PORT ANGELES — Karen McCormick had two cats and $600 to her name when she drove an old truck from the San Francisco Bay Area to Port Angeles in 1977.
McCormick took a job as a teller at First Federal’s eastside branch and embarked on what would become a nationally recognized banking career.
McCormick had become the bank’s CEO by 1997. In 2015, she became the first executive director of the First Federal Community Foundation.
“This is really a full cycle for you,” First Federal Community Foundation Board Chairman Norman J. Tonina told McCormick in a retirement reception at the eastside branch Monday evening.
“You came here on your first day, and we’re sending you off from here.”
McCormick said she was “overwhelmed” by the expressions of thanks and well wishes.
She recalled writing a book on the history of First Federal, the largest locally owned bank on the North Olympic Peninsula, after retiring as the bank’s CEO in 2009.
“During that whole process, I came to see this bank is all about community, and has been since 1923,” McCormick told about 50 attendees.
“Since it first started, it was all about community. And what a wonderful legacy this bank continues to leave.”
McCormick, who turns 65 this year, became the first executive director of the First Federal Community Foundation when First Federal was converted to a public company in 2015.
The foundation is a private 501(c)(3) charitable corporation funded with a gift of cash and stock from First Northwest Bancorp, the parent company of First Federal Savings and Loan Association of Port Angeles.
It provides funding for community support, affordable housing, economic development and community development in communities where First Federal operates a full-service branch.
First Federal, a subsidiary of First Northwest Bancorp, is a Washington-chartered, community-based savings bank headquartered in Port Angeles.
It serves Western Washington through 13 banking centers located within Clallam, Jefferson, King, Kitsap and Whatcom counties.
The First Federal Community Foundation has provided $3.2 million in grants since 2015, officials said. It had $11.2 million in assets heading into 2018, according to an annual report.
“Karen is the person who really laid the groundwork to get to this point,” Tonina said.
“The good news is she sits on the board for at least one more year.”
Steve Oliver, chairman of the First Federal Board of Directors, said his colleague of nearly 40 years has been recognized nationally for her talents.
McCormick served as the chair of the Federal Reserve Board’s Thrift Industry Advisory Council.
“She sat across the table from Alan Greenspan in Washington, D.C., on a regular basis in the late ’90s and into the 2000s,” Oliver said.
In 2003, McCormick was named one of the “25 Most Powerful Women in Banking” by U.S. Banker Magazine.
“We hear a lot about a glass ceiling, and it’s certainly reality,” Oliver said.
“I don’t know what it was made of back in the mid ’90s, but whatever it was, she blasted through it.”
In addition to McCormick’s banking acumen and operational expertise, Oliver and other speakers highlighted McCormick’s philanthropic efforts, humility and “personal touch.”
“Karen has been a role model, not just to me but to many others in the baking industry,” said Dawnya Scarano, First Federal director of retail banking.
“She’s a living legend in our bank.
“She’s been dedicated to not only the bank but to our community, and our foundation, and she’s helped us through times of growth and change,” Scarano added before making a toast to McCormick’s future adventures in her RV.
Scarano recalled the handwritten Christmas cards that she received from McCormick and her two daughters.
“I thought ‘How does she have the time to do that? She’s such a busy woman,’ ” Scarano said. “That’s the personal touch.”
Bruce Skinner, executive director of the Olympic Medical Center Foundation, said First Federal and its foundation have been strong supporters of the local nonprofit community.
“The bank and the foundation don’t get the recognition that I think they deserve because they are significant donors to almost every nonprofit on the North Olympic Peninsula,” Skinner said.
“And I think to a large degree that’s because of Karen.”
First Federal made a major donation to Olympic Medical Center to bring digital mammography to the region about 20 years ago, Skinner said.
More recently, the First Federal foundation made a significant investment in the expansion of OMC’s Sequim Cancer Center, Skinner said.
“When I say First Federal is a leader amongst local companies, they definitely put their money where their mouth is,” Skinner said.
John Moon, executive director of Habitat for Humanity in Whatcom County, described a housing project in Bellingham that was spearheaded by a First Federal Community Foundation grant.
“We are just so appreciative of your vision and leadership to get this project stated,” Moon told McCormick.
Said First Federal President and CEO Larry Hueth: “Karen is one of the finest human beings I have ever known in my life, and certainly one of the finest people I’ve every worked for and with.”
David Flodstrom, past chairman of the foundation, presented McCormick with a carved topographic map of the Salish Sea.
McCormick said she was inspired by the work of community nonprofits.
“I’ve never heard passion the way you are so committed to what you’re doing, and the passion that you bring to it,” McCormick told the nonprofit officials.
Jan Simon has succeeded McCormick as executive director of the First Federal Community Foundation.
Simon, who has more than 20 years of experience leading nonprofit organizations, joined the foundation in late April and has been learning from McCormick during a transition.
Simon said she had “big shoes to fill” as McCormick”s successor.
“It’s really an honor to take the helm of this foundation and continue to make a difference in all the communities that we serve,” Simon said.
Simon worked for more than 15 years as president and CEO of the Washington Lodging Association.
More recently, she served as executive director of Seattle’s Center for Spiritual Living.
“This foundation is in really good hands,” McCormick said.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].