1976, Columbia was the first credit union on the West Coast to offer checking accounts and only the sixteenth in the nation to do so even though some perceived them as the “anti-Christ” because of their banking ties. Columbia was also among the first in the state to offer safety deposit boxes, certificates of deposits, individual retirement accounts, Visa credit cards and the formation of its CUSO, Columbia Financial Network. “Having a CUSO was another perceived banking territory,” Showalter said. “We really had to push for legislation to have them.” Dennis Cutter, president/CEO of Numerica Credit Union and former chairman of the World Council of Credit Unions recalls the early days at SP&S when he and Showalter initially worked as volunteers. “He had a passion for credit union work, really believing in helping people and expanding the credit union to be able to serve people for the long term,” said Cutter, who considers Showalter one of his best friends spanning nearly four decades. “He was very innovative in moving the industry forward.” While at Columbia, Showalter served as a director at CUES, having been a member of the organization since 1968. He was elected chairman in 1979 during a time when the industry set forth to establish a professional signature including changing the credit union title from manager to president. “It was a controversial decision because some people were worried the change would make managers become more like bankers,” Showalter said. “Our reasoning was if you wanted to be considered a professional, a good first step would be to have a more professional title.” There was also concern about how CUES would remain viable in the midst of “shrinking” credit union growth. Showalter said at one point there were more than 24,000 credit unions but with the onset of mergers, that number had significantly dwindled during his tenure. Presenting a compelling argument for why credit unions should be considered tax-exempt entities was another industry matter. The bottom line, Showalter explained, was credit unions were created as an alternative to banks and finance companies that were only available to a limited few. “Today’s check-cashing stores are yesterday’s finance companies,” he said. “When I began, most of our members were not allowed in a bank because they were considered `working people.’” It’s that accessibility that has also set the foundation of the credit union credo: “members first.” “It’s clich, but they’re not just words – the members should always come first and we need to keep in mind that we serve them, they don’t serve us,” Showalter said. He credits his hardworking staff at Columbia for keeping that philosophy front and center. No one worked for him, they worked with him. Working in a family-like atmosphere, Showalter was called by his first name by everyone that worked with him.”I used to tell the employees I can scrub toilets all the way to the top,” he recalled. “I always believed you treat people how you want to be treated.” Showalter’s influence can be felt through a number of former employees that moved on to high-ranking positions including Larry Hoff, president/CEO of Fibre Federal Credit Union in Longview, Wash. “If it wasn’t for Marv, I would’ve left the credit union industry years ago,” said Hoff, who worked with Showalter for a number of years at Columbia. In 1986, Hoff was prepared to take a position at a private firm but after receiving a call from Showalter urging him to reconsider, he declined to take the new job. “Whenever I’m faced with a decision, unsure of which direction to go, I say, `what would Marv do,’ ” Hoff said. “ He was a visionary when no one knew what visions were.” In addition to being inducted into CUES’ Hall of Fame in 1989, Showalter also served as a national director for CUNA. Leaving the CUES post in 1988 was part of a long-term plan Showalter put together at the age of 30 – he aimed to retire by age of 55. A confessed workaholic, Showalter didn’t immediately put the brakes on his career. For a number of years, he did consulting work for CUES, NCUA and then Columbia. An avid boater – he and Cutter would take their boats out on the Columbia River and both their families have taken vacations together – he finally reached a place where he wanted to relax and enjoy much-earned leisure time. In 1996, he and Beverly, his wife of 51 years, bought a recreational vehicle and traveled the country. Finally, there was time to remodel their home and he’s becoming quite the professional at digital photography. “It’s a passion,” Showalter said. He and Beverly are ecstatic that their three children, seven grandchildren and three grandchildren all live in the area. Every June, Showalter and friends get together for a few days to “swap tales,” as part of the aptly named Credit Union Survivors Group. Having the distinction of volunteering and building an illustrious 30-year career at a single credit union, Showalter said that type of longevity is pretty common among his colleagues. Most industry veterans started working for a credit union’s sponsoring organization and then transitioned to a volunteer or staff position. “We were pioneers to the point that if we didn’t learn it right away,” Showalter explained, “We learned it through the University of Hard Knocks.” Friends who would like to get in touch with Showalter, can reach him at (360) 694-7838 or (360) 921-2736. -

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