VACAVILLE, Calif. – When you're big, and your smaller neighbor needs help, why not pitch in? That attitude backs efforts by Travis Credit Union to help launch a new credit union expected to open its doors in a few months to serve the area's Hispanic residents, and it bespeaks the billion-dollar credit union's philosophy of giving back to the community. The mentoring includes sharing some staff resources, providing copies of policies and procedures, setting up workshops and advising on obtaining funding from sources such as the Credit Union Foundation. Patsy Van Ouwerkerk will mark her first year as TCU president/CEO this week. She also observed firsthand another large credit union, The Golden One, where she served until 1993 as senior vice president. At that point The Golden One was approximately the same asset size TCU is today. "One of the things that strikes me about a very large credit union that differs from the smaller ones where I've been a CEO is the resources you have," Van Ouwerkerk says. "Whether it's related to compliance or research or contract negotiations, you have so many more people to assist in getting the job done. I think that's very tough in smaller or mid-size credit unions." At the same time she appreciates the in-depth insight specialists can offer, she's dedicated to cross-training and efforts such as the Western CUNA Management School, where she's on the board. "While there is much more specialization (at large credit unions), I think senior staff is really expected to have a good knowledge of all areas of the credit union," she says "That is much more difficult at a large credit union. So many things are happening in each area such as lending or IT, just taking care of your own functional area is a big job. It is tough to know enough about other areas to make good decisions," Van Ouwerkerk adds. TCU was chartered in 1951 as a federal credit union to serve both military and civilian personnel at Travis Air Force Base. In 1999 TCU switched to a state charter, allowing it to draw members from nine counties. The credit union's top management realized the area was growing, and TCU already enjoyed high visibility among residents. A lot of people who lived and worked in the area were puzzled when they learned they weren't eligible to join. The state charter has enabled TCU to reach out to the entire community. Expanding into the community means adding branches will be a priority during the next couple years. TCU will also continue to deploy more ATMs. Even so, the base remains the credit union's core. The name hasn't changed, although the word "Federal" was dropped. In fact, two TCU employees are assigned to work closely with the base in terms of community involvement. The credit union wants to make certain its relationship with Travis remains solid. The result, Van Ouwerkerk points out, is about nine out of 10 people who come to the base join TCU. The war in Iraq really hasn't had a major impact on the credit union, Van Ouwerkerk indicates. "In terms of policies and procedures we have in place, I think we already do a good job of helping our military members whether they have been deployed or are on active duty but not necessarily deployed. "Where we have really concentrated in the past four or five months has been to meet the need for increased flexibility. Individuals may have been deployed but didn't have time to get power of attorney. Spouses may suddenly find themselves handling finances. We're trying to work with them on things that otherwise can make your life crazy," she explains. Just as TCU is active on the base, the credit union also reaches out to the community at large. One example is Travis Credit Union Park. TCU has sponsored the stadium in Vacaville for three years. This summer the California Coastal Collegiate baseball team will call the facility home. Today Van Ouwerkerk describes her 28 years working at credit unions as "a wonderful career." She also recalls when that career started she knew little or nothing about credit unions. She had majored in English and journalism at Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C., with an eye to becoming a sports reporter. When her husband graduated and accepted a job in California, she left school after her junior year to join him there and find a job. As it happened, that job search launched her credit union career. "I was fortunate to start work in a credit union where the CEO basically said, `If you love working with people, and you want to help people, you couldn't pick a better career.' I really took it to heart," she says. That was Coast Federal Credit Union in Eureka, Calif. She has also worked at Columbia Credit Union, The Golden One and Alliance Credit Union. Van Ouwerkerk believes leaving college before completing her degree has made her especially committed to ongoing education through programs such as the CUES CEO Institute and the Western CUNA Management School. Off the job, she and her husband just finished putting in a pool with an Hawaiian-theme cabana and lanai at their home. She enjoys swimming, and while she describes herself as "not the strongest swimmer in the world," she vows she's going to improve her skills. It's a good bet you will from time to time find some relatives at the pool. "We don't have any children, but I'm very fortunate my husband and I have nine wonderful nieces and nephews. We've been able to spoil them. We also have a dog and a cat that make me sometimes think it would be easier to have children," she quips. It's another solid wager that when those nieces and nephews visit they will find something good to eat. "I love cooking and collecting cookbooks," Van Ouwerkerk says. "I also love gardening, especially planting – I let my husband do the weeding." -

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