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Organizers banking on support for new Whidbey credit union

Beverly Rose and Duke LeBaron are leading the effort to establish a new federal credit union for Whidbey Islanders.   - Roy Jacobson / The Record
Beverly Rose and Duke LeBaron are leading the effort to establish a new federal credit union for Whidbey Islanders.
— image credit: Roy Jacobson / The Record

The effort to establish a new federal credit union on Whidbey Island is gathering steam and daring to dream.

With two information meetings held and two to go, organizers have collected more than a third of the required 250 forms indicating interest, and more than $200,000 in preliminary pledges, said Beverly Rose of Freeland, one of two South End residents spearheading the drive.

“Of course, that’s not real money yet,” she said Thursday.

Rose and Bayview resident Duke LeBaron envision a members-run nonprofit credit union by islanders, for islanders — a place that keeps high finance local and creates wealth for the community.

“What appeals to me is that it keeps money here,” LeBaron said Thursday. “For me, that’s the whole thing.”

He and Rose envision a Whidbey Island Community Federal Credit Union, a cooperative financial institution for residents of the entire island that would be locally owned and controlled by the people who use it.

Rose said that credit unions exist for service, not profit, and so are typically able to offer better rates on loans and a better return on savings than for-profit banks and savings-and-loans.

“There is such strength in pooling our resources,” Rose said. “The word is starting to spread.”

The organizers have set a deadline of April 30 to gather the 250 affirmative survey forms of interest required by the National Credit Union Association (NCUA).

“That’s a completely arbitrary date — it’s my 74th birthday,” Rose said.

When the surveys are in hand, along with the verified pledges of start-up deposits and donations (about $125,000), a volunteer organizing committee of seven to 10 members would be formed, and a business plan created, Rose said.

At that point, a formal application would be made to the NCUA.

“We hope that by September we’ll have all our ducks in line to file for a charter,” Rose said.

She said that down the road, the organizing committee would be replaced by a board of directors and other committees, all made up of volunteer members of the credit union. NCUA does background checks on all directors and major committee members, she added.

LeBaron said the credit union would start small; a $10 deposit would get you in and give you a vote, and initial loans would be capped at $5,000.

“We have to walk before we can run,” he said.

There are nearly 11,000 state and federal credit unions in the United States. The Whidbey credit union would be affiliated with the Northwest Credit Union Association.

Rose said that nearly all the work on the credit union during the first three years would be done by volunteers.

Rose, a resident of the island for the past seven years, had 30 years of banking experience before launching her own business in promotional products in 1991.

In the 1970s, she single-handedly started a women-only credit union in Chicago. At the time, women couldn’t get bank loans on their own, she said.

“I even protested at city hall,” she said. “I knew nothing at all when it hit me on the head to do it. You learn as you go.”

LeBaron, 81, has lived on Whidbey Island for 24 years and is a strong proponent of maintaining a local focus.

He has a background in food wholesaling and wood stoves, among other occupations, and still works one day per week at Bayview Farm & Garden.

“I don’t consider myself retired,” he said.

Although he’s never belonged to a credit union, he finds the prospect more than appealing.

“Credit unions have different regulations from banks,” he said. “Banks can loan money they don’t have. When we’re up and running, we’ll be safer than a bank.”

He said there are two other credit unions on the island, both with offices in Oak Harbor — Alaska USA, and the Navy’s credit union. But both have their headquarters off the island, and neither plan to open branches on the South End, he said.

Rose predicted that a local credit union should promote savings, what she considers a necessary focus for these trying times.

“A lot of us need a mechanism for forced savings,” she said. “This does the trick.”

The next information meeting about the credit union will be Tuesday, March 8, in Clinton, at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, 6309 Wilson Place.

A fourth meeting will be at 7 p.m. Monday, March 21, in the fellowship hall at Oak Harbor Lutheran Church, 1253 NW Second Ave.

Previous meetings were held in Freeland and Coupeville, LeBaron said.

For more information or to get a survey form, call LeBaron at 321-7489 or Rose at 331-1110, or e-mail bubbybev@whidbey.com. 

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