PASCAGOULA, Miss. — W.T. "Pete" Avara Jr., president of Navigator Credit Union for 50 years, died Sept. 25 after a yearlong battle with chronic lung disease. Avara was 79 and the father of three sons, including Navigator CU's acting president/CEO Laurin Avara. An NCU spokesperson said the senior Avara never retired from his leadership position with the CU, but his son assumed his responsibilities this past year because of his father's poor health. In addition to his sons, Avara is survived by his wife. Avara became manager of the credit union in 1956 when it was known as Ingalls Employees CU. At the time, the CU had about 400 members and served the employees of Ingalls Shipyard. The CU currently has about $236 million in assets and approximately 30,000 members. Avara was very active in the Mississippi credit union movement during his career. He served on the Mississippi Credit Union League Board for 45 years–the longest tenure of any league board member. He served as president of the Gulf Coast Chapter of Credit Unions, as president of the Mississippi Managers Association, and as chairman of the Mississippi Credit Union League Board. In 2004 he was inducted into the Mississippi Credit Union Hall of Fame.

Avara was president of Navigator CU through hurricanes Camille, Frederick, Elena, George and Katrina. During Camille, he handed out wet money to members from the trunk of his car in order to get members the cash they needed, and long before there were such things as armored cars, he would personally make cash deliveries and pick ups.

He is credited with starting one of the first payday loan alternatives during the 1940s, called the "drag line," for shipyard employees to help them pay room and board to local boarding houses in Pascagoula.

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