‘I think it’s time’

When Melvin Chiba started working at Kauai Community Federal Credit Union about 40 years ago, the credit union had six employees.

Four decades later, the nonprofit cooperative has about 90 employees, amassed almost $500 million in assets, and has grown from 3,000 to 33,000 members.

“What we’ve done in the 42 years is we made this credit union grow,” said Chiba, KCFCU president and CEO. “We produced and created a lot of financial services at very affordable prices and low costs. In the process, we helped a lot of families. I’ve worked with four generations of families now who’ve really appreciated what we’ve done.”

On Monday, the 66-year-old father of three will make 42 years at KCFCU and will step down and retire from the first and only job he’s ever had on Kauai.

“I think it’s time. This has been my life,” Chiba told The Garden Island Tuesday. “It’s just time for me to move on and start the next chapter in my life. I feel real good. I’m healthy and my mind is still strong. It’s time for me to try something new.”

Other than traveling with his family and tending to his garden, the 1968 Waimea High School graduate is still debating how he’s going to spend his time after working nonstop at the company he helped to grow.

“I really want to specialize and build my yard, build another garden section to do pumpkin,” he said. “I love pumpkin. I want to try do that. I also want to do home improvement around my house.”

Born and raised in Pakala, Chiba had aspirations of working at the First Hawaiian Bank in Waimea.

“Back then in 1974, when I came back, I always wanted to get into banking. I never knew what a credit union was,” he said. “Growing up in Waimea town … the ideal job to me to goal of that point was to be a branch manager at (First Hawaiian Bank in Waimea) and coach football, baseball and things like that.”

After he graduated from Kansas State University, Chiba had two options: work as a teller at First Hawaiian Bank or as an assistant manager KCFCU.

“I was ready to take a job as a teller at First Hawaiian Bank. Starting pay back then was $389 a month, but I was living at home so I just wanted to get my foot in the door,” he said. “What happened was this job was paying $950 a month. Of course, my father told me to apply for this particular job. I didn’t know what Kauai Community was or a credit union, but for $950, I can do it.”

He took the job and never left.

“I love it,” he said. “Best choice in the world for me.”

Like most small companies, Chiba said the six employees did everything, from tellering to lending to collections to book keeping.

“Eventually the company grew and I needed an assistant manager (Irving Soto), then I needed an accountant (Tess Shimabukuro),” he said. “As we grew, we needed a vice president of human resources and marketing and now IT. We’ve seen the company grow big like that, and it was very enjoyable.”

In financial services, Chiba said he’s seen many changes. But he told his staff Tuesday that the credit union’s philosophy ought to be steadfast.

“The way in which we serve our members is going to continue to change because our members needs are going to change in services and benefits in the way they do their banking, but the philosophy has to stay,” he said.

He added: “From the time we’ve started our credit philosophy — people helping people, nonprofit, we’re a cooperative type — that has never changed from day one. They should never let it change in the future because once we get into profit sharing, we become a bank and we’re just like everybody else.”

When asked what he would miss most about his job, the 66-year-old said, “everything.”

“One of the things I was worried about was can I get away from it,” he said. “It took me an extra year. It’s in my blood, so I don’t know what it’s going to be. I’m hoping I can move forward, next Monday, and move forward to the next chapter.”

Chiba is confident his successor, the management team and the rest of KCFCU’s staff will continue to move the credit union into the future.

“I feel real comfortable I’m leaving this organization in the best shape it’s ever been,” he said. “My successor is Tess Shimabukuro. She’s the executive vice president. She’s been with me for over 30 years. Together, we built the company. She was the brain. I was only the dreamer.”

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