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TULLAHOMA, Tenn. – It’s becoming an anomaly for CEOs to spend a significant portion of their careers at one credit union, and Jimmie Bearden is among that elite category. Bearden, president/CEO of AEDC Federal Credit Union retired from her post on Jan. 23 after serving 36 years at the helm. She has spent nearly five decades at the $960 million credit union, starting out as a clerk in 1956 and becoming its president/CEO in 1968. Today, AEDC FCU is the second largest in the state with more than 118,000 members and 500 select employee groups. The credit union was chartered to serve employees of the Arnold Research Organization (ARO), civilian employees and military personnel of the Air Force and the employees of the Corp of Engineers at Arnold Engineering Development Center here. “I’ve watched this credit union’s growth from infancy into adulthood even as I marked these same changes in my personal household,” Bearden said. “While I now look forward to spending more time with my children and grandchildren, there is little doubt that I will miss the daily interaction with the credit union staff and our membership family.” Caren Gabriel, former executive vice president and general counsel at AEDC FCU for 19 years, has been named the new president/CEO. With aspirations of being a teacher, Bearden received a degree in elementary education from Martin College. There, she met her future husband, Finis Bearden and later they both would work at the Arnold Center. Five years prior to Bearden’s arrival, eight employees started the credit union in 1951. Bearden was very familiar with the inner workings of the Arnold Center having worked as a clerk here and being a Tullahoma native. When she came to AEDC FCU, Bearden was one of two employees working from a desk in the corner of the ARO Benefits Office at the Arnold Center. One pivotal and “nervous” move came when the credit union opened its first branch at a nearby mall, Bearden said. “We were hesitant about it,” Bearden said. “But it turned out to be a good decision because the mall was new at the time and the branch was in a good location.” In 1980, AEDC would go on to build their headquarters nearby and today, there are 12 branches throughout Middle Tennessee. While AEDC still has a branch at the Arnold Center, moving its `main’ office off site was met with some resistance, Bearden said. “It was mainly due to financial concerns but it worked out in the end,” especially when a drive-through teller window and a remote ATM plaza were added on, she said. Over the next 12 years, the AEDC grew significantly and when the manager resigned, the board of directors tapped Bearden in 1968 to become its new leader, a role she “felt confident” in taking. It was a “big deal” when AEDC added checking accounts to its offerings, even more so when mortgage loans came on, Bearden said. Another plus for members occurred when business hours were extended to 6:00 p.m. and branches were opened on Saturdays. Over the years, AEDC has had a number of select employee groups join its ranks and today has 500. Likewise, under Bearden’s tenure, a number of small credit unions have merged into AEDC mainly because many of them “were struggling or experiencing losses of employees due to retirement or other factors.” Throughout her career, Bearden has been active within the movement. She has served on numerous National Association of Federal Credit Unions committees, as well as on the board of directors of the Tennessee Credit Union League, as vice-president for the Tennessee Credit Union Executives Society and as vice-president of the Duck River Chapter of Credit Unions. In 1991, Bearden received NAFCU’s Professional of the Year award. Outside of the movement, she is just as active in her community. She has served as director of the Tullahoma Area Chamber of Commerce, a member of the finance committee for Middle Tennessee State University, a director for the Arnold chapter of the National Management Association (NMA) and chairman of the civic activities committee. In 1989, she was awarded the Silver Knight of Management Award from NMA and was voted Professional Woman of the Year by the Business and Professional Women’s Club of Tullahoma. In 1990, she was presented the prestigious Gold Knight of Management Award by the Hi Tech Valley Council of NMA chapters, its highest honor. Looking back, she recalls “the bankers’ attacks on credit unions” during the passage of H.R. 1151 as being the most pressing time for AEDC. “It was the biggest challenge for all credit unions,” Bearden said. “We made trips to Washington, we visited with elected officials and got to know them, we made sure they knew what the credit union difference was all about.” For her dedication to AEDC for nearly five decades, the board of directors and employees honored Bearden with a fitting retirement party in January. She said she looks forward to more leisure reading, traveling, spending more time with her daughter who lives in New York and two sons here and the grandchildren. On her decision to retire, Bearden said it was time. “I had been there a long time and came to the decision it was time to give another person a go at it,” Bearden said. “I’ll miss everyone but I won’t be too far away.” [email protected]

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