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Keeping purpose constant: celebration and inspiration at the 2023 Foundation Dinner

2023 Herb Wegner Memorial Award Recipients

The credit union movement’s energy, optimism and excitement were palpable as more than 1,200 people attended the National Credit Union Foundation’s annual fundraising gala.

Record turnout for the Foundation Dinner—the National Credit Union Foundation’s primary fundraising event—set the tone for an evening that lauded the credit union movement’s work to improve financial well-being for all, while rallying the system to do more.

The February 27 dinner, held in conjunction with CUNA’s GAC, featured the 34th annual Herb Wegner Memorial Awards—the U.S. credit union’s highest national honors. During the ceremony, each recipient noted how vital the credit union mission remains in the face of ongoing financial inequities.

Former World Council president and CEO, Brian Branch, was the first of four to receive an Outstanding Individual Achievement award; recognized for a career that saw him grow WOCCU from a regional organization to one that includes credit unions in 118 countries, serving 375 million members.

Of his decades spent working in some of the most impoverished and dangerous communities across the globe (his award video was filmed around scheduled trips to support those displaced by the war in Ukraine) Branch reflected on the intrinsic impact of a cooperative movement, saying, “Credit unions are part of the social fabric that rebuilds and ties communities together.”

The strong link between credit unions and community was further emphasized by Winona Nava, president and CEO of New Mexico’s Guadalupe Credit Union (GCU). Nava was celebrated for a career dedicated to improving the financial lives of immigrant and underrepresented groups in her home state and beyond.

“Guadalupe Credit Union was founded 75 years ago to serve the underserved that were being taken advantage of by loan sharks,” Nava said. “It has been a joy to lead GCU back to those values, financially empowering the underserved of northern New Mexico through the team’s hard work and dedication, and the development of specialized products and services for our members.”

Nava—a co-founder of the Credit Union Women’s Leadership Alliance (CUWLA)—was followed on-stage by another co-founder, Linda Bodie.

In her role as Chief Executive Officer + Innovator of Element Federal Credit Union, Bodie has tirelessly pursued betterment to ensure every credit union is living its mission by truly serving the underserved. If there were any beforehand, there was no doubt of Bodie’s commitment to the cause after scenes from her award video showed her getting a tattoo inspired by the people helping people philosophy.

“The very essence of the credit union mantra has left an indelible mark on my soul—and now, my body,” Bodie said. “My hope is that my actions will inspire others to bring this same passion to all those they serve.”

Bill Cheney, chief executive officer of SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union, was also commended for embodying the cooperative spirit, and his unwavering financial and strategic support for the credit union movement at both the U.S. and global level.

Over the past 35 years, Cheney has helped navigate the credit union movement through significant times of change, while maintaining a laser focus on its mission to improve people’s financial lives.

“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,” said Cheney at the evening’s conclusion. “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.”

As the charitable arm of the U.S. credit union movement, the annual gala is central to the Foundation’s fundraising. Support through sponsorship and attendance directly affects the Foundation’s ability to catalyze change through grants, education, events, resources and more.

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