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37 years on the job

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In the blink of an eye, 37 years in the credit union business have come to a close for Harold Siirila - and his wife, Jean.

Harold started as manager with Heart of the Lakes Credit Union in 1976. His wife, Jean, joined him a few years later, helping switch the system over to computers and filling in for Harold when needed.

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At that time, it was referred to as Mills Community Credit Union. Over the years, the two have seen the name change over and over again - but one thing has remained the same: their dedication to the credit union's mission.

In a true testament of that dedication, Harold and Jean have held off their retirement until the last day of the credit union's existence, before its merger with Central Minnesota Credit Union.

That last day is Friday.

When Harold first joined the credit union, he was pretty green to the scene. Having worked as a pastor and construction worker, he wasn't used to the typical 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. routine.

"I hardly knew what a credit union was," he joked.

That surely isn't true today. During a course of time when many small credit unions were phased out, the Perham branch stayed strong under Harold's leadership.

Battling the many changes over the years, including the switch to online systems and increased government regulations, hasn't stopped the banking system from pulling out on top.

"We're still a healthy credit union," he said.

A history of growth

When Harold started, he was the only staff member, and he was working part-time.

In 1980, Jean came on board, helping switch systems over to new computers. Three years after that, the credit union made its home in the Centennial Building on Main Street in NY Mills. In 1986, it added an additional location in Perham and took on the name East Otter Tail Credit Union.

During that year, the credit union began to deal with real estate loans. In 1989, Jean joined Harold as branch manager at the Perham location, working alongside Karen Selander.

It was quite the decade for the couple, as the business saw 800 percent growth, according to Harold.

In 1997, more growth occurred, with a new building in NY Mills. In 2002, the same thing happened in Perham.

Over the years, the two saw plenty of support from the staff of Central Minnesota Credit Union, the company Heart of the Lakes will merge with on Oct. 3. That, Harold said, has been a great relationship along the way.

While the two have had plenty of fantastic memories created inside the walls of the credit union world, they're eager to start their new life. With children in South Carolina, Minnesota winters will be a thing of the past. They plan to become snow birds, visiting their children and grandchildren when the weather gets cold.

While Jean still could have worked a few more years, she joked that she wasn't about to let her husband see the children and grandchildren without her.

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