Each year, credit unions from around the country highlight top performing employees, volunteers, and institutions to be considered for NAFCU’s prestigious Annual Awards Competition. The Annual Awards are NAFCU’s way of providing recognition for these outstanding professionals and institutions. A panel of credit union peers narrows the entries down from dozens of well-deserving candidates to just eight winners that have made an exceptional mark on the industry.
“The 2022 award winners have shown their dedication to the credit union mission,” says 2022 NAFCU Awards Committee Chair Frank Mancini, president and CEO of Connex Credit Union. “Over the past year, they provided extreme service to not only their members, but also their communities at large. NAFCU is honored to recognize these winners for their exceptional representation of the credit union industry by providing unwavering support to their communities.”
There are two asset-size categories with four awards each: Credit unions with assets of more than $250 million and credit unions with assets of $250 million or less. For information on entering next year’s competition, visit www.nafcu.org/annualawards. Interested credit unions are encouraged to begin nominations in January of 2023.
CEO of the Year
More Than $250M
Indiana Members Credit Union
Ron Collier has shaped Indiana Members Credit Union (IMCU) in many ways throughout his 37-year career at the credit union. He first began working at IMCU in 1985 as a Training Director, creating unique staff training systems. One such system involved replicating a branch environment to train tellers through role playing real member issues.
Collier created and implemented an employee retention and attendance program that is still in existence today and, as a result, IMCU has a very low employee turnover ratio. Also established under his guidance was the Member Service Phone Center, which today processes more than 15,000 calls each month.
Collier was promoted to Vice President of Planning and Development and continued to advance in his career at IMCU until he was promoted to CEO in 2003. IMCU has only continued to grow under his leadership, with the introduction and implementation of many new products and services since 2003.
In addition, Collier is extremely active in the community and has served on the Indiana Make-A-Wish Board, the St. Francis Hospital Foundation Board and has dedicated his time on many committees throughout the New Palestine community in Indiana. In 2010, Collier was instrumental in the founding of the Indiana Members Foundation, an organization created to provide a positive influence on the communities served by IMCU.
Through the Indiana Members Foundation, school children in the community are equipped with the necessities for learning and succeeding in their education. Notably, IMCU received the Jefferson Award and the Dora Maxwell Award in recognition of the credit union’s fundraising efforts.
Collier has demonstrated both his leadership and outstanding long-term service to Indiana’s credit union movement throughout his career. His focus has always been on the credit union, members, and employees.
CEO of the Year
$250M or Less
Bragg Mutual Federal Credit Union
Fayetteville, North Carolina
Throughout his three and a half years as President and CEO of Bragg Mutual Federal Credit Union, Steve Foley has assessed operations and employees, determined which policies, procedures, and training programs needed to be updated, and boosted employee morale.
Under his leadership, Bragg Mutual began to see serious loan and asset growth in 2019 by focusing on “speaking with the member.” Member service speed increased, more products were being offered and used per member, and now, loan demand is very strong. After years of seeing membership decline, Foley opted to replace the existing Core to create more online banking opportunities and digital growth. Bragg Mutual’s membership stabilized and is now experiencing growth. The credit union has grown from $53 million in asset size to $110M during his term as CEO.
Colleagues say Bragg Mutual’s recent successes are linked to Foley’s care for people and his ability ask hard questions. Foley is a “people first” person and his dedication to Bragg Mutual’s staff is one reason morale has risen since Foley’s time as President and CEO. He created the Soaring with Eagles award for which an employee is nominated by their peers and recognized for above and beyond service provided to members and the credit union. Because of Foley’s initiatives, Bragg Mutual now has a reputation for treating its employees right.
Steve is a dynamic leader who worked hard to update the credit union’s systems and procedures and has overseen the training of Bragg Mutual employees to their highest levels. He stresses that education and training will make the credit union stronger and better, while prioritizing his own training and education by being a regular attendee of credit union industry conferences, including NAFCU’s CEOs, Strategic Growth, and Lending Conference.
Foley has also spearheaded a management succession plan to ensure the success of the credit union moving forward. His ability to turn around Bragg Mutual’s trajectory has been written about in publications such as American Banker, CU Management Magazine, and CU Today.
His leadership has helped steer the credit union toward continued success, growth, and expansion, evidenced by Bragg Mutual being recognized as one of the top 25 largest credit unions in North Carolina.
Professional of the Year
More Than $250M
Randolph-Brooks Federal Credit Union
Live Oak, Texas
As the first ever Senior Vice President and Chief Risk Officer at Randolph-Brooks Federal Credit Union (RBFCU), Berenice Villarreal has created a culture of compliance. Villarreal has overseen RBFCU’s regulatory compliance prior to and now in the two years following the credit union’s crossover to $10 billion in assets, which notably triggers heightened regulatory scrutiny.
She has grown a team of more than 25 risk and compliance employees and, for the first time, RBFCU consults with its own legal staff of four full-time attorneys, rather than depending on outside counsel. In addition, under Villarreal’s leadership, the group of NAFCU Certified Compliance Officers at RBFCU has grown from 12 to more than 25 in three years.
Villarreal has played an integral role in developing a more structured format for providing education and communication among risk professionals within the credit union space, which has been achieved through partnership with the Association of Credit Union Internal Auditors. Villarreal formed RBFCU’s own compliance management system by defining compliance responsibilities through use of a “three lines of defense model,” communicating those responsibilities to affected areas, and ensuring integration of compliance elements within credit union operations.
In her life outside of RBFCU, Villarreal is a mother to four children, two of whom were adopted through her family’s involvement as a foster family with Texas Child Protective Services. Additionally, as an immigrant who came to the United States with her mother and father, Villarreal strongly believes in helping others with similar migrant stories and she currently serves as the Board Chair of Endeavors—a non-profit organization that serves vulnerable people in crisis through comprehensive, effective, and innovative services that empower them to build better lives for themselves, their families, and their communities.
Professional of the Year
$250M or Less
Leading Edge Credit Union
In two short years, Melissa Gehl has guided Leading Edge Credit Union (LECU) through the coronavirus pandemic, created and developed new marketing plans, assisted with two field of membership expansions, and become the face of the credit union in existing and new markets. As Chief Marketing Officer, Gehl coordinates all business development and marketing activities throughout LECU’s 12 counties and the credit union has seen 10% member growth, 23% asset growth, and 14% loan growth in the past two years—all thanks to marketing efforts.
In addition to her work as Chief Marketing Officer, Gehl serves as a service skills coach and mentor to LECU’s staff to ensure that service standards are carried out in every member interaction. She is involved in all areas of the credit union and specifically works with the management team to ensure a strong culture and drive brand awareness.
Colleagues would describe Gehl as the true embodiment of the “people helping people” motto. Under her guidance, LECU has begun to focus on financial literacy in younger generations. Gehl is committed to serving the community’s youth and was instrumental in the creation and mentoring of LECU’s High School Advisory Board.
Notably, Gehl has worked hard to expand LECU’s brand presence, and she recently led efforts to complete a successful name change for the credit union, formerly known as Fulda Area Credit Union. She worked with LECU’s graphic design team to create the new logo, name, and brand and met with vendors regarding the development of LECU’s new website. The new name chosen for the credit union is a direct reflection of Melissa’s commitment to technology, along with the strength and confidence she reflects to LECU’s staff and community every day.
Volunteer of the Year
More Than $250M
Arland White, Jr.
Tower Federal Credit Union
Arland White, Jr. has been a member of Tower Federal Credit Union since 1982 and currently serves as the credit union’s Board of Directors Chairman. White has served on Tower’s Board for over 20 years and brings to the credit union over four decades of experience in finance and accounting. He is known to jump in when there is a need, and has previously volunteered for positions on Tower’s Supervisory, Executive Compensation, Budget, Planning, Nominating, and Educating and Training Committees. Over the past two decades, his various positions and duties at Tower have given him a unique perspective on the changes that have taken place over time in the financial industry—and at Tower specifically—and the impact those changes have on Tower members. White recently retired from the Department of Defense after having a distinguished 40-year career serving our country.
White is known for being approachable, willing to listen and open to new ways of doing things. He strives to keep Tower on pace with the latest technologies and maximize the value Tower provides for its members.
In 2022, Tower successfully completed a major upgrade of its core technology systems following two years of planning and strategizing. White was at the helm of the process, guiding the Board and Senior Management Team through often difficult and unfamiliar waters, while always keeping any impact the changes would have on Tower’s members at the forefront of the project.
White is always looking for new ways that the credit union can give back to the community it serves, and to honor Department of Defense employees and veterans. His philanthropic nature is apparent in his generous nature, willingness to assist those in need and engagement with the TowerCares Foundation—the credit union’s philanthropic arm, the Board of which he also serves on.
Under White’s leadership, Tower was ranked Maryland’s #1 Best-in-State Credit Union for 2021 and 2022 by Forbes Magazine and was one of only five credit unions statewide to make the list in 2020. White’s leadership style is zeroed in on three primary areas: providing superior service and consistently meeting members’ financial needs; keeping Tower a secure place that members can trust as a safe harbor for their accounts; and weighing all decisions based on what the impact would be for members.
Volunteer of the Year
$250M or Less
Kaua’i Federal Credit Union
Jamilee Jimenez lives by the motto “if others see you do good, they will follow.” She is a committed, productive member of the Kaua’i community and serves on the Kaua’i Federal Credit Union Public Relations Committee, which was founded to support the credit union’s efforts to encourage education and community outreach. In addition to volunteering with the credit union, Jimenez coaches middle school volleyball and high school track, participates in beach clean-ups, and volunteers many hours for the Kaua’i Marathon.
Jimenez has also dedicated countless hours as a Hawaiian culture expert, serving the community as a cultural preserver for her own Hawaiian culture. She guides credit union staff on advanced subjects such as Hawaiian history, factual encounters that may be quoted by the credit union, Hawaiian grammar, and general representation to the community. Jimenez helps to reassure that the credit union’s presence in the community is always good-intentioned and received well—or “pono.”
Jimenez attends Kaua’i FCU annual meetings and provides quality feedback. She is always the first to sign up when the credit union is looking for a volunteer and, through her volunteer position on the Public Relations Committee, Jimenez has been heavily involved in the credit union’s community efforts.
Her participation at Kaua’i FCU and involvement in the tight-knit Kaua’i community does not go unnoticed by her peers. The credit union staff appreciates her fresh ideas and perspective. Jimenez believes that all community efforts are intertwined and that volunteering at the credit union “allows her to be part of something much bigger than herself.”
Credit Union of the Year
More than $250M
Abound Credit Union
Abound Credit Union has been proudly serving its community for more than 70 years. With 16 branch locations in the state of Kentucky, Abound has time and time again jumped in to help in times of crisis and the staff of over 300 employees takes pride in the fact that members view the credit union as a safe place for their money during times of uncertainty.
Abound has adhered to principles of sound financial judgement, delivering affordable financial services to benefit members. In addition, the credit union continues to push toward an organization-wide goal of making a positive impact for credit union members and the broader communities served by the credit union.
In 2021, devastating tornadoes struck portions of Kentucky and Abound quickly took action to live its ‘people helping people’ philosophy by serving the community and matching donations made for storm relief. Abound also began offering two storm relief lending options to help the Kentuckians impacted by the natural disasters. Abound team members made sure that any members impacted knew they could rely on Abound in their time of need.
In addition to those specific actions, Abound Credit Union’s everyday involvement in leading financial education efforts across the state has a life-changing impact on its members and community at large. From being a leading advocate and financial supporter of the state’s recent high school financial literacy requirement to reaching thousands of elementary and middle school students directly through youth financial education programs, Abound’s community impact continues to expand significantly.
Abound joined forces with the Omicron Nu Lambda Education Foundation in 2021 to improve the financial future of Hardin County residents through a partnership that is focused on changing even more lives and expanding Abound’s financial education to more adults. Omicron Nu Lambda’s outreach initiatives, specifically including underserved populations such as homeless communities, helps ensure no one in the community is left out of these important financial education efforts.
Abound is also deeply committed to serving its military community. To assist veterans with higher education, Abound developed the Military Education Association with Elizabethtown Community & Technical College, which reduces the financial burden for vets and their families with scholarships and training. Abound has helped 80 veterans develop the expertise and contacts needed to start a business through our Veterans to Entrepreneurs training program, in addition to a continued promise to provide programs, services, donations and whatever else is needed to support the Fort Knox community.
Abound is positioned to continue forward movement toward its goals and will remain engaged with the communities it serves.
Credit Union of the Year
$250M or Less
Labor Credit Union
Since 1935, Labor Credit Union has worked toward its mission to be the foundation of financial success for its members, including low- to moderate-income individuals, by helping them reach financial goals. The credit union, formerly known as Department of Labor Federal Credit Union, has developed programs aimed at contributing to brighter financial futures that are proving to be life changing for members.
For example, Labor Credit Union’s “Make First Time Home Buying a Reality” grant program has had an immediate impact, doing exactly what its name sets forth: The credit union has turned members’ dreams of homeownership into reality.
In addition, free financial coaching through a partnership with BALANCE, a financial counseling and education services provider, has served 1,532 Labor Credit Union members. Nineteen members who utilized the free financial counseling improved their credit scores by 100 points and were rewarded with $100 from Labor Credit Union for achieving this important personal finance goal.
For 87 years, Labor Credit Union has always adhered to principles of sound financial judgement in order to continue to serve important financial needs for those in the labor movement. Labor Credit Union’s tradition and mission of service remains today, and the credit union has aggressively expanded offerings to benefit members. Not only do members benefit from competitive interest rates and reasonable loan terms, but they also benefit from new conveniences such as the recent expansion of mobile and online banking platforms.
Over the last two years, Labor Credit Union has provided its members with over $600,000 in dividends and returned nearly $160,000 in fees. With the addition of $50,000 in grant awards, Labor Credit Union continuously strives to establish opportunities for members’ financial development and achieve the credit union’s goal of empowering members both personally and financially.
In July of 2022, the credit union announced its new name. Although the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) is the credit union’s primary sponsor, the change reflects the credit union’s overarching goal of being inclusive of everyone who serves and supports the labor movement—including many groups, associations, and partnerships beyond the USDOL with mission statements that align closely with that of the USDOL. Looking forward, Labor Credit Union is poised for continued success. In addition to its new name, which is geared toward bringing additional members to the credit union, Labor Credit Union is in the planning stages of expanding and opening additional locations to continue to meet the banking needs of members and better serve the labor movement.