Sept. 11: Then and Now

League, CUs Helped Keep City’s Lifeline Open

NY association's command center helped CUs, members start to heal.

September 12, 2011

One memory that has stuck with Bill Mellin for the past 10 years is seeing the many abandoned, soot-covered cars near Ground Zero after the Sept. 11 attacks.

“It made you realize the people who owned those cars weren’t coming back,” says Mellin, president/CEO of the Credit Union Association of New York.

Tracy Connor, vice president of member relations for the Association, recalls the many makeshift memorials and photos of missing people on every street corner.

“There were tons of flowers, stuffed animals, and gifts in front of every fire hall and police station, and people walking the streets aimlessly looking for their loved ones,” she says. “It struck me how many people were impacted.”

Within days of the attacks, the Association established a command center in New York City to help credit unions and their members start to recover.


Command Center
Within days of the Sept. 11 attacks, the CU Association of New York had established a command center in New York City.

Progressive Credit Union provided space, phones, computers, fax machines—everything needed to run the command center.

The Association used the center as a base to visit affected credit unions, determine their needs, and arrange services for them.

“It was an emotional experience for all of us,” he says. “They’d been through so much. It was our opportunity to let people know we were here for them. When we got to these credit unions, they told us their stories and what they lived through. They were so happy to see us they grabbed us and hugged us.”

The army restricted the area south of Canal St. to people with a good reason to be there. The New York association was granted access to this area, which had an eerie feel to it.

“It was still incredibly dark—maybe it was all the smoke in the air—and everything was closed. A lot of people were wearing gas masks or white paper masks. There was no traffic except for constant police vehicles and ambulances. Anything with a siren seemed to be going up and down the streets, but no other traffic was allowed.”

Next: Lessons from 9/11

The former Empire Corporate Credit Union played an integral role providing much-need cash delivery services and re-establishing connectivity.

Although its ATM network went down, Municipal Credit Union in New York City allowed members to withdraw money even if they had no money in their accounts.

“Lower Manhattan, especially back then, was very cash-oriented,” Mellin explains. “People got their money at the ATM—that’s how they conducted their lives. Municipal Credit Union decided it wasn’t going to cut off their lifeline. I certainly commend them for that decision. I think 99% or more of those funds eventually were repayed.”

A week later, the Association moved the command center to its headquarters in Albany. The following months, Mellin says the cooperative nature of the credit union movement continued to shine.

Bill Mellin
Bill Mellin

“Money came in to our disaster relief fund from all over, even internationally. The outpouring of support for those affected is something I’ll never forget. Everyone wanted to help their fellow credit union colleagues and members, even if it was a $5 donation.

“One of our employees had a niece die in one of the Towers that day,” he continues. “That certainly brought everything closer to home. What this person went through initially—not knowing if she got out or if she was alive—we went through with him. Knowing what he went through was life-changing.”

Dick Maxstadt agrees. “This experience gives you a much greater appreciation for life and how fragile it is,” says Maxstadt, senior vice president/chief operating officer for CUC Mortgage Corp., an Association affiliate.

The lessons of Sept. 11 should never be forgotten, Mellin adds.

“We need to remember that day and how it impacted not only credit unions and members, but how it impacted America. I hope [the 10th anniversary] is an opportunity to reflect on what did happen, how fragile life is, and what we can do to protect ourselves. Things can change so quickly. We need to enjoy each day to the absolute fullest because you don’t know what tomorrow holds.”