FITCHBURG, Mass. (6/20/14)--Workers' CU, Fitchburg, Mass., was the eighth credit union to open its doors in the United States and it is celebrating 100 years of work this year. The $1.1 billion-asset credit union has seen new leadership come and go over the last century, but the mission of this member-owned financial institution, to serve its community, has never been altered.
Workers' CU Treasurer J. Gustav Laakso; President of Mass. CUNA Albert Rubin; Executive Director of Mass. CUNA Thomas N. Lowe; Secretary of WCU Savele Syrjala; and President of WCU Eino A. Tofferi, stand around Massachusetts Gov. Endicott Peabody, who signed a bill to increase deposit amounts for credit union members in 1963. (Leominster Champion photo)
Workers' opened in 1914 to serve the local immigrant community, according to Doug Petersen, current president/CEO. The first credit union in the nation--St. Mary's Bank Credit Union of Manchester, N.H.--had been founded only six years earlier (Sentinel and Enterprise
With language and cultural barriers barring Finnish immigrants from banks, the founder of the credit union, a 26-year-old Finnish man who Petersen has described as having "guts" for trying to cobble together his own financial institution, decided to form the credit union.
The passion of Workers' CU's founder, John Suominen, was captured in the meeting minutes of a 1914 Finnish Socialist Federation meeting held in Fitchburg.
"The existence of workers' banks in America is only a matter of time," Suominen said (Sentinel and Enterprise
). "If we consider just the Finnish socialist organizations, newspapers, buildings, cooperatives and all the other efforts in America plus the private savings, we have huge amounts and shining results.
"So it is high time that we begin to organize matters in such a way that the resulting bank will be entirely our own. This is possible only by founding our own bank."
The credit union, which operated primarily in Finnish until 1963, thrived, Petersen told the Sentinel and Enterprise
, and had topped $1 million in assets by 1929.
That was five years before the signing of the Federal Credit Union Act--the source of authority for all federally chartered credit unions, which also governs the coverage and terms of all federally-insured credit union accounts.
The act turns 80 on Thursday.
Workers' was created to serve primarily an underserved immigrant community, but it has evolved into a credit union that now serves the entire region.
The institution gives money and man-hours to the local chamber of commerce, the Boys and Girls Club, Boy Scouts, the United Way and Relay for Life.
Recently, the president of the United Way of North Central Massachusetts, Phil Grzewinski, called the credit union a "Class-A organization" and a major player in community betterment for the region, according to the Sentinel and Enterprise.
The credit union carries on a rich history that has seen political turmoil, wars and the Great Depression, but through it all, has held true to its founding principles of helping neighbors and everyday people achieve their goals, whether it's starting a business, buying a home or paying for an education, Petersen told the Sentinel and Enterprise.