It's rare when a CEO can say he’s been involved in the credit union industry his entire life. But for John Felton, it’s true.
Now overseeing the $80 million asset Southern Chautauqua Federal Credit Union in Lakewood, N.Y., Felton witnessed the credit union’s beginnings—from his mother’s lap. As a 5-year-old, he watched in fascination as the inner workings of the credit union played out in his living room.
Felton’s parents, both teachers at a local high school, started the credit union as an answer to his mother’s job loss.
“My mom was a physical education teacher, and she was expecting my older brother,” Felton says. “As soon as she started to show, the superintendent contacted her and let her know that she could no longer teach.”
When Felton’s father heard that the school’s credit union needed someone to keep the books, he volunteered his wife, Jerry, for the job. From then on, the credit union was a “one-girl show,” as Felton says. Felton and his siblings were always involved in the credit union in one way or another, even delivering checks to teachers at school.
Felton briefly worked as a chef, only to return to the credit union when his brother fell ill. His involvement started as volunteering. Then Southern Chautauqua Federal hired him on. Thirty years later, he stands at the helm of an entire organization that during his tenure has grown from two employees to 50, and from offering savings and loans to becoming a full-service institution.
Felton has introduced initiatives such as a Kids Credit Union program that allows high school seniors to graduate with $10,000 in cash, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, second-chance checking accounts, credit builder/rebuilder loans, and an auto loan program with GPS tracking that enables people who wouldn’t normally qualify to own a vehicle.
Best yet, his 81-year-old mom still comes to the office three to four times a week. Felton refers to his time in the credit union industry as his “purpose in life.”
“When we started realizing that we could bring this financial opportunity to everybody, that’s when my heart just lit up,” he says. “I’m regularly hugged in my lobby by a member who believes the credit union saved their life. This is why I’m here.”