After 40-Years, Dave Chatfield Retires

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After spending his entire career hopscotching across the country to take on yet another credit union challenge, it should come as no surprise that Dave Chatfield has no plans to quit moving around now that he is retiring as president of the California/Nevada leagues, either.

"We have a house in Alaska-we lived there for 10 years and raised children there-and we will spend five months from May to September there," Chatfield explained. "And we're building a place in Hawaii, and we'll spend five months there from November to March."

And what of those last two orphan months of April and October? "We've (with wife Kris) got a motor home, and we'll be driving around visiting our kids and grandkids in Southern California, Texas and Ohio," he offered.

So, Chatfield, whose credit union career spanned four decades and nine states (with stops in other countries along the way), will continue to traverse the nation even in retirement.

Like many in the movement, Chatfield just sort of happened into credit unions. "I more fell into it than planned it," he told The Credit Union Journal. "I worked for Safeco Insurance and served on the credit committee of a credit union and eventually served on the board of that credit union. Then I heard about a job with CUNA Mutual Group, and I figured I knew something about insurance, and I knew something about credit unions, so it seemed like a good fit."

That "good fit" led to more than 40 years spent in some credit union-related activity.

"I started out with CUNA Mutual in Colorado, and I got to know the people at the league," Chatfield related. "I learned so much from (retired Colorado league CEO) Carroll Beach, and I really enjoyed watching the league employees in Colorado work their magic. I really admired so much of what they did."

Inspired by what he had seen in Colorado, Chatfield moved to New York to become the Service Corporation general manager at that state's league. He would go on to head up three different leagues (Alaska, California and Nevada).

But he also had another love: politics. "Politics had been my hobby for a number of years," he recalled. "I was active in the Democratic party and was president of the Young Democrats. Since it had been my hobby and I had experience from the state legislature to presidential campaigns, I recognized the importance of political involvement."

No surprise, then, that Chatfield was CUNA's first director of political action, a job that took him to Washington-with a quick stop in Alabama.

"The Alabama league started (Credit Union Legislative Action Committee), and they graciously offered to turn CULAC over to CUNA, and that is how we set up the Washington office," Chatfield remembered. "I flew down to Alabama to collect the CULAC (funds), put it in my suitcase and flew to Washington."

It would be just one of several "firsts" for which Chatfield would help break ground.

"There are three ground floor things that I am very proud of," he said. "I was the first director of political action, I was the first person from credit unions to serve on the NCUA board, and I was the first executive director of the Filene Research Institute. What was exciting about these ground floor things is that it was my job to help fashion what those roles would be."

During his two-year term on the NCUA board, finishing out the term of his predecessor, P.A. Mack, Chatfield was the lone Reagan (and then Bush) Democrat on the board, serving with then-Chairman Roger Jepson and Elizabeth Burkhardt.

"I think I helped bring a real understanding to the NCUA board and senior staff of the real role and interest of credit unions," he offered. "The people at NCUA were very capable, but they had a dim understanding of how important it was to understand what credit unions themselves are thinking and need."

Serving on the NCUA board meant moving his family-including a son who was embarking on his senior year in high school-5,000 miles from Alaska for a second stint in Washington. It was not an easy decision.

"The idea was that I would be appointed to a full term after P.A. Mack's term was up, but he threw me a curve ball and left early to run AARP's credit union-which didn't work out, by the way. So, then I had to decide do I take the two-year position and see what it leads to, or skip it and maybe not have another shot at it, because that's the way it goes in politics," Chatfield explained. "I decided to take a shot at it, and Sen. Ted Stevens, the senior Senator from Alaska, was my sponsor.

"There were times when I made career decisions because it clearly was an advancement for me, and there were times when I moved laterally because I saw roadblocks ahead-other young leaders ahead of me who weren't going anywhere, and then there were times when I moved because it just looked like an interesting thing to do," he continued. "It was hard on my family, but they handled it well. The kids grew up to be responsible adults, and the wife and I mostly enjoyed it. As a family, I think we're proud and fond of we did."

And Chatfield is very proud of his children, all of whom have "done time" in credit unions, two of whom continue to work within the movement. Bart, who is now one of Apple Computer's Apple Geniuses in Cleveland, used to work in the audiovisual department of CUNA Mutual Group. Daughter Heather, now a stay-at-home mom, was a teller and member service rep. Danielle is currently the vice president of lending at Kemba Financial CU in Columbus (where Chatfield was born), and Mark started out at CUNA Mutual Group, became senior vice president at the Texas CU League and just recently went back to CUNA Mutual Group as vice president of sales. His wife, Kris, "has always been a credit union person," too, Chatfield noted.

Having skipped across the nation, helping to make credit union history along the way, Chatfield said he is really and truly getting out of the game, resigning all of his various board seats.

"I am going to admire credit unions and keep track of them from afar," Chatfield said. "I do not plan to do any paid work for credit unions, no speaking or consulting."

Those who know him best, however, don't believe that for a second.

"My daughter Danielle made a bet with her mom that I won't last 90 days without doing some credit union thing," Chatfield laughed. "My good friend [and Hawaii CU League CEO] Dennis Tanimoto knew we were coming back to Hawaii, so he invited my wife and me to come to the league meeting in early May, and he was going to comp us because we're good people. So I e-mailed him back and said we'd be delighted to attend. Next thing I know, I've got an e-mail back from him asking, 'Would you be our keynote speaker?' I'm afraid my daughter won the bet."

But Chatfield insists that his involvement will be minimal and that he is entirely comfortable retiring knowing his successor, Bill Cheney, will do an excellent job.

"I love my job, and I'd do it forever if I could, but the time has come for a change," he said. "I feel like I've accomplished a lot, and I'm not leaving anything major left undone. But it's time for a fresh approach, and things can always be improved upon, but you need change for that to happen. Bill will do things differently, and he should. It will be different, but it will be good."

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