The Erlene Darby Learning Center is a Special Place


It was an adventurous spirit, as her children like to recall, that inspired Erlene Darby to do many of the things she did throughout her 79 years of life. In 1970, it was that spirit that led Erlene and her kids on an impromptu, 3-month road-trip across the United States.

Erlene clearly loved traveling and experiencing life. But she was also was well-known for her sympathetic ear and kind heart, and she was always ready to support family, friends, and her credit union.

“I had thought of a number of words to describe her and came up with committed, caring, leadership, supportive. She mentored me both professionally and personally. And she did it from the heart. That meant a lot to me.” — Debi Smiley, Chief Marketing Officer at Wauna Credit Union.

Erlene Darby volunteered at Wauna Credit Union for over 30 years. She served in almost every capacity. From Board Chair to Board Treasurer, she did it all. Erlene watched the credit union grow and change — her adventurous spirit, a beacon, guided the credit union through ups and downs.

So, in recognition of this steadfast commitment to Wauna Credit Union, to her adventurous spirit, and to the inspiration and wonder she shared throughout her three decades with us, we are proud to announce the dedication of our Westport Learning Center to Erlene Darby.

“I think dedicating this building – the learning center for all of the future and current employees and volunteers that we’re going to have here at Wauna – to come through and to see her name and her image says a lot about what she stood for,” said George Dunkel, WCU’s Board Chair.

Erlene’s Family at the Dedication Ceremony

As a special way of celebrating Erlene, we hosted a small ceremony dedicating the “Erlene Darby Learning Center.” There, joined by Erlene’s family and friends, we shared laughs and tears.

While the mood was light, the memories and feelings were strong. The affair became a proud moment forever marked in time for not only Wauna Credit Union, but for Erlene’s family.

“What a wonderful honor it was to be included in the dedication ceremony,” said Erlene’s daughter, Melinda Puzey. “My family and I were both impressed and humbled by the dedication, and for Wauna’s regard and appreciation for my mother’s service and commitment. It made me very proud to be her daughter, and I know it would have meant so much to her.”

Erlene’s Plaque

Her plaque, proudly displayed on the front of her learning center, reads:

Dedicated to the loving memory of Erlene Darby with appreciation of her dedication and passion for lifelong learning. She inspired us with 35 years of steadfast volunteer service.


FREE Christmas Dinner, hosted by Wauna CU in Rainier, OR

Perhaps you’ve seen the poster hanging up in our branches, or picked up a handout around town, or scrolled past the Facebook event, and you are wondering about this FREE Christmas Dinner. Certainly, there is a lot to be curious about. It is indeed true and coming up on Dec. 23 at the Rainier Methodist Church.

Wauna CU employee, Tabitha White talks about what inspired this free dinner for the community this Christmas.
Wauna CU employee, Tabitha White talks about what inspired this free dinner for the community this Christmas.

To get the answers, we went to the source – Wauna Credit Union’s own Tabitha White, who is the mastermind behind this amazing gesture of giving. Here is what she had to say about her idea, and how it fits with the Credit Union mantra of “People Helping People”.

“This dinner is for our community.  To show that Wauna Credit Union cares for our community, we support our community, and show them we are not just another financial institution – we give back.” She explains. “It’s been a long time dream of mine to host a huge dinner for those who need it the most.  This is a huge way to show people we truly are a company of “People Helping People”.

Members in Clatskanie will likely recognize Tabitha from her time as a top notch Member Service Representative (commonly known as a teller), but for the last several years she has worked her way up, first in our Operations Department, and now as part of the Training Team at our Learning Center. She also spearheaded our first quarter staff fundraiser raising $4,000 for the Columbia County Humane Society, and leading the charge to plant the beautiful memorial garden on their grounds during the summer. Obviously, she really cares, and that is probably why she is here at Wauna Credit Union. After all, Credit Unions are nonprofit financial cooperatives that work to improve communities one member at a time.

What should people expect when they come to this event?

“When people come to the Christmas dinner they should expect to get fed a wonderful turkey dinner.  Children will get to visit with Santa. Our CEO Robert Blumberg will be speaking about Wauna Credit Union and who we are.  Hopefully, we will have some live caroling, and also get some financial education while they are there since we are a financial institution.  But people need to come with the idea of not having any obligation to Wauna Credit Union after the dinner.  People need to come and expect great conversations and enjoy having a full belly.  The food will be served for 4 hours.  We even have free transportation for those coming from as far away as Scappoose, St. Helens and Clatskanie.  They just need to be prepared to be served and have a wonderful afternoon.”

Tabitha, this is such a lovely idea, what inspires your generosity?

“This whole idea of feeding the community started with me wanting to show my kids that Christmas is not for wanting or getting.  Christmas is for giving and giving back to those around us.  I want my children to learn to give and not expect anything in return.”

Those are strong words and a big commitment, but then she said even more!

“Recently, I was looking around at home noticing how much “stuff” I have; noticing how much stuff my children have; noticing how much more my children ask for even when they have everything they could ever need and more.  On daily trips in the car my kids would ask for a new X-box game, a new bike, a new toy gun, because they “need” it!!!  They don’t need it!  They want it.  I got to thinking how much people are in need out there and how my kids have no idea what it means to be in need.  My family is not rich or well to do, but we have a lot.”

“Then, I turned and looked at myself in the mirror and thought, my children ask for all these things and want more because this is what I am teaching them.  This year, I have been selfish by thinking and saying out loud; I need a new house on 100 acres, I need a new car, I need new work clothes, I need a new phone!  What???  I don’t need anything!  What I need is to stop wanting.  What I need is to focus on the more important things in life like giving back, working hard for things, and being grateful.  I need to give back and teach my children the most important things in life are not things!”

“With all these thoughts, this whole idea of feeding the community spawned!  Then, the idea turned into action and now here we are getting ready for a county wide Christmas dinner and hoping to feed over 200 people.”

With that inspiration, Wauna Credit Union welcomes anyone and everyone who would like to join us for Christmas Dinner on December 23rd — Come to help or come to eat, bring a friend or bring a toy for a child. We can all make a difference in our communities, just as Tabitha inspired Wauna Credit Union to do with this wonderful free dinner!

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