Our Heritage Is One of Our Most Valuable Assets

Visits to the America’s CU Museum change people regardless of their level of CU experience.

October 1, 2012

It may seem odd, but as someone who is literally and figuratively surrounded by the history of the credit union movement, I spend most of my time involved in projects, discussions, and programs about the future of credit unions.

Our history certainly inspires museum visitors.

People see exhibits that tell stories of selfless mill workers who pooled their savings to help each other get access to loans at a fair rate of interest. Then they compare them to modern stories about the chase for profits that has brought so much economic turmoil to our world.

I recently conducted a tour for a couple who were history buffs. As they prepared to leave, the wife asked me if credit unions took any bailout money.

No, they didn’t, I responded.

As she went out the door, her parting words were, “I’m going to move all my accounts.”

Museum visits change people regardless of their level of credit union experience.

Our early credit union pioneers not only created and articulated a great philosophical message, they also gave birth to a very practical system built on collaboration and cooperation. Examples are on display throughout the museum.

Visitors can read the journals of Edward Filene—the father of the credit union movement. The journals chronicle the travels and exhausting schedule of a man determined to bring credit unions to people.

Many of our generation’s most knowledgeable and committed credit union leaders say spending time learning and considering the sacrifices of those who built the movement focuses them on how it should move forward.

The themes and ideas of our founders—such as making collaboration and cooperation work—continue to be the topics our movement’s best contemporary strategic thinkers discuss most frequently.

The focus on the future that I see at the museum isn’t simply theoretical.

Our museum functions as a meeting facility for many credit unions and credit union groups. These meetings include planning sessions, chapter meetings, board meetings, and education and training programs.

Each shares the goal of creating a better future for credit unions and their members.

Also among museum patrons are schools that participate in the CU 4 Reality Program™—a financial education program the museum and the New Hampshire Credit Union League pioneered more than 10 years ago.

Participating students gain a better understanding of the consequences of everyday financial decisions as well as the unexpected bumps in the road.

It’s gratifying to see young people grasp the concepts of savings and budgeting—and the role their local credit unions can play in providing them a secure and prosperous financial future.

From my vantage point at America’s Credit Union Museum, the future for credit unions is bright. But to realize a positive future for our movement, I’m convinced we need to apply one of our most valuable assets—our heritage.

PEGGY POWELL is executive director of the America’s Credit Union Museum.