A Person for the Ages

As long as there are credit unions,  persons of incredible talent, generosity and conviction will be drawn to leadership roles.  An example of this cooperative character is Marvel Eberhahn of Community Credit Union, New Rockford, North Dakota.

At her retirement celebration in December 2016 CU Today wrote a profile of her six-decade career as CEO.

Accompanying the story was an 8-minute video that shows the North Dakota setting and an extended interview with Eberhahn.   The video captures her personality formed by the prairie farmland which the credit union served.    The words demonstrate her spirit, practicality and love of community.

Her performance expectation for the credit union was straightforward:  “If we can’t be different, why are we here.”

Watch the video.  It provides  examples for how she implemented this belief, from saving a WW II veteran from a bank’s equipment foreclosure to keeping farmland in the family.

When she left her CEO role, the credit union was $!66 million in assets, a 9,000% growth from the $18,000 when she assumed her role.  Today Community is $192 million with three branches serving almost 5,000 members.

Here is the CU Today story, used with permission:

NEW ROCKFORD, N.D.–For the first time in 65 years, Community Credit Union here is preparing for a new CEO.

But before that happens, a new video shares Marvel Ebenhahn’s extraordinary history in credit unions, of days when the “credit union” was a filing cabinet, of difficult times trying to hold the family farm together, of tough times in a tough place, and through it all, of becoming an indispensable part of a community and overseeing 9,000% growth.

Ebenhahn will be retiring effective Jan. 1, 2017, after more than six decades on the job. Barb Messner, who is currently the CU’s operations manager, will take over as the second president in the credit union’s history.

Ebenhahn, however, is not fully retiring, and will be staying on at the credit union in an advisory capacity while also working as a loan officer with a less demanding schedule, which will allow her to spend more time at her retirement home in Arizona, according to the Credit Union Association of the Dakotas.

Few people in credit unions have ever overseen the kind of asset growth that Ebenhahn has seen during her career. When Ebenhahn joined the credit union, which serves rural Eddy County, N.D., it had $18,000 in assets and 250 members. Today it has $165 million in assets and nearly 6,000 members.

Founded in 1942, what was once operated out of a filing cabinet in the corner of a farm cooperative store now has three branches. Ebenhahn joined the CU in 1952 when it was known as Eddy County FCU.

“Marvel has been a mentor and inspiration for many credit union leaders throughout the decades here in North Dakota,” stated Jeff Olson, president/CEO of the Credit Union Association of the Dakotas (CUAD), in a statement.  “Not only does she embody the cooperative spirit of putting members first, she really epitomizes our wonderful, traditional ‘small town’ rural values of faith, family, community, and hard work,” he continued.

Unique & Inspiring

To illustrate what it is calling a “unique and inspiring story,” the Credit Union Association of the Dakotas has created a short documentary video that records in Ebenhahn’s own voice, the evolution of the credit union and the community.

“I think’s a safe bet that there aren’t very many credit union CEOs anywhere today that can boast a 9,000% increase in assets or a 2,000% increase in membership in their career,” remarked Olson, who’s voice provided the narration on the video.  “Nor can many match a span of 65 years of helping so many people in a small rural community.”

Marvel’s father was one of the original founders of the credit union, and she grew up with first-hand knowledge of the cooperative principals, the CUAD noted. Established in 1942, from its humble beginnings serving members of the Farmers Union Co-Op, the credit union evolved to a community charter so it could serve anyone who lived within a 50-mile radius of the town of New Rockford.  In 1962, 10 years after Ebenhahn joined the CU, it had grown to the point of needing its own building.

“The credit union soon gained a reputation for helping people that the banks had refused,” said the CUAD. “‘Go see Marvel’ became a common phrase in the community.”

Serving a rural farming community can mean tough times, and as the video makes clear the credit union has also had to make tough decisions, especially during the 1980s when agricultural markets hit hard economic times.

In the video Ebenhahn shares that it’s “not fun” to take away a farmer’s land. She said the CU’s policy has always been in cases where it had to foreclose to attempt to find someone else in the farmer’s family who might be able to take it over in order to “keep the family farm together.”

But in all cases the credit union’s interests had to be protected she said. “You can’t just charge off a loan because you like a guy,” Ebenhahn says in the video.

Olson, a 10-year veteran employee and president of CUAD, said he has had the opportunity to visit with Ebenhahn on many occasions.

“I would love to drop in on her credit union just so I could listen to some of her many stories of how the credit union was able to help so many people over the years,” he said in a statement.  “What is even more amazing is that she is making loans and doing business with grandchildren and great grandchildren of the people that first started the credit union. That’s why I thought it was important that we (CUAD) record Marvel so we could share her amazing story with today’s credit union leaders.”

The Ultimate Compliment

The CUAD reported several of its member credit unions have recently incorporated the video into their employee training programs – the ultimate compliment to Ebenhahn and her legacy.

“It’s amazing what people can do when they work together,” Ebenhahn says in the video. “I think I’ve been pretty lucky to have this job. To tell you the truth, I don’t think I’d want to do anything else. I’ve been blessed.”


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