Bill Sterner to Receive 2009 Wegner Award for Lifetime Achievement

National Credit Union Foundation Presents Credit Union Movement’s Highest National Honor

Bill SternerThousands of growing credit unions owe a debt of gratitude to the fallen leader who will be honored with the 2009 Herb Wegner Memorial Award for Lifetime Achievement: William Charles “Bill” Sterner.

Decades before most credit unions learned to “reach out to new markets” and “serve the underserved,” Sterner was teaching these concepts around the world.

Tragically, Sterner passed away in 2008 at age 66 after suffering a heart attack at the Credit Union Association of Colorado’s Legislative Forum.

Sterner will be honored posthumously, along with many people whose lives he touched, at the 21st Annual Wegner Awards Dinner presented by the National Credit Union Foundation.

“Bill’s memory shines on in all our lives,” says Wegner Award nominator John Dill, President/CEO of the Credit Union Association of Colorado as well as the Credit Union Foundation of Colorado and Wyoming. “Bill’s strong commitment, vision, and innovation to foster growth in the credit union industry will continue to inspire and help advance future generations and new frontiers.”

Sterner’s vision was to “promote new and sustained membership” in cooperatives. Yet he paved his career path in a different direction than most cooperative pioneers. He blazed his first trails internationally, then nationally, before settling into a single state and local community.

International Cooperative Pioneer

Sterner began his professional journey in the 1960s, when he worked for seven years with the Peace Corps in South America. Serving his first three years as a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader and Program Training Officer, Sterner helped villagers in Colombia and Ecuador establish financial cooperatives.

He was then asked to serve as Regional Country Director for Columbia and Ecuador. He spent the next four years coordinating efforts between Peace Corps volunteers and the US State Department in working with local councils to build their economies.

“Here was a man who, without motive other than to serve, gave his all to support those who worked with him,” related international cooperative development consultant Carol Schillios, who later went on to earn the 2007 Wegner Award for Individual Achievement. “Bill knew just how to inspire, nurture, motivate, and share lessons to help others succeed. He was the epitome of a leader who put others above himself to create success for the end result… Others, like me, who were given public acclaim, owe much to the quiet support of mentors behind the scenes. Bill was a powerful teacher and mentor…”

National Credit Union Development Educator

Bill Sterner earned the title of CUNA Vice President in the early 1980s.
Among credit union outreach pioneers, Sterner is recognized for saving the Credit Union Development Education (DE) program from elimination in the face of severe budget cuts.

As a Vice President for the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) in the early 1980s, Sterner recognized the need for a program that would teach cooperative principles and credit union philosophy as a sustainable business model into the next century.

Sterner successfully advocated for federal legislation establishing Biden-Pell grants that empowered credit union leaders to launch the DE program.

“When the DE program began in the US, there was little or no support,” recalled Dean Mahon, who shared a Peace Corps bond with Sterner. “The exception was Bill. Bill was one of the most critical reasons why the DE program survived and therefore exists today. It would have been easiest for him to, at best, provide perfunctory support. Instead he stuck his neck out, gave us cover when needed, and protected the DE program at its most sensitive stage. Ultimately he was the only person who could have done this. Given his background, he got it – and because of that, the DE program survived political challenges. We owe him an enormous debt of gratitude.”

In 1990, Sterner was appointed to lead a CUNA program aimed at increasing US credit union membership to 100 million by the year 2000. With total membership at the time estimated under 70 million, Credit Union Moonshot was the most ambitious outreach program since the beginning of the federal credit union movement in 1934.
Bill Sterner was a powerful presenter.Sterner led the Moonshot program for four years. He trained countless credit union league education directors, Development Educators, and other outreach leaders. He broke new ground for credit unions by building the first credit union template to reach the Hispanic community.

When it became clear that the goal of 100 million members could not be reached within the decade, Sterner recommended that the Moonshot program be discontinued. Yet he continued to work with credit unions to help build their memberships.

Nearly two decades later, Sterner’s national efforts endure – even with leaders who have joined the credit union movement more recently. “What the Moonshot program did engender,” observed Dill, “was a renewed commitment by credit unions across the country to reach out to new markets and use more competitive products and services to reach those markets.”

Local Community Advocate

Bill Sterner especially welcomed kids into the credit union.
In 1997, Sterner dedicated himself to putting what he taught into practice at the University of Colorado (U of C) Federal Credit Union in Boulder.

Initially as the Vice President of Marketing, Sterner worked to reach out to everyone in the field of membership -- especially young people.
Bill Sterner enjoyed talking with co-workers at the teller line.In 2000, when the credit union’s CEO position opened up, Sterner was named the Interim CEO.

“Bill’s leadership skills, knowledge, and way with people made him a natural choice to fill the role,” explained Immediate Past Chair Lynn Walloch. “After an extensive national search, Bill was selected from a competitive field of highly qualified applicants to serve as the permanent CEO.”

Over the next eight years, Sterner and his team:
  • Expanded the credit union’s field of membership;
  • Changed its name to Elevations Credit Union;
  • Won an exclusive contract as the financial provider for the University of Colorado’s student access/ID card;
  • Developed an innovative mortgage down payment assistance program for University of Colorado faculty;
  • Partnered with a non-profit housing agency on the American Dream Campaign raising nearly $2 million from local businesses to create 750 permanently affordable new homes;
  • Initiated a 0% bicycle loan for students;
  • Became a founding sponsor of the “Buffalo Bicycle Classic” bike tour, which raises over $250,000 each year for student scholarships;
  • Increased the credit union’s assets from $340 million to $790 million;
  • Increased the credit union’s membership to 76,000;
  • Oversaw community giving valued at $750,000;
  • Earned recognition as Boulder’s “Best Financial Institution” every year.
Bill Sterner accepted many awards for Elevations Credit Union as the Best Financial Institution in Boulder.
“Bill’s underlying operational focus was on the basic credit union tenets: providing for the underserved and meeting the needs of members,” Walloch remarked. “Operating according to the ‘People Helping People’ philosophy set Elevations Credit Union apart and contributed to being voted ‘Best Financial Institution’ for nine years in a row. Bill’s passion for social mission continues through the many ongoing community initiatives supported by our Community Relations Committee.”

Statewide Volunteer

Under Sterner’s leadership as Chairman of the Credit Union Association of Colorado (CUAC), the association produced a small credit union initiative and an award-winning branding campaign. Both were designed to promote credit unions’ growth. To honor his memory and help perpetuate his commitment to financial literacy, CUAC has named the new Education and Training Center in the association’s new building as The Sterner Center.

Sterner also volunteered as a director for SunCorp Credit Union, the primary corporate credit union for Colorado and many other states. “Bill agreed to join the SunCorp Board of Directors and provide sound strategic leadership at a critical time,” reflected SunCorp President & CEO Thomas Graham. “In remembering Bill, you also have to note his integrity. He was a man of his word. With only a handshake, you knew where he would stand.”

From 2000 to 2008, Sterner also served on the board of Credit Union Service Network (CUSN), a credit union service organization that provides shared branching in Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Wyoming. “Shared branching is built on a foundation of trust and cooperation,” pointed out CUSN President/CEO Douglas Burke. “These are the same traits Bill demonstrated starting at the Peace Corps and through his distinguished credit union career.”

Full Circle Career

Bill took his wife Pat on a credit union mission to Asia.Sterner’s career came full circle in 2004, when he renewed his international efforts. Sterner traveled to Asia and South America to consult with executives who were organizing and managing cooperative financial institutions. In these expeditions, Sterner underscored the importance of cooperative ATM networks and shared credit union branches to help developing credit union movements leverage resources and economies of scale.

“Bill’s ripples have become waves of energy at so many levels,” concluded Barbara Main, President of Main Communications and one of Sterner’s former colleagues at CUNA. “His presentations caused many talented young credit union professionals to maintain and do more in their credit union careers… internationally, nationally, in states, associations, organizations, credit unions, and with an untold number of individuals.”

About the Wegner Awards Dinner

The 21st Annual Wegner Awards Dinner will take place on February 23 at the Grand Hyatt Washington on the opening night of CUNA’s 2009 Governmental Affairs Conference. Award winners will be:
Lifetime Achievement
  • Bill Sterner, late President/CEO, Elevations Credit Union, Boulder, Colorado

  • Individual Achievement
  • Rita Haynes, Manager/CEO, Faith Community United Credit Union, Cleveland, Ohio
  • Tom Sargent, President/CEO, First Tech Credit Union, Beaverton, Oregon

  • Outstanding Organization
  • Montana Credit Unions for Community Development, Helena, Montana
  • Online registration will be available later this year when you click here.

    About the Wegner Awards

    The Wegner Awards are named in honor of the late Credit Union National Association CEO, Herb Wegner, whose tireless dedication, innovative ideas and deeds truly revolutionized the way that credit unions serve their communities. The awards that bear Wegner’s name honor his legacy and recognize his spirit of “innovative, creative, risk-taking” leadership.
    Click for more information on the gala dinner!
    Bill and Pat Sterner shared their love of life and the outdoors.
    William Charles "Bill" Sterner

    Bill is survived by his wife, Patricia Brownell "Pat" Sterner (right), and four children.