Gary Bjarnason has dedicated more than 35 years of service to the Columbia Valley Credit Union.
When he started in 1975 he was just hoping to walk away with a radio. For his retirement from president of the credit union board, he was given a new set of golf clubs.
“When I accidentally got on the board, I had just gone to one of the meetings. They could nominate off the floor at that time. They were looking for one more director, and somebody nominated me. I was there just for the prizes,” said Bjarnason, who was hoping to win the radio the credit union had advertised.
Although very nonchalant about his beginnings with the board, Bjarnason was delighted to be giving back to the institution that had helped him so much as a young adult.
“I joined the credit union in 1957, that was to save money to go to school. And when I went to school in 1959 I had enough money for one year, so from 1960-64 I borrowed money off the credit union,” he said.
At that time he was given the number 212, because he was the 212th client. A few years later he went to the credit union again to buy his house in 1972. He borrowed a staggering $16,000.
“When I first joined, the credit union was run out of someone’s home, in the front of their house. That’s where it first started. It went from there to the deBoers’,” said Bjarnason. “At that time we weren’t even at a million dollars. We were hoping to get to a million dollar equity in the credit union at that time. We got over that million, and just kept going after that.”
Since 1975, the Columbia Valley Credit Union and its board has changed a great deal. They purchased their current property, which used to be a pizza parlour, and the board directors have taken training to give them a better understanding of the financials.
“I’d probably do it all over again. I learned so much,” said Bjarnason. “I’d recommend it to anyone, and most people are capable of learning what they need to.”
Bjarnason is retired from the board completely, but has told them he would come back to fill in if he is needed.
“The credit union is community owned, and hopefully as our liquidity rises we’ll be putting more and more money into the town, or giving it back to the people who invest,” he said.