'A Fiend For Volunteering'

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PASADENA, Calif.-Ralph Bicker has never had a problem helping out, and in fact calls himself a "fiend for volunteering."

Bicker has been involved with $137-million Pasadena FCU for 51 of its 75 years, he is a long-time member of the board. For his years of dedicated service, NAFCU recently named Bicker Volunteer of Year for credit unions with assets of less than $150 million.

John Schaefer, director of marketing and business development for Pasadena FCU, told Credit Union Journal Bicker deserves credit for two critical stages of its development, several years apart.

Pasadena FCU's first home was a one-room, rent-free space on the 4th floor of the Pasadena City Hall. When it moved out, Bicker helped the credit union negotiate the purchase of its headquarters property. At that time, the land was only about half the size of its present property, and the only improvement on the land then was the perimeter walls of the building along the south side of a parking lot. When the CU purchased that property in the mid-1970s, Bicker chaired the committee that planned and oversaw the necessary remodeling to convert the existing shell of a building into its first home outside of the city hall.

Years later, Bicker chaired the building committee when PFCU planned and constructed its present headquarters building.

"Ralph shepherded the whole process of getting our present location built," said Schaefer. "He has been a big part of building the credit union."

Bicker, who lives in nearby Arcadia, Calif., told Credit Union Journal, "The award makes me feel very blessed that they considered me for it. It is a real honor that I can represent our credit union."

No Financial Background

Bicker began working for the City of Pasadena in 1949 in the city engineer's office. He recalls that he was "aware of the credit union" when he first started, but he used cash and wasn't looking to borrow, so he did not join right away.

"When I bought a car I had to meet with the credit committee," he recalled. "Any loan that was not secured by shares in the credit union had to be approved by the credit committee.

Apparently, Bicker made a good impression, because two years later he was asked to join the credit committee. "I didn't have a financial background, but I guess they felt I would make good decisions and make good loans. Later, I was asked to run for a position as a director on the board."

Bicker was an architecture major in college at the tail end of World War II. He joined the U.S. Navy Seabee Reserves when he graduated, but the war ended before he was sent overseas. As the Reserves at that time required a six-year commitment, he was sent to Korea when the conflict there began in 1950.

"After returning from Korea in the mid-1950s, I really got involved in the credit union," he said. "Because of my background in construction and engineering, I ended up on the building committee."

Worthy of a Mural

In Pasadena FCU's nomination of Bicker for the NAFCU award, it noted the credit union celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2010 with the unveiling of a 90-square-foot mural painted by an alumnus of one of its select employer groups, Art Center College of Design. The mural was titled "Building Pasadena," and it highlighted its role in empowering the communities it serves.

"If we commissioned a mural called 'Building PFCU,' Ralph Bicker's face would be all over it," the credit union said. "Whether it is the credit union, his church, his neighborhood, or his workplace, Ralph has always had the tendency to roll up his sleeves and assume a leadership role. We and our members are most fortunate that he has chosen to do so at PFCU."

Indeed, in addition to his credit union volunteering Bicker has been active as board member or committee person for two large church organizations in the area for more than 50 years, he is chairman of the Architectural Review Board for the Highland Oaks Home Owners Association (865 Homes) in North Arcadia, and since 1986 he has had several board and committee assignments on the Retired Public Employees Association of California, (RPEA), including six years as an area director on the state board representing all PERS retirees in Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. He has served on several different committees of the local Pasadena Chapter 007 of RPEA almost every year since 1986.

And in between serving on all those boards and committees, Bicker has made six trips to Washington, D.C., over the years, and numerous trips to California's state capital in Sacramento, on behalf of the credit union movement and PFCU.

"I am a fiend for volunteerism," Bicker said with a laugh. "I remember going to Washington when the FDIC was trying to take over the credit union insurance fund about 25 years ago. The credit union insurance fund has always been more solvent than the FDIC's fund, and we kept their fingers out of our pockets.

"It has been a lot of fun," he added. "I enjoy the credit union because it really is people helping people. We do our best to run a clean ship and make good loans."

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