SCOTT PFEIFFER | DONOR
On March 29, 1941, seven employees of the city of Greenville pooled their savings and formed one of the first federal credit unions upstate. The Greenville City Employees Federal Credit Union was incorporated under the relatively new Federal Credit Union Act of 1934, an essential piece of New Deal legislation aimed at helping ordinary people improve their lives by combining their savings and by granting loans to neighbors and colleagues. Today, Greenville Heritage Federal Credit Union has more than 12,000 members and continues the work its founders began 75 years ago.
Credit unions differ from banks in many ways. The creation of a bank requires a large capital fund, raised from investors. In the 1930s, this capital was scarce and the banks were failing. Credit unions have no shareholders and require no start-up capital; they are financial cooperatives of the depositors themselves. Banks are for-profit institutions, operated for the benefit of their shareholders. Credit unions are non-profit associations, operated for the benefit of their depositors. Banks, historically, have focused on providing profitable services to the wealthy and businesses. Credit unions focus more on the common worker.
From the Depression to World War II to the Cold War
South Carolina was no exception to the struggles of the Depression. Four Greenville banks had closed between 1926 and 1931. By 1941, however, South Carolina was beginning to recover thanks to successful New Deal programs that put people to work.
Just nine months after city employees chartered their credit union, the Empire of Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States entered World War II. The war increased the demand for cotton and textiles, and South Carolina’s economy boomed. By the late 1940s, the credit union had grown from seven initial depositors to 271.
The town and the credit union continued to grow during the Cold War era. In the early 1970s, BF Dillard, one of the original seven founders who had run the credit union part-time while remaining a city employee, retired. The credit union’s first full-time manager, Mildred Julian, replaced him. Julian managed the credit union for almost 20 years. During this time, the credit union has grown to over 2,000 members.
A merger to serve both the city and the department
From its inception in 1941 until the mid-1990s, the credit union was located at City Hall and primarily served city workers. In the mid-1990s, the Greenville, SC City Employees Federal Credit Union merged with the Greenville County Federal Credit Union and began serving both city and county employees. The credit union moved out of City Hall and opened offices on Reedy View Drive and County Square. Core members remained the city and county administrative employees, police officers, firefighters, and sanitation workers who were the backbone of the community.
The credit union changed again in 2002. Taking advantage of new laws that expanded the availability of credit union members, the credit union changed from a “selected employee group”, serving only employees of the City and County of Greenville, to a “Community Charter”, open to service to all citizens who live, work or worship in Greenville County.
Alan Berry, the current president, was hired in 2007 – only the credit union’s third full-time director in 75 years. Under his leadership, the credit union grew from just over 7,000 members to nearly 13,000, moved its headquarters to the beautifully restored 1951 former Employment Security Commission building on Washington Street and operates four branches.
The credit union continues to serve the original mission of its founders, however, “the core of our customers remain the police officers, municipal employees and firefighters that the city and county credit unions originally served”, Berry said.
Being a cooperative membership association comes with an obligation of service. Berry takes this obligation seriously.
“There’s a strong service element to what we do,” Berry said. As a non-profit organization, the credit union can offer its members better loan and interest rates. “No bank can touch us” on interest rates, Berry said.
The credit union offers free financial education to its members. “We don’t just make a credit decision based on your credit score, and if that score is below 660, so be it. We take the time to educate our members about the need for good credit, the challenges of bad credit and, most importantly, how to improve their credit score,” Berry said.
The credit union also takes its responsibility to give back Greenville, its home, seriously. Greenville Heritage FCU partners with the Children’s Miracle Network and local Shriner Hospital, donates to Greenville County and Miracle Hill Cancer Center, and is the designated sponsor of the oldest and most successful event from Greenville, Main Street Fridays, according to Tina Ray, the credit union’s marketing manager.
Greenville Heritage FCU has gone to great lengths to reach and serve the most vulnerable in Greenville. The credit union has earned both “low-income designation,” which requires more than 50% of its members to have a family income of 80% or less of the region’s median family income, and certification as a community development financial institution. .
“We are always looking for ways to give back to Greenville and serve our members,” Ray said.
For 75 years, the Greenville Heritage Federal Credit Union has succeeded.
75 years with Greenville Heritage Federal Credit Union
March 29, 1941 – Chartered Greenville City Employees Federal Credit Union.
December 7, 1941 – Japanese Pearl Harbor bomb; The United States enters World War II.
1970s – The credit union reaches 1,000 members and $1 million in assets and hires its first full-time director, Mildred Julian.
nineteen eighty one – Credit Union expands membership beyond city employees, adding Greenville Water System, Greenville Housing Authority (1983), Legal Services and Phillis Wheatley (1985), Metropolitan Sewer District (1989), Appalachian Council of Governments ( 1990) and Greater Greenville Sanitation Commission (1995).
1980s – The credit union surpasses 2,000 members and $5 million in assets and hires its second full-time director, Judith Raines.
1994 – The credit union is moving from its original offices at City Hall and opening a new office at 75 Reedy View Drive
1996 – Credit Union merges with Greenville County FCU and now serves city and county employees. The newly combined credit union ended 1996 with 3,685 members and nearly $12 million in assets.
2001-2002 – Changes name to Greenville Heritage FCU and extends membership to all who live, work or worship in Greenville County.
2007 – Judith Raines is retiring and Alan Berry, the current president and CEO, is hired as the third full-time director in the credit union’s history. The Credit Union ends the decade with nearly 8,000 members and $36 million in assets.
2014 – The credit union sells its property at 75 Reedy View Drive to make way for the new District West Apartments project, and buys and renovates the former Employment Security Commission building, built in 1951, as its new headquarters .
2016 – GHFCU celebrates its diamond anniversary. It now has nearly 13,000 members and over $88 million in assets.