A trip down memory lane
Jim Robbins on his family farm
If you had a father who wore different hats in the co-op and credit union systems, then it wouldn’t take much to make you develop an appreciation for co-operative enterprise.
For Jim Robbins, President of the Board of Delisle Credit Union, it was no coincidence that he became involved with the system. From the age of five, he began using notebooks with the inscription, ‘My dad says co-ops are building a better future for me’.
Growing up as the son of the late Wesley Albert Robbins, the first Secretary-manager of the Co-operative Superannuation Society (CSS) from 1954 to 1973, Jim recalls early memories of his father’s passion for co-operatives.
“We were self-advertised as co-operators for sure. My dad was the first president of the Saskatoon Credit Union, that’s the credit union that preceded Affinity Credit Union. He was very passionate about cooperatives. I can remember my dad taking me into the Saskatoon Credit Union and setting up an account for me when I was little. I had won an essay contest and had $10 of my own, and he immediately took me in to open an account.”
Right from his childhood, Jim had been taught the importance of saving, especially for retirement. “Pension was a great enthusiasm of my dad,” Jim remembers. “A few years before he died in 2008, he could give a cogent presentation on why a fixed contribution pension plan was particularly important for young people. He would give scenarios with numbers.”
Jim’s father, Wesley, was a proponent of defined contribution (DC) pension plans, and admired some of their core features, including that in most cases employer-matched contributions travelled with employees as they journeyed through their careers from one employer to another until retirement. When he was in government as a minister, he redesigned the provincial pension plan, now known as the Public Employees Pension Plan (PEPP) and turned it into a DC pension plan.
Wesley’s devotion to the subject of pension had stemmed from the hardship he had seen people endure from his childhood when people had to work until they died irrespective of their age because they couldn’t survive without working.
“He grew up in the 1930s and those were tough times,” Jim recalls. “When he finished high school, he did a year at teachers’ college and came back to teach in a rural school in Laura, SK. He lived at his parent’s house and walked 10 miles round trip everyday. He was both a janitor and a teacher for $100 a year, and he worked for two and half years without payment because the school board couldn’t afford to pay him. He was not angry about this nor did he blame them. He was paid later though. He knew hard times. When he moved to the city and started working for the Saskatchewan Cooperative Wholesale Society, now known as Federated Co-operatives Limited, as an accounting clerk in 1941, he saw a lot of economic hardship, particularly for elderly people. There was no pension system then. No CPP or Old Age Security. It meant that people didn’t retire but worked until they died. He knew that if there wasn’t a change in the system to bring pensions into existence, that hardship would be repeated in the next generation.”
Additionally, in the 1980s people began changing employers.
“What my dad wanted was that from the moment you were first employed, that you had a pension plan that travelled with you along your career. That was locked-in to you, and the employer’s contribution was also locked-in and it went with you for life until retirement. He was an avid proponent of this and would bore anybody to death about the subject. Even when he was giving a speech on an entirely different topic, pensions would always come into it,” recalls Jim.
After Wesley retired from the legislature, he served on the pension Board of the City of Saskatoon and that of the United Church of Canada based in Toronto. DC pension plans were his personal gospel; his involvement with the two largest DC pension plans in Canada is therefore not surprising.
Although Jim doesn’t have a lot of physical resemblance with his father, he had often been called “Wes” by older folks because of their similarities in other areas.
“I guess I remind people of my father. Older people who knew him often call me Wes. They’ve missed 30 years there. It couldn’t be possible that I’d be Wes, but I just remind them of him that they don’t remember I’m not Wes, which I consider a compliment,” he said.
Jim was highly influenced by his father. Like his father, he went to the University of Saskatchewan.
“Wes loved the university and he took every geography class that the university offered, and some of them probably more than once,” Jim says. “It was always understood that my sisters and I would go to the university. Not that he pushed, but when I left high school, I did not think of going to BC or Alberta or finding a job. I knew I was going to the University of Saskatchewan”.
Jim has a master’s degree in microbiology. He worked in laboratories before he went back to the farm, and during the winter after he returned to farming, until he got too busy. He was also a teacher at the University of Saskatchewan on a part-time basis for a few years.Jim wears many volunteer hats in both the co-operative and agriculture sectors. He joined the Board of Delisle Credit Union 35 years ago and has been the president for 29 years; and served as a facilitator for the Saskatchewan Co-operative Association.
Having lots of volunteer commitments, Jim has come to understand why his father was absent a fair bit and appreciates that someone who has many volunteer commitments must make time sacrifices to fulfill them. Nonetheless, Jim recalls playing catch with his dad every Sunday as a kid and he cherishes the times they spent together and the wonderful memories, especially those on the farm.“My father was completely delighted when I chose to go into farming because he was raised on a family farm and he loved it.”
One of Wesley’s favourite quotes is, “the object of planning is to be approximately right, rather than absolutely wrong.”
Although this quote is applicable in many areas of life, it is valuable in the area of retirement where planning is especially important if one is to live the retirement they envision. Over the years, the Co-operative Superannuation Society Pension Plan has made it a focus to help members through education, self-serve tools and, most recently, Pension Plan Consultants to effectively plan for retirement. This is in line with Wesley’s vision that Plan members adequately prepare for retirement.
“I’m glad to see how the Plan has grown dramatically since my dad left in 1973. I’m sure Wes would be proud of the growth and the number of members that are sure to have better retirement years because of the existence of the Plan,” Jim echoed.
Wesley’s enthusiasm for pensions has had a huge impact on Jim’s kids as well.
“My son came back to farming a few years ago,” says Jim. “My son is self-employed, so he has been saving towards his retirement with the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. My dad passed down his pension ideals to his grandkids and he urged them to join when they could.
“My dad always used to talk about the magic of compounding interest. How this tiny little oak tree becomes a giant tree when it’s time to retire. If the economy grows at 2%, the money doubles in size in 30 years with the compound interest.”
One of Jim’s retirement ambitions is to write a biography of Wesley when he retires from farming.
“I have 38 boxes of his archives to go through. Each time I go through a box, I uncover new things that I never knew he was involved in,” he disclosed.
Recently, Jim saw a calendar of the Saskatchewan Golden Jubilee of 1955 in Wesley’s archive and the picture on the calendar was his great uncle’s farm.
“So, he had sneaked the picture of his other great enthusiasm on the calendar that was for the commemoration of the jubilee and when I asked around after that, I found out that he served on the committee that organised the celebration.”
Article from the spring 2019 issue of TimeWise