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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


Reflecting on his career as a credit union organizer, Roy Bergengren observed in his memoirs that "we got away with something great because we did not know any better. We beat the dragons of our time because we did not know what terrible monsters they were. Our experience will have value only as it encourages a new crop of dragon slayers within the credit union movement."1 Fortunately, in the decades after his passing, new "dragon slayers" did indeed come to fore to help negotiate the hazards of economic recessions, banker attacks, financial crises, and rapid technological change.

As a result of the sacrifices and hard work of thousands of credit union volunteers and staff, the Vermont movement has grown from its humble beginnings at the Burlington Rendering Company in the 1930s into a cornerstone of the state's economy. When Bergengren helped to found the Vermont Credit Union League in 1947, the state's movement was comprised of a few scattered and disorganized institutions. Sixty-five years later, the Association of Vermont Credit Unions employs 9 people and has a yearly budget of $1.7 million, while its constituent organizations boast 310,00 members and $3 billion in assets. By 2012, the vision of the movement's founders that all Vermonters be eligible for credit union membership had been achieved, and half are currently credit union members.

With tens of thousands of members and hundreds of millions of dollars in assets, some contemporary credit unions appear quite different from the comparative tiny institutions of the past. However, the fact that all credit unions, large and small, exist "not for profit, not for charity, but for service" continues to set them apart from other financial service providers in Vermont. Though the movement has experienced many challenges and changes over the years, the one constant has been a continuing commitment on the part of the state's credit union people to remain true to the core values of credit unionism. As Bergengren concluded at the end of Crusade,

The pages of history are full of the stories of great movements which have attempted to win by brute force, lying propaganda, bribery and corruption. In the beginning they flourished. In the end they were conquered by the Imponderables--courage, faith, loyalty, honesty, qualities of mind and heart that persisted in man, whose yearning is for freedom. The history of the credit union movement is unique because it conquers with the Imponderables. Idealism creeps into any organization when people have more interest in what they can do for each other than what they can get out of each other."2

So long as the "the Imponderables" continue to be central to the work of Vermont's credit unions, the movement's future remains bright.

1 Bergengren, Crusade, 354.

2 Ibid., 354.

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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