One does not need to look far to find people in the credit union industry devoted to helping others. It is part of our DNA. Many people dedicate their lives to improving the lives of others. Each year, the National Credit Union Foundation (NCUF) collects names of individuals and organizations from their peers who exemplify this standard in our industry and honors them with the Herb Wegner Memorial Award.
This lifetime achievement award is significant because of its namesake, Herb Wegner, an industry pioneer who spearheaded successful legislative campaigns so credit unions could provide credit cards, mortgages, and IRAs. He innovated new products and services for credit unions to offer including share drafts, secondary mortgage corporations, and electric funds transfers (EFTs). He developed and promoted the concept of cooperatives, both nationally and internationally. Wegner’s impact in the credit union world is still felt daily by the members they served. He devoted his life to the cause of credit unions.
The Herb Wegner Memorial Awards are presented during the NCUF gala dinner during the Government Affairs Conference. The Gala is a highlight of the NCUF calendar, and the proceeds of the event fund many programs provided by NCUF throughout the year. Recipients are selected by submissions from peers in the credit union industry.
For the 34th year of the awards, the NCUF decided to give the Outstanding Individual Achievement award to four participants, honoring institutions or initiatives that have “measurably improved the local, national, or international credit union service,” reported the NCUF. This is the first time four individuals have received this honor since 2018.
These individuals are Linda Bodie, Chief Executive Officer + Innovator of Element Federal Credit Union (W.V.); Dr. Brian Branch, Former President and CEO of the World Council; Bill Cheney, CEO of SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union; and Winona Nava, President/CEO of Guadalupe Credit Union (N.M.).
Linda Bodie, Chief Executive Officer + Innovator of Element Federal Credit Union (W.V.), has made a difference in her twenty-five-year tenure in the credit union space by embracing the title of underdog and by driving innovation with her can-do spirit. Her accomplishments include being the first credit union in the nation to offer remote check deposits to beating Chase Bank to win a cannabis banking contract. Bodie is a founding member of the Credit Union Women’s Leadership Alliance (CUWLA), a group designed to give women CEOs of smaller credit unions the opportunity to collaborate with each other. Under her leadership Element has grown its assets by almost 2,000 percent.
Bodie does not shy away from a challenge to lead. She is currently the Board Chair of CU*Answers, the fourth largest CUSO in the nation, and has held roles on the boards and councils of CU Pride, Filene, and CUNA Mutual Group.
On receiving the award, Bodie reflected on how much it meant to her. She said, “I am humbled and honored to be a recipient of the 2023 Herb Wegner Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement. I have worked my entire credit union career with a dedication to my local community and my broader credit union community throughout the nation. It’s gratifying to know my vision has created a pathway for wellness, acceptance, and belonging and that my actions have contributed to the betterment of so many persons and organizations.”
Dr. Brian Branch
Dr. Brian Branch
When he announced his retirement in 2021 from the World Council, Dr. Brian Branch had grown it from a regional organization to include 118 countries and a staggering 375 million members, almost five percent of the global population. Most of that growth was under his ten-year leadership as CEO. Branch’s style is to work in the trenches at a local level, supporting cooperatives, and, championing credit union sustainability, including through the WOCCU’s PEARLS, which measures the financial health of credit unions. Branch also opened leadership in the credit union space by founding the Global Women’s Leadership Network and overseeing the launch of the World Young Credit Union Professionals.
Branch brings credit union solutions to local issues around the world. He transported much-needed cash to earthquake-hit Haiti in 2010. He found solutions under local requirements of Sharia Law (which prohibits charging interest) to create unique credit union solutions. He was instrumental in creating the Busia Compassionate Center orphanage in Kenya where more than one million children had been orphaned by the AIDS epidemic. And even in retirement, he continues to be a sought-after leader in the credit union space. In 2022 in Poland, as two million Ukrainian refugees entered the country, Branch helped create a foundation that allowed American credit unions to donate directly to their Polish counterparts for much-needed ambulances, housing, jobs, childcare, and more.
Regarding the Herb Wegner award, Branch stated, “I am honored to be part of a global network that makes a tremendous difference in the lives of millions around the world.”
Bill Cheney has devoted his life to the credit union movement, from being a leader in a difficult time during the recession in 2010 to his collaborative work to tackle unprecedented regulatory and operational challenges placed on all financial institutions, including credit unions.
Cheney served as President and CEO of California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues and President and CEO of the Credit Union National Association. He assisted the World Council in establishing the Global Advocacy Program that reduced international regulatory costs. He partnered the World Council and the California Credit Union League and Caja Popular Mexicana to modernize its information system to assist it to grow to be the largest credit union in Latin America.
His more recent growth at SchoolsFirst FCU (doubling membership and almost tripling in asset size since 2015), put his name at the forefront for those watching for success in the credit union space.
Today, Cheney serves as Chair of the Worldwide Foundation for Credit Unions and volunteers with the Consumer Federation of America, National Credit Union Foundation, Western CUNA Management School Board of Trustees, CCUL Legislative Action Committee, UCI Chief Executive Roundtable, Making Hope Happen Foundation, CSUF Philanthropic Foundation Board of Governors, Children’s Miracle Network Board of Governors, Worldwide Foundation Credit Union Board, and Filene Research Institute Board.
“I’m honored to receive this award from the National Credit Union Foundation, and to be part of the credit union movement that helps members and their families achieve financial well-being, not just in the United States, but around the world,” Cheney commented. “The award’s namesake, Herb Wegner, provided an example of leadership to which we all aspire. I share this achievement with colleagues who have mentored me throughout my career, as well as my friends and family who support me.”
Winona Nava, President/CEO of Guadalupe Credit Union (N.M.) has made a difference in many ways in her half-century of work in the credit union space. She has worked to pass legislation allowing those without citizenship a path to get a license, lowered the interest rate cap, and worked against predatory lending.
Nava is known as a force for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Serving as CEO of Guadalupe Credit Union she found effective ways to serve immigrant families. She was a driving force in the adoption of the Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) lending, and mentored others toward its adoption. In the inclusion of support of women, she was a founder of the Credit Union Women’s Leadership Alliance. As an advocate for the National Credit Union Foundation Development Education program and Community Development Financial Institution she has worked tirelessly to support people in their financial growth, especially with vulnerable populations.
Nava also served on the board of the Credit Union National Association and the CUES Rocky Mountain Council. She was chair of the National Credit Union Foundation board and serves on the National Association of Latino Credit Unions and Professionals board and the Credit Union Association of New Mexico board.
When announced as a Herb Wegner winner, Nava said, “I am incredibly honored to be a recipient of the Herb Wegner Memorial Award from the National Credit Union Foundation. I have led Guadalupe Credit Union as President/CEO over the past 31 years. We have developed a team culture of living our mission of providing financial empowerment in the communities we serve on a daily basis. My team and I strongly believe in serving everyone with dignity and respect no matter their country of origin, the decisions they have made in their life, or the current challenges they may face. At our monthly staff meetings, we share the most impactful stories of empowering our members, and this is what makes me love our credit union and has made my 44 years of service to the credit union industry so worthwhile.”
Traits that define our industry
The credit union space is full of so many wonderful, hard-working leaders focusing on the health of the credit union industry and its members. Lifetime achievement awards denote a special kind of dedication to the cause. We cannot all attend the award ceremony on February 23rd, but we can all take a moment to reflect on these four individuals and what our lives would be without their work, desire to serve others, and appreciation for those who helped them.