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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 Francis Butler Era, 1955-1960

Bergengren's departure left some very large shoes to fill, but the organization that he'd worked so hard to build for the better part of a decade was up to the task. Francis Butler, the VCUL's President, asked his predecessor, Robert Rosegrant, to temporarily take on the role of managing director in October of 1954 and, a few months later, Butler resigned his post to become the first permanent managing director to succeed Bergengren.

Given that Bergengren was America's premier credit union organizer and had worked for the League on an entirely volunteer basis, it took the organization several years to regain momentum following his death. Rosegrant was hired on a part-time basis, but it quickly became obvious that being managing director was a full-time job. Though he was willing to put in a great deal of extra work due to his devotion to the credit union cause, it was clear to many Vermont credit union leaders that the movement's growth was hobbled by the VCUL's extremely limited resources.

 Despite this obstacle, the movement was once again hitting its stride by early 1957. In his report to the that year's annual meeting, VCUL President Edward J. Gelineau noted that "the organizing program has begun to pick up now after a two year lull, and we can expect rapid growth from now on." Six new credit unions and two new regional chapters had been founded over the course of the previous year, and the VCUL's Board of Directors had appointed volunteer district representatives to assist the managing director in the work of organizing new credit unions. Additionally, in order to help keep member credit union people abreast of best practices and the latest news, that year also saw the establishment of a League newsletter, which, by the end of 1956, had a circulation of 200.1

 By this point, the Vermont movement consisted of sixty-five credit unions with a combined membership of almost 14,000 and assets of $2.8 million. As they expanded, an issue that often emerged for many credit unions was an imbalance between their members' savings and their appetite for credit. At this time, many credit unions had fewer than a hundred members, so a few large loans could temporarily exhaust an organization's resources, leaving many well-qualified borrowers unable to get a loan. Some credit unions dealt with the problem by obtaining loans from other credit unions that had surplus deposits, but many turned to banks for the resources to meet their members' needs. The movement's leaders thought that this latter practice was unfortunate when many Vermont credit unions still had unused surplus deposits, and so, over the course of 1957, they went to work designing the Vermont Central Credit Union.

The League already had the ability to take this role of being a "credit union for credit unions" written into its bylaws, but it was decided that a separate, dedicated institution would be more effective. The plan for the new organization was presented to, and approved by, the VCUL's 1958 annual meeting, and it made its first loan shortly thereafter. Serving both credit unions and individual credit union officers unable to obtain loans from their own organizations due to the potential conflict of interest, the Vermont Central Credit Union began modestly, making $13,050 in loans in its first year of operation. Within a decade however, it was doing close to a million dollars in business annually and had become one of the Vermont credit union movement's most important institutions.

 Another major initiative begun during Butler's tenure as the VCUL's Managing Director was educational. In his report to the 1958 annual meeting, Butler lamented the fact that no Vermonters had attended the Credit Union National Association's Credit Union School in Madison, Wisconsin, and expressed his hope that the situation might be remedied by the creation of a scholarship program. At the following year's annual meeting, he proposed that such a fund be founded as a memorial to Roy Bergengren. The idea was met with unanimous approval, and the Roy F. Bergengren Scholarship Fund was established with the mission of "further[ing] the credit union movement by giving financial aid to individual members and/or credit unions of Vermont enabling them to follow any line of education, research, or other activity indicating true interest in credit union work."

 Funded through the generosity of both credit unions and individuals, the fund's resources subsequently sent Vermont credit union people to regional and national educational programs, provided books and other educational materials to Vermont credit unions, and facilitated various forms of research. Still in operation today, the Bergengren Fund (since renamed the Howe-Bergengren Fund in honor of a subsequent managing director) currently provides support for "staff and volunteers of AVCU member credit unions to participate in or attend in-state, regional and / or national conferences and training."2

Since Bergengren's passing, Francis Butler had provided Vermont's credit union movement with solid leadership, and his efforts and sacrifices were recognized in 1959, when his position was made full-time. Unfortunately, he would only briefly serve in that capacity before his tenure was cut short by his sudden death in March, 1960. As the delegates to the VCUL's 1960 annual meeting reflected upon the legacy of their late leader, there were many achievements and milestones to which they could point. Since he took the organization's reins in March, 1955, the number of Vermonters who were members of credit unions had almost doubled, and the total assets of the state's movement had tripled from $1.8 million to $5.4 million. The VCUL's newsletter's circulation was up to 750, the Vermont Central Credit Union was growing as it provided its member credit unions with a safe place to invest their surplus funds and to borrow from when needed, and the Bergengren Scholarship Fund was beginning its work supporting the education of credit union people in the state. At the dawn of the 1960s, despite having lost a valuable leader, Vermont's credit unionists had every reason to believe that their movement's future success was assured.

1 Vermont Credit Union League, VCUL Annual Meeting Bulletin, April 18, 1957, Papers of the Association of Vermont Credit Unions, South Burlington, VT.
2 Association of Vermont Credit Unions, "Howe-Bergengren Fund Application," http://www.vermontcreditunions.com/Support/Small%20CU/AVCU%20Howe-Bergengren%20Application.pdf (accessed April 24, 2012).

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Association of Vermont Credit Unions
1000 Shelburne Road, So. Burlington, VT  05403-6960
Tel: 802-863-7848     Fax: 802-864-4391