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The Credit Union Movement in Vermont: A Brief History

Introduction Background Early Years 1945-1954 1955-1960

 1960-1968 1968-1982 1982-Present Conclusion Notes

The Roy Bergengren Era, 1945-1954

Roy BergengrenThe economic boom that followed the end of the war greatly benefited credit unions nation-wide, but 1945 also provided the Vermont movement with an added stimulus in the person of Roy F. Bergengren. A Harvard-educated lawyer who had received his undergraduate education from Dartmouth around the turn of the century, Bergengren had served as the dynamic and hard-working leader of the national credit union movement since the early 1920s. However, after a lengthy political battle within the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) in 1944, he decided it was time to retire from his role as the Managing Director and moved shortly thereafter from Madison, Wisconsin to "a little farm on a pleasant Vermont hillside."1

To Roy Bergengren, however, "retirement" did not mean quietly living out his golden years on the laurels of his years of dedicated service to credit unionism. For him, strengthening the credit union movement was not simply a way to make a living, but a deeply moral mission (his level of fervor and commitment is apparent in the title of his memoirs - Crusade: The Fight for Economic Democracy), and he fully intended to continue spreading the credit union idea in the Green Mountain State. Indeed, according to his granddaughter, the fact that Vermont was one of the only states that still lacked a credit union league was a major factor in Bergengren decision to conclude his career there.2

With only a handful of credit unions in existence and no state-wide organization which could help establish new credit unions and advance their interests in the legislature, Bergengren had his work cut out for him. Working under the auspices of the Vermont Cooperative Council, and with the financial backing of a Montpelier milk co-op, he immediately began traversing the state assisting interested groups to get new credit unions off the ground. 3

One example of his handiwork from this period is the Vermont State Employees Credit Union (VSECU). At the second annual meeting of the Vermont State Employees Association in 1946, Bergengren gave a speech extolling the virtues of credit unions.4 A committee to create a VSEA credit union was subsequently formed, and, on March 10, 1947, "with the helpful assistance and advice of Roy F. Bergengren," the Montpelier Tavern was the scene of the official organizational meeting of the newly created VSECU. 5

Text Box:  Vermont credit union people in Montpelier, VT, October 26, 1946. Roy Bergengren is in the front row, fifth from the left.
Courtesy CUNA Archives.
In addition to criss-crossing the state helping to found credit unions (with a special focus on those serving farmers), Bergengren also immediately dove right into the task of organizing an umbrella association for the existing ones. On October 26, 1946, the Vermont Cooperative Council sponsored a state-wide credit union conference in Montpelier. Attended by representatives of existing and prospective credit unions from twelve Vermont towns, the meeting included talks by the State Banking Commissioner, the chief regulator of federally chartered credit unions, and the executive secretary of the Vermont Cooperative Council. According the The Bridge, following the speakers and luncheon, attendees broke out into discussion groups where, "in addition to discussing problems of common interest, the group formulated plans for more rapid credit union development in the state." 6 Seven months later, the work that had been started in Montpelier was formalized in White River Junction, where, on May 24th, 1947, credit union representatives met again to officially found the Vermont Credit Union League (VCUL).7

Six months after its founding, Bergengren was named the VCUL's Managing Director, and  enthusiastically promoted (without pay) the growth of the Vermont credit union movement until "retiring" for a second time in 1954. In addition to his local activities, Bergengren also remained an influential voice within the national credit union movement. After publishing his memoirs in 1952, he took the lead in pushing for the American movement to actively support credit union development abroad. His advocacy efforts were ultimately rewarded in October, 1954 with the establishment of the CUNA Overseas Program, which is now the World Council of Credit Unions. A year later, at 10:15am on November 11th, 1955, "the chief," as he was affectionately called by his compatriots, passed away in Montpelier, Vermont.
8

1 Bergengren, Crusade, 354.

2 Personal communication, 2011.

3 VCUL, Annual Meeting Bulletin, 1977, 20.

4 V.S.E.A. History Committee, Highlights: A Brief Chronology of the Vermont State Employees Association, Inc., 1944-1984, VSEA Papers, Montpelier, 2. 

5 Undated Newspaper Clipping, Papers of the VSECU, Montpelier, VT.

6 Credit Union National Association, The Bridge: The Credit Union Way to Economic Betterment, January 1947, 14.

7 Credit Union National Association, The Bridge: The Credit Union Way to Economic Betterment, July 1947, 2.

8 Credit Union National Association, The Credit Union Bridge: The Way to Economic Betterment, December 1955,

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Association of Vermont Credit Unions
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Tel: 802-863-7848     Fax: 802-864-4391