Creedence Shaw revisits the area where he lended a helping hand.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)
Local Business

21 for ’21: Meet the heroic banker who moonlighted as a search-and-rescue warrior

Santa Cruz County Bank’s Creedence Shaw helped lead a team to keep the local economy from cratering. Then he donned search-and-rescue gear to help hundreds out of harm’s way during last summer’s fires.

The night before the original statewide pandemic shelter-in-place order was to go into effect last March, Creedence Shaw and a buddy met at their habitual watering hole of choice, Lupolo in downtown Santa Cruz. The occasion was a wary kind of apprehension that life was about to change very quickly, and not for the better.

“I remember thinking, well, this is probably my last beer for a while,” he said. “We are so hosed.”

Shaw’s spidey sense was spot-on, as it turned out. But at that moment, he could never have guessed exactly what 2020 had in store for him, which included, among other adventures, entering emergency loan applications into a government website into the wee hours for weeks on end — and dragging incapacitated lost hikers up steep ravines while the world burned around him.

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Shaw had two very different but very dramatic roles to play in the melodrama of 2020. In the spring, as the chief credit officer at Santa Cruz County Bank, he led a team of insomniacs through the daunting task of processing emergency federal loans to keep the local economy from catastrophe.

In the summer, as part of the county’s volunteer search-and-rescue team, Shaw found himself writing evacuation plans on the fly at a trailer in a command post during the CZU fires, and calling in helicopters to airlift lost hikers out of harm’s way in the ablaze Santa Cruz Mountains.

In his day job, Shaw had a sense of foreboding that the pandemic was going to bring chaos to the local economy, as clients across the county were suddenly in danger of defaulting on their loans.

Lookout's 21 for '21

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re profiling 21 individuals who made a difference in pandemic-and-wildfire-ravaged Santa Cruz County in 2020 — and how they’re looking toward recovery in 2021. Have suggestions about others we should pick? Email us at news@lookoutlocal.com

“We reached out to some of our customers right away,” he said, “and, in other cases, they reached out to us. And (we told them), ‘Don’t stress. We’re going to try to work with you. We don’t know what’s going to happen.’ All to keep a conversation going.”

Less than a month later came the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, to be administered by the Small Business Administration and distributed by local banks. That meant Shaw had to hire crews to add to his bank staff, hand-entering data into the SBA website in three shifts around the clock, competing for funds with bigger financial institutions. “I’ve been in banking for 20 years and it’s the thing I’m definitely most proud of, as a bank.”

When the second round of PPP came along, Shaw and his colleagues developed a new system to adapt to the government’s new rules on distribution.

And, now as Congress is poised to free up more emergency funds for an uncertain winter, Shaw said what the bank learned in the first two rounds has made them more efficient to deal with a third round in 2021. “We see it coming a little better,” he said. “And we’ve gotten better at rowing.”

The bank’s program to give employees 40 hours’ pay a year for community service allowed Shaw and his bank colleague John Mizell to make themselves useful as search-and-rescue volunteers.

The two went from the very indoors work of processing loans to the very outdoors work of helping people escape the worst fires Santa Cruz County has seen in generations, putting in 18 hours a day to assist in evacuation efforts.

“The coolest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life was to call in the chopper,” Shaw said of one rescue call involving a disoriented hiker unable to find his way out of an inaccessible ravine. “I was watching the chopper fly away and I was thinking, ‘Wow, that’s pretty amazing. I was just a guy doing loans yesterday.’”