See It At the Museum

America's Credit Union Museum Looks To the Future with the CUNA Research Center

Here at the museum this month we are celebrating Founders' Day. On April 6, 1909, the first credit union charter was signed in the state of New Hampshire establishing St. Mary's Bank as the first credit union in America. In the first two parts of this blog, we have looked at what it took to found and create the museum as it stands now. Today, we look to the future of the credit union museum with the grand opening of the CUNA Research Center.

The CUNA Research Center and Dick Ensweiler Library is the result of the museum’s Legacy Campaign, a three-year capital campaign with a goal of raising $3.3 million to create a new industry research center, expand exhibit space and provide renovations to the existing building.

The physical and electronic industry research center will make credit union history more accessible, while the additional exhibit space and upgraded conference facilities will enable credit union professionals, legislators and citizens to experience firsthand the unique role credit unions play in the marketplace.

We are excited to take you on the next step of our journey. Don't miss this behind-the-scenes look at the renovation, and RSVP today to attend the grand opening in June.

How Gilberte Boivin Brought America's Credit Union Museum to Life

This month we are celebrating Founders' Day through a series of articles detailing the founding of the museum. In the first part, we talked about how the building came to be donated with the intent to make it the only repository of credit union history in America. Today, we're going to take a closer look at the woman who appeared at the closing of that transaction, Gilberte Boivin Amyot-Brosseau.

 Gilberte Boivin Amyot-Brosseau, daughter of the first credit union manager

Gilberte Boivin Amyot-Brosseau, daughter of the first credit union manager

Gilberte Boivin was the daughter of the first credit union manager, Attorney Joseph Boivin, and witnessed the birth of cooperative credit in America. When she appeared at the closing of the museum building, she became an invaluable resource in restoring the building to how it would have looked in 1908 when the first credit union opened.

Gilberte gave us two key insights that were critical to the restoration: the physical layout of the building and the operations of the first credit union.

Gilberte's description of the physical building allowed an accurate restoration to transpire. Most importantly, she said there were originally three floors to the building, but her brother, a dentist who had practiced in the building, had divided the upper floors into apartments, which had to be undone. Gilberte went on to detail every room of the main floor so when the walls between the front two rooms was demolished, the pocket doors she had said were there were discovered. The credit union was to have operated out of the front room of the home, but Gilberte indicated it was actually set up in the room to the left of the main entrance, which her father called his office even though he had a legal office in the Kennard Building on Elm Street in Manchester. Therefore, the room to the left of the front entrance was restored to the office Boivin had once kept there. And finally, the room beyond the dining room was Gilberte's room, the one she shared with her sister. It was here that the children's room of the museum was established in honor of Gilberte and her sister.

But it was in the details of the operations of the first credit union that Gilberte conveyed such important nuances. Such as the deacon's bench which now sits in the front entrance hallway. There was a bench in the original structure where credit union members would wait to see Attorney Boivin on credit union business. Again, it was said the front room of the house was given to Mosignor Hevey for use in his credit union, but it was, in fact, the room to the left of the entrance. Gilberte would reflect that at night, she could hear her father conducting business because her room was just on the other side of the wall.

These intimate details were luckily captured in a series of videos, and they are now available to us for reference and can be viewed on our YouTube channel.

To see how Gilberte's recollections were turned into a restoration, watch a museum come to life in this video.

The Beginnings of America's Credit Union Museum

In 1994, Ron Rioux, then President and CEO of St. Mary's Bank, the first credit union in America, considered an ornate, early 19th century apartment building at the top of the hill behind his office on MacGregor Street in Manchester, NH.

To anyone else, the building he considered would have looked just like any other dwelling on the West Side of Manchester. A stately edifice that had been subdivided into apartments. It's front was ordained in wide, sweeping balconies that would give its occupants a splendid view of Layfayette Park and the city beyond. It hugged the sidewalk as back when it was erected, there was no concern for motorized traffic. It sat close to its neighbor, a narrow alley running between the two, and it was any wonder how light penetrated the windows on that side of the building.

But the building at 420 Notre Dame Avenue was no ordinary building. In 1908, it had been home to Attorney Joseph Boivin and his family. Boivin practiced law on Elm Street in Manchester, the city's main thoroughfare, and he was a dedicated citizen in many respects having served on municipal committees and actively participating in his parish.

It was Attorney Boivin who was selected to manage America's first credit union when the parishioners of Ste. Marie's decided to form a cooperative credit institution in order to provide financial services they felt uncomfortable receiving on Elm Street due to language barriers. The parishioners of Ste. Marie's spoke French while the banks of Elm Street were riddled with English.

So it was that Attorney Boivin began the credit union right in his home at 420 Notre Dame.

 Joanne J. (1936-2006) andArmand R. (1935-2003) Lemire were proud of their heritage and dedicated to the preservation of history in Manchester.

Joanne J. (1936-2006) andArmand R. (1935-2003) Lemire were proud of their heritage and dedicated to the preservation of history in Manchester.

Mr. Rioux had the foresight to ask the occupants of 420 Notre Dame if they would sell their building as Mr. Rioux wished to preserve the history of America's credit union movement. But the occupants of 420 Notre Dame were not interested in selling.

They donated the building instead.

In 1994, Armand and Joanne Lemire donated their building at 420 Notre Dame to America's Credit Union Museum Foundation with the intent to see the building used as a museum to capture the history of cooperative credit in America and to educate the future of credit unions.

We asked our board member, Peter Lemire, Esq., the son of Mr. and Mrs. Lemire for his reflections on the exchange:

Armand R. (1935-2003) and Joanne J. Lemire (1936-2006), parents of Michael, Dennis, David, Kevin, and Peter, purchased the buildings of 418-420 Notre Dame Avenue in Manchester, NH on January 10th, 1986.

Armand and Joanne were very proud of their French-Canadian heritage and grew up in Manchester, NH, on the West Side, and East Side (of the Merrimack River) respectively.

Both of my parents grew up speaking French as their first language in the household and only learned English as they reached Grammar school age.  

Early on in their early teenage years, both of my parents worked in the very textile mills where the immigrant members of La Caisse Populaire Ste. Marie labored to give their families a brighter future.

Among the mills where my parents worked were Pandora, Waumbec, and Manchester Knitting Mills. Armand became proficient in the mixing of dyestuffs for textiles and became a colorist/dyer.

As a result of their experience in the many years laboring in the mills, Armand and Joanne founded their own dyestuff and chemical company, Colonial Color and Chemical Company (solely for textiles) in the early 1980s and grew it into a very successful venture until the winds of manufacturing in America turned southward and abroad in the mid to late 1990s.

During the heyday of Colonial Color, they purchased the 418-420 Notre Dame property (along with the adjacent Amory Street building) on January 10th, 1986.

During their stewardship of the buildings, it housed the family business (Colonial Color), in addition to a beauty salon, and also was the residence of Armands' mother (Alberta) in her later years, as well as sons David and Michael.

Armand and Joanne were very proud of their French Canadian heritage, as well as their hometown of Manchester, and with a distinct knowledge of the historical significance of these buildings, decided to donate them unselfishly in the name of historical preservation and the legacy of the credit union movement in America on October 20th, 1994.

 The Lemire family at the closing in 1994.

The Lemire family at the closing in 1994.

Prior to their deaths, they were able to see the project come to completion with the grand opening of the museum in 2002.

They dedicated their benevolence to their parents as indicated on a placard located next to the main entrance. Their profound generosity and connection to the textile mills that gave rise to the nations first credit union, is a story that deserves to be told, remembered, and celebrated.  Armand and Joanne grew up in poverty and achieved their version of the American dream, and in the process, made the dream of America’s Credit Union Museum, a reality.

At the Closing

At the closing, an elderly woman came in with a younger woman in tow and asked if she may sit in on the transaction. As the closing was a public occurrence, they said of course. She sat quietly in the back until the transaction was processed and when it was all finished she came forward.

She identified herself as Gilberte Boivin, the daughter of the first credit union manager.

Next week, we'll discover the invaluable assistance Gilberte provided in the restoration of America's first credit union.

Celebrating the Founding of America's First Credit Union

On April 6, 1909, the first credit union charter was signed in the state of New Hampshire for St. Mary's Bank. Originally called Le Caisse Populaire, Ste-Marie, the credit union first opened in the building that now houses the museum.

In memory of this historic event, the museum will celebrate Founders' Day for the entire month of April. Through exclusive blog posts and social media updates, we will examine the founding of the credit union and the transformation of the building into the museum it is today. Stay tuned for an exciting month of insight into the birth of cooperative credit in America.

See It At the Museum

The original charter from April 6, 1909 can be viewed in Attorney Joseph Boivin's office on the first floor of the museum. See this and many more artifacts from America's first credit union at the museum.

Spotlight on Annie Vamper, a Legend of the Credit Union Movement

We're continuing our celebration of Women's History Month with a spotlight on Annie Vamper, one of the first African-American employees of the Bureau of Federal Credit Unions (today NCUA).

Vamper started her credit union career with the College City Elks Lodge FCU. During the 1960s, she organized, chartered, and trained staff of 12 neighborhood credit unions. She worked in credit union management in the 1970s, and then returned to work with the NCUA until 1983 as second in command of the Community Development Credit Union division. Her career in credit unions spanned over 30 years.

See It at the Museum: African-Americans in Credit Union History

Vamper holds a place of honor on our African-Americans in Credit Union History exhibit. Come learn more about Vamper and the role of African-Americans in the credit union movement.

Spotlight on Louise McCarren Herring, the Mother of Credit Unions

In celebration of Women's History Month, we will be profiling several women in the credit union movement who have made an impact, both past and present. Today we turn the spotlight on Louise McCarren Herring, named the mother of credit unions by the Ohio General Assembly in 1976.

In 1934, Herring was the youngest delegate to the Estes Park Conference, and from there, her credit union career flourished. She would go on to personally establish over 500 credit unions in the state of Ohio. She founded the Ohio Credit Union League and took on the role of its first managing director. Even more, she founded the National Deposit Guaranty Corporation and acted as its director.

In 1983, Herring was inducted into the national Cooperative Hall of Fame, but recognition of Herring's dedication to the credit union movement did not stop at her death in 1987. In 1998, the Ohio Credit Union League created the Lifetime Achievement Award, which was first given posthumously to Herring, and in 2003, CUNA created the Louise Herring Award for Philosophy in Action.

See It At the Museum: The Louise McCarren Herring Exhibit

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As befitting her legacy in Ohio, you will find an exhibit honoring Louise Herring in our Hall of States. Come learn more about Herring and the credit union movement in Ohio.

A Look at the First Credit Union Manager, Joseph Boivin

 Attorney and Mrs. Boivin. Attorney Boivin was always seated in photos because he lost a leg to childhood polio.

Attorney and Mrs. Boivin. Attorney Boivin was always seated in photos because he lost a leg to childhood polio.

Joseph Boivin was born in Coaticook, Quebec, Canada in 1866. He contracted polio as a child and lost a leg to the illness, but this did not stop this ambitious civil servant. Boivin emigrated to Manchester, New Hampshire in 1883 and studied law at in the offices of Burnham, Brown, Jones and Warren. He was admitted to the bar and became a practicing lawyer in the city of Manchester.

Boivin's passion for his community did not stop at his law offices. He would serve as a school board member, commissioner of the Water Department, professor of French at neighboring St. Anselm College, and Boivin, an avid music lover and singer, sang regularly with the choir of St. Marie's Church.

So when Monsignor Pierre Hevey of St. Marie's Church sought to establish the first credit union for his parishioners, Boivin was the obvious choice as first credit union manager.

Boivin would volunteer his evenings and weekends to assist his fellow parishioners when Le Caisse Populaire, St. Marie was founded  on November 24, 1908. His wife, Emma, would assist him by cataloging the records of deposits and also receiving deposits from the passing school children would come to the door on their way to school to contribute to their own credit union savings accounts.

See It At the Museum

Careful attention was paid to restoring Attorney Boivin's office here at the museum. Today you can sit in the very chair Attorney Boivin would have used when assisting the first credit union members. You, too, can sit in this chair and experience the depth of history in the cooperative credit movement in America.

How Monsignor Hevey Aided His Parishioners and Started a Movement

We are often asked how it was the credit union movement in America began in a small mill town in New England. Quite frankly, the situation was ripe for cooperative credit.

 Monsignor Pierre Hevey

Monsignor Pierre Hevey

Manchester, New Hampshire in the early 1900s held a strong Franco-American population. A majority of this population worked in the booming mills along the Merrimack River, which split the city of Manchester in two halves. At the end of a long day in the mills, these Franco-American workers would climb the hills on the west side of the river to their homes. At one time, the west side was even termed Little Canada.

These mill workers would often pass St. Marie's Parish, a Catholic church tended by Monsignor Pierre Hevey. Many of the mill workers attended mass regularly at St. Marie's, and so it was that Monsignor Hevey became aware of the mill workers financial straits.

The mighty Merrimack that divided the city also drew cultural divides. The banks along Elm Street on the east side of the river were often staffed with employees who only spoke English, while the Franco-American mill workers often only spoke French, creating a language barrier and an issue of trust with the banks.

Monsignor Hevey knew there must be an answer to his parishioners plight. In his many travels, he had witnessed cooperative credithe wrote to Alphonse Desjardins to help him establish cooperative credit in Manchester, New Hampshire.

See It At the Museum

The original letter Monsignor Hevey wrote to Alphonse Desjardins, inviting him to Manchester to speak to the parishioners of St. Marie's on the possibility of establishing cooperative credit. This letter is on loan to the museum from Le Maison Desjardins in Levis, Quebec.