Chris Rutledge has served as the Executive Officer/President of Gulf Winds Credit Union since 2002. Over the years, as he watched the community grow, he used his leadership skills to grow Gulf Winds: From $200M and 29,000 members to over $780M and 70,000 members currently.

Chris and his team knew that with the advent of COVID-19, they had to do something to help their community during such a challenging time. They established a donation fund, deciding its best use was the protection of first responders and caregivers on the front lines. Realizing the medical community was involved in difficult and demanding work, the concern was for their safety.
As a result, Gulf Wind’s Credit Union donated $65,000 to Ascension Sacred Heart in Pensacola to assist the hospital in purchasing personal protection equipment (PPE) for its staff. It was a gift that benefitted hundreds of associates and patients.

Chris confesses that he has been a fan of Ascension Sacred Heart for quite some time. Besides the fact that he was a patient there as a child, the hospital has taken care of his family, his wife and his parents. In addition, Children’s Miracle Network hospitals (such as the Studer Family Children’s Hospital) have always been the traditional charity of choice for credit unions.

For years, Chris gave Gulf Winds’ employees the option of donating $1 per week, earning them the right to wear jeans to work on a certain day of the week. That donation went to Children’s Miracle Network at Sacred Heart, and the credit union’s commitment has grown from there. They are an annual sponsor of Sacred Heart’s Radiothon and the Mall Ball, and donate to groups that assist Sacred, such as the Ronald McDonald House.

He describes the Studer Family Children’s Hospital as an asset for the entire region, saying, “It gives all of us so much confidence and peace of mind to have this level of advanced care right here in our community.” Previously, if parents knew the birth of their child would be challenging, they traveled to Birmingham or Gainesville for care, which often meant family separation and financial hardship.

The Gulf Coast has a special place in Chris’s heart, as it is his home. “I just love this area – for the beaches, the weather, but most important for the friendliness of the people in this community,” he says. The family moved to Pensacola when he was quite young after his father accepted a teaching position in accounting at the University of West Florida.

His parents met while attending Auburn University, both graduating after working their way through. His dad, there on the GI Bill, was the only member of his family to obtain a college education.

Chris also met his wife at Auburn, so it is understandable that the whole family strongly supports the university – and its football team, of course. But he was avidly devoted to Auburn even while growing up. When the time to pursue higher education grew near, Chris jokes, “It wasn’t, ‘ Where are you going to college?’ It was, “When are you going to Auburn?’

However, when he graduated from the university with a B.S. in Accounting, work was hard to find unfortunately: It was 1990 and the country was in the midst of a severe recession. But as destiny would have it, Chris found a job as an examiner for credit unions, only to discover that its environment was a natural fit for him.

He had always been good with numbers, a core function for that type of work, but he discovered something far more important. He explains, “The credit union philosophy of ‘people helping people’ was a financial and social mission that really fit my values. I’ve been in this industry now for 30 plus years, and I’ve never looked back. I couldn’t be more blessed.”

Chris believes that it was his parents’ upbringing and experiences that instilled a strong work ethic in him. He and his three siblings were always told that education was the key to success. He confesses to being a “driven person”, and credits his caring and compassionate wife, a registered nurse, with adding balance to his life. Together they have raised two sons, one currently pursuing a master’s degree, and the other working towards his bachelor’s.

Chris is guiding Gulf Winds towards helping the community get through the next phase of the COVID-19 crisis: financial recovery. By maximizing programs for better loan rates, lower fees and higher savings rates, the credit union is in a good position to help its members get back on their feet economically.

He sees Ascension Sacred Heart’s set of values as being similar to those of Gulf Winds, with both organizations also being in a growth phase. “The challenge is keeping those values strong as we grow. It has to be a constant focus.” He hopes that Sacred Heart continues on its current path of becoming the regional care center for the Gulf Coast, just as Gulf Winds is working to expand and serve more people along the coast “in the way we know we can – with heart.”

 


This is an excerpt from Stories from the Heart. Click to read more.

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