From SOU to Community Champion: Alumnus Gene Pelham’s Journey of Service
There are certain extraordinary qualities that emanate from a leader: authenticity, respect, and self-awareness, and SOU alumnus, Gene Pelham ’83 and MiM ‘06, embodies those characteristics to the core. From his journey as an SOU student to the CEO of Rogue Credit Union to Chair Elect of the SOU Foundation Board of Trustees, Gene is an exemplary example of an unwavering commitment to community engagement. Gene stands as a true embodiment of SOU values and its mission to shape leaders who affect change through innovative thinking and community service. Gene is this year’s recipient of the Stan Smith Alumni Service Award from the SOU Alumni Association.
Born and raised in southern Oregon, Gene wasn’t sure he’d be able to attend college all, but one attentive high school adviser believed in Gene and helped to secure a scholarship to SOU through US Bank. This small gesture sent him on his higher education path.
Gene says of the people who believed in him early on, “One person’s vision for me allowed me to influence nearly 200,000 members across the region, 600 employees, various charities—all of those things from somebody having a vision and giving me a chance.” Majoring in business management with a minor in education at SOU, Gene understood the significance of quality education and the role it plays in molding future leaders. His time at SOU instilled in him the values of perseverance, collaboration, and community engagement that would guide him throughout his professional life.
During his time at SOU, Pelham’s innate leadership qualities began to shine. He was actively engaged in campus activities, taking on responsibilities that allowed him to collaborate, communicate, and build lifelong connections. It was these formative experiences that laid the foundation for his future roles as a community leader. As Gene sought to build on his expertise, he chose to pursue SOU’s master’s in management degree, graduating in 2006. As a graduate student, Gene excelled and was recognized for his leadership and educational achievements with the University of Guanajuato Outstanding Graduate Student award.
After obtaining his bachelor’s degree from SOU, Gene embarked on a journey that would lead him to Rogue Credit Union (RCU), where he would leave an indelible mark. In 1985, Gene took his first credit union job and embraced every opportunity for growth, quickly climbing the ranks. His dedication, innovative thinking, and keen business acumen caught the attention of both colleagues and leadership. It wasn’t long before Gene assumed his first CEO position in 1999 and then had the opportunity to return to Southern Oregon, joining the Rogue Credit Union team in 2003. In 2007, Gene assumed the role of CEO, a position he held until his retirement.
Under Gene’s visionary leadership, RCU transformed from a local financial institution into a regional financial services leader. His approach was centered around a deep commitment to the community and a focus on providing members with exceptional service. This approach not only fostered the growth of RCU but also solidified its reputation as a financial institution deeply rooted in the well-being of its members.
Gene’s leadership wasn’t limited to the confines of Rogue Credit Union; it extended well beyond. His commitment to community service drove him to champion various initiatives aimed at uplifting the lives of those around him. Gene’s dedication was evident in his efforts to support education, healthcare, and social welfare in Southern Oregon.
One of his passions was fostering financial literacy among individuals of all ages. Gene understood the power of financial education in empowering individuals to make informed decisions about their money. He spearheaded programs to teach financial literacy to local schools, equipping students with essential skills for a financially secure future.
Gene’s extensive experience in leadership, community engagement, and financial management equips him to contribute significantly to the SOU Foundation’s mission. With a keen understanding of the university’s unique role in shaping leaders and driving societal change, Gene is committed to ensuring that SOU continues to thrive and provide exceptional opportunities for its students.
Beyond his professional endeavors, Gene Pelham’s personal life reflects his values of family, community, and work-life balance. He is an advocate for focusing on what truly matters, recognizing the challenges of modern life but emphasizing the importance of aligning one’s priorities with personal and professional aspirations.
Gene says, “I hold a profound sense of hope and a belief that we, as a society, can channel our collective efforts towards the common ground we share rather than dwelling on our disagreements. It’s imperative for us to advance as a society, not by compromising our principles, but by embracing our shared responsibility to advance progress.”
Gene’s commitment to his family shines through as he embraces his role as a grandfather. He understands the significance of meaningful relationships and cherishes the time he spends with his loved ones. This balance between career and personal life underscores his belief in holistic success.
Gene says, “Reflecting on my time at Southern Oregon University, I truly treasure the unique experiences I had during my time at SOU. Unlike the conventional university path, SOU offered an environment where I could connect with my professors on a personal level. This individualized attention made all the difference in my journey, and I doubt I would have thrived elsewhere.”
His connection to SOU symbolizes the university’s mission to nurture leaders who bring about positive change. Gene’s journey stands as a testament to the enduring values of education, community engagement, and the commitment to making the world a better place.