Although Karen Reams was told that attending the National Credit Union Foundation’s Credit Union Development Education training would be life-changing, she envisioned it as nothing more than a weeklong educational program.
But becoming a development educator (DE) in 2006 actually did change her life by allowing her to recognize she has a gift.
“I have always believed everyone has a gift,” she says. “I could never understand what mine was, but the DE training made me realize that my gift is to help people.”
While she might not have realized it, Reams has been committed to the “people helping people” philosophy for 30 years. The CEO of $40 million asset Millstream Area Credit Union in Findlay, Ohio, began her credit union career in 1987 as a part-time teller, and came to Millstream in 1990.
“From the beginning, I loved everything about credit unions,” Reams says. “I felt so fortunate. Every day I looked forward to coming to work.”
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Always seeking solutions for members’ financial problems, she cites her biggest challenge as confronting regulations that prevent her from helping members.
Reams serves on the Ohio Credit Union League board and as chair of the Ohio Credit Union Foundation. She also has served on numerous boards in the community.
Under her leadership, Reams has inspired the credit union’s 21 employees to create a community involvement activities committee. On their own time, employees work in teams on a variety of projects, including coordinating a bingo night at a nursing home and cleaning up the roadways by adopting a highway.
Recently, a health issue has disrupted Reams’ fulltime devotion to Millstream and the community.
But even a diagnosis of pulmonary hypertension (PH)—high blood pressure in the lungs that causes shortness of breath and can lead to heart failure— hasn’t prevented her from helping others. The life-threatening illness has no cure, only treatments.
“At first I asked myself, ‘Why did God give me this disease?’” Reams says. “Then I realized it gave me a platform and I could bring awareness about PH.”
Millstream Area CU’s Karen Reams
on her gift of serving others
Reams has joined support groups, and is now helping others cope with PH. She’s seeking treatments from specialists in California, and hopes to return to the credit union.
“I have things I want to accomplish—the introduction of exciting new products and services to make our members’ lives easier,” she says.
For now, Millstream’s board has named an interim CEO—Reams’ son Joshua, who nominated his mother as a Credit Union Hero.
“Her passion for the credit union movement is beyond infectious—so much so that I’ve dedicated my young career to the movement and to carrying on the exceptional and difference-making work that she has devoted her life to,” he says. “I wouldn’t be the person I am today without her. Many residents of Hancock County and surrounding counties are in a much better place in their lives because of her.”