Fire houses and credit unions have two characteristics in common: both feature a tight-knit atmosphere and camaraderie.
Douglas Cooke relishes that and he experienced it firsthand for more than 50 years with the Duluth Fire Department Credit Union. After joining the Duluth Fire Department in 1968, he eventually served as president of the in-house credit union for years prior to leaving the role in 2021.
That longevity and collaborative mindset helped Cooke earn Outstanding Credit Union Director of the Year honors from the Minnesota Credit Union Network.
The award is given to a credit union board member “who best represents the credit union spirit through dedication to, and belief in, the credit union movement.” Cooke believes he was selected for award for his longevity, experience, leadership abilities, and passion for the $6 million asset credit union.
“I like the smallness, knowing everybody, and the credit union’s ability to be there for you and know who you are,” says Cooke, who stayed on the credit union board long after retiring from his 30-year career as a firefighter. “I held positions in almost all the boards and offices, went to all the meetings, and made sure I got to the conventions.”
Cooke thought about retiring from the board on several occasions, but he was always asked to stay on due to his familiarity with the credit union and everyone involved. He made sure it stayed that way throughout his tenure.
“I knew every spot, every board, and all the people on them for many, many years,” he says of the credit union, which serves its 320 members from a one-room office in the fire department. “And when new people came in, I’d get to know them. The availability of our credit union was so nice.”
Cooke found that out quickly upon joining the fire department. He had already served in the National Guard and as a personnel specialist in the U.S. Army, while also working as a personal assistant and in an office setting. That well-rounded skillset stood out when he joined the Duluth Fire Department.
“They asked me if I wanted to work in the credit union because they knew I had some experience,” Cooke says. “I put it off for quite a while and said I didn’t really want to because I was busy with my fire department career, but I finally started going to meetings and serving on supervisory committees and credit committees.”
He developed into the board chair, a role that is now held by his son, Chad. Cooke, who is also a fiduciary, says the atmosphere of the fire department develops leaders naturally.
“We know so much about each other and we really get to know the staff and members,” he says. “I would say they picked me because they knew I could lead. I had the training and everything else, and I think I did a good job of leading.
“We help a lot of people,” he continues. “It’s a small credit union. It’s called ‘the largest little credit union’ because we have more assets per person than any other credit union. The smallness of our credit union is the success of it.”
This article is available exclusively for Credit Union Directors Newsletter PDF subscribers.