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RANDELMAN, N.C. – On a sun-drenched morning here, 50 executives of North and South Carolina credit unions gathered to pay tribute to one of their own in a meaningful way-the dedication of the Larry and Hanna Johnson Spiritual Center at Victory Junction Gang Camp. “It’s really hard to describe what we’re feeling today,” Larry Johnson, the retired president/CEO of the North Carolina Credit Union League and the honoree, told the crowd. “This means so much to us and I’m sure it will mean a lot to the kids and adults who come here in search of some peace.” Indeed, thanks to Johnson’s work and the scores of CUs in North and South Carolina who over four years contributed more than $1.6 million to help build the 72-acre camp and the spiritual center, the property stands as a vital sanctuary for the estimated 1,500 youngsters suffering life-threatening illnesses. Johnson, who led the league for nearly 30 years retiring in 2003, thanked CUs for including his wife in the naming of the $400,000 spiritual center. “Hanna has been by my side every step of the way,” he said. The spiritual center, containing a nondenominational chapel and designed as a quiet reflective center for parents and camp visitors, was made possible through the donations of North Carolina CUs spearheaded by State Employees CU CEO Jim Blaine. During ribbon cutting ceremonies at the NASCAR-themed camp March 14, Pattie Petty, the wife of NASCAR racer and camp founder Kyle Petty, said the spiritual center will be a key hub at the camp adding, “We found out last year that it’s not only the kids that come to the camp for healing but their families looking for peace and healing, too.” Johnson has long spoken of life-changing events as they relate to the Petty family and the loss of their son, Adam, who was killed in a New Hampshire racing accident and their decision to honor him by founding the North Carolina camp with Hollywood actor Paul Newman. Though he did not suffer the loss of a son, Johnson recalls losing his father in a 1967 car accident, an event which altered his career path and he says, thankfully brought him to the credit union movement and his first job with the league. “That was an accident that changed my life and brought me home to Greensboro,” said Johnson who had been on an Air Force career path. Johnson retired from the league shortly after Carolina CUs and the Carolinas Credit Union Foundation committed to the Victory Junction fundraising project. Johnson said CUs’ commitment to the camp “reminds us that we’re here to do more than just manage money … we’re here to help people.” The dedication of the spiritual center ends formal fundraising of the Carolinas Credit Union Foundation to Victory Junction which has been open now for nearly two years. Over the last three years, credit unions stood as one of the camp’s largest corporate donors and were frequently honored by the Petty family and camp officials. Steve Elam, executive director of the Carolinas Foundation, commented that the CU financial and volunteer commitment to Victory Junction “is beyond my wildest dreams. Back in 2003, I don’t think anyone thought we’d raise this much money. “Credit unions of all sizes in both states truly embraced Victory Junction,” he said. “Over a three-year period, credit unions raised money through bake sales, raffles and golf tournaments, among many other ways.” Beyond the money donated, close to 100 CU executives volunteered their time at the camp. One retired CEO in South Carolina, Russell Easterling, committed weeks of his time at the camp, said Elam. “He ran a credit union not too long ago but now washes dishes at Victory Junction and is happy to do so.” While the two leagues are now moving on to other causes, including a new grant program for small, unpublicized charities, officials said the fundraising at Victory Junction will not stop. Indeed, during the ceremonies here Debbie Adams, a member service representative from the Apex branch of State Employees CU, presented a $10,000 check to Victory Junction. The donation was made possible through a two-year sale of cookbooks by branch employees. The cookbooks contained recipes from SECU employees across the state and were compiled by Adams who handed her check directly to NASCAR Legend Richard Petty, the father of camp founder Kyle Petty. “What an honor for me,” said Adams. Meanwhile, Deluxe Financial Services, a unit of St. Paul-based Deluxe Corp., said more CUs across the Carolinas have been signing up for specially designed Victory Junction checks (see check on this page) under its “cause-related check package program.” Under the program, Deluxe earmarks a portion of the proceeds from the sale of each check package to the organization featured on the checks. The Victory Junction checks feature the camp logo and tagline, “Feel your heart race” and a hot air balloon icon, as well as the NASCAR logo. The check package includes a coordinating vinyl checkbook cover. Established in 1995, Deluxe said its cause-related check program has raised nearly $8 million for worthwhile organizations across the U.S. Among groups supported by the program have been the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, American Heart Association and PBS stations. -

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