When Bob Stowell isn’t performing his duties as a Minnesota credit union executive, he might be off in Haiti mixing concrete for a village well-house construction project.
Or you might find him administering polio vaccine drops to children at a clinic in India.
Such activities are part of Stowell’s volunteer work through Rotary International, which sponsors projects that improve life for people around the globe.
“There are parallels between credit unions and Rotary,” says Stowell, senior vice president/chief operating officer at US Federal Credit Union in Burnsville, Minn. “Rotary serves others, and so do credit unions. Our credit union takes great pleasure in helping our members secure their financial future.”
For Stowell, the urge to help others goes back to childhood. He grew up enduring parental abuse and neglect.
When he left home at age 18, he was six feet, two inches tall—and weighed only 120 pounds.
“Food was rationed at home,” he recalls, “so I was starved, always hungry. The truth is, when you’re hungry, nothing else matters.”
Stowell had performed poorly in school, and his social skills were impaired. His future looked dismal.
But those bad memories turned into major motivators years later. “I don’t want people in the U.S. or any country to be deprived of water or food,” Stowell says. “I don’t want others to have to live the life I had.”
After leaving home, he signed up for a four-year stint in the armed services, which included a year in Vietnam. Eventually, he finished college and embarked on a banking career.
Stowell also searched for a service organization he could join to fulfill his personal motivation to make a difference—and that’s when he discovered Rotary.
He’s been at US Federal since 2006 and is active in the CUNA Operations, Sales & Service Council and the CUNA Lending Council, for which he serves on the executive committee as secretary-treasurer.
Over the years, Stowell has made several trips overseas to work at or visit various Rotary projects. He has seen with his own eyes the impact these projects have.
Stowell remembers meeting a woman in Haiti, for instance, who told him that a new village well would save her hours of hauling water in a five-gallon pail weighing 40 pounds, balanced on her head.
Her two children also had to haul water. She pointed to her youngest, telling Stowell, “Now he can go to school.”
“It occurred to me that if we can get people water, we get them through the day,” Stowell says. “If we can give them an education, we get them through life.”
Whether it’s his volunteer work or his credit union day job, Stowell relishes working in an environment that values cooperation.
“The credit union philosophy mirrors my personal philosophy,” he says. “It’s about finding ways to give others hope.”