CU Hero 2009: The Winner Is

May 28, 2009

Credit Union Magazine subscribers have chosen Cathie Tierney, CEO of $1.2 billion asset Community First Credit Union, Appleton, Wis., as the 2009 Credit Union Hero of the Year.

She’ll receive her award at (and complimentary registration to) the America’s Credit Union Conference & Expo June 21-24 in Boston.

Tierney has spent her entire 33-year career at Community First, giving her a chance to share her faith in and love of a movement “that does so much to help others,” she says.

"My being here," Tierney says, "is truly a calling I'm extremely proud of. I know in my heart this is where I'm supposed to be. And because I've grown up in credit unions, I believe so strongly in what they stand for and I'm committed to making a difference."

That commitment inspired her to jump in to the fray to help others on many occasions. Her most recent, and perhaps biggest, leap of faith came when she approached her board and management team to challenge the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) on its determination that certain insurance products offered to members fall outside the credit union's main mission and are subject to unrelated business income tax (UBIT).

Community First won its challenge against the federal government over the IRS’s interpretation of UBIT as it relates to three insurance products. Eight jurors ruled in favor of the credit union on all three products May 14 after deliberating less than two hours, reports CUNA’s News Now.

U.S. District Judge William Griesbach entered the judgment in favor of the credit union for $54,604, the full amount the credit union was seeking, plus costs, which could go into a five-figure amount. The amount represents taxes paid on credit life and credit disability insurance and guaranteed asset protection (GAP) products.

"Community First is focused on meeting our members' needs, and we need to offer credit insurance and other wealth management products to meet this core purpose," Tierney says. "When the board and senior management team first heard about UBIT becoming an issue, we disagreed with the IRS but figured someone else would take care of it. It never occurred to us Community First would be that ‘someone' until we heard the talk about litigation.

"In situations like this, you need to look inside your heart and think, ‘if we're able to help, why not?' The board voted unanimously to move forward. We basically decided if not us, then who? UBIT will ultimately impact us in a big way, so we need to stand up and fight. You can't always lean on someone else to fight your battles."

Other 2009 Credit Union Hero nominees were:
* Carla Hedrick, CEO, Denver Community Federal Credit Union.
* John Herrera, senior vice president of Latino/Hispanic affairs, Self-Help Federal Credit Union, Durham, N.C.
* Regina McIlrath, president, Table Rock Federal Credit Union, Shell Knob, Mo.

Nominate a CU Hero

Credit Union Magazine is celebrating the credit union movement's heroes. Do you know someone who fits the bill?
Qualified individuals:
* Are credit union employees or volunteers;
* Are working or retired;
* Are unsung heroes, going above and beyond to promote credit union philosophy;
* Take a stand or exhibit a firm belief in credit union values;
* Show dedication to credit union principles; and
* Make a difference in the local community.

Send CU Hero nominations to Mary Mink, Credit Union Magazine senior editor.