RANGELY | In 1959 a seed of an idea took root in Rangely High School. Since the town was without a local bank, perhaps a credit union could be formed, saving the school district employees the difficulties of banking out of town in Vernal, Meeker, or their former “hometown” banks. By Sept. 1, 23 people had expressed an interest and a desire to make the credit union idea a reality. The group held a special meeting at the high school. H.M. Cawley acted as the temporary chairman, delivering a short talk on the purposes of the credit union and its methods of operations, and answering questions from the audience. Explanations of the duties of the directors and various committees were given, and Neva Eller, James Tyler, Norman Klements (president), George White and John Cowan were elected as the first directors. Marshall Steen, Doris Steele and Jack Kintz were elected to serve on the credit committee, while Ethel Starbuck, Ann McAllister and Martha Mitchem were elected to the supervisory committee. Mary Lou Angus was appointed clerk.
Immediately following the elections, a regular meeting was held and decisions were made that established what became the heart of the credit union. It was made clear that the mission of the credit union was to help its members: “People Helping People.” An unlimited number of shares (the deposit) could be held by members, the rate of interest charged would be low (1 percent in 1959), in good years the credit union would give rebates on loans, and dividend bonuses would be made to the members. While initially the maximum unsecured loan would be $400, this amount would certainly change with increased share savings. And thus the Rio Blanco Schools Federal Credit Union began.
The credit union’s first month of operation was October 1959, and showed an enrollment of 21 members. Two loans were written, one for $175 for a length of three months, and a second loan of $200 for 10 months. 1960 saw the membership increase to 51, and loans were written for automobiles, to help teachers pay off student loans and for other general large expenses. Based on the founders’ hopes, things were moving in the right direction.
Early in the credit union’s growth there were times when routine business was conducted around the treasurer’s kitchen table, and members were contacted to deposit additional funds to meet a loan request if they were able. Membership bloomed quickly from both school districts, plus there was the inclusion into the field of membership of Rangely College (now Colorado Northwestern Community College) in 1960. After a few years, the volume of business required a formal treasurer to be hired, who also became eligible for membership. School District RE-4 generously donated office space as an employee benefit, and office hours were initially 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. during the school year and 11 a.m. to noon for summer hours.
A succession of managers over the last six decades have worked diligently to make sure every change in the credit union has been with a goal of strengthening and growing its services. Lavern Byers, the first full-time treasurer, was succeeded by Jean Elder, who saw the transition from account cards, pass books, and ledgers to a computerized system required by the increased business, a transition that necessitated additional help. Elder served 27 years before Janet Hejl assumed leadership. One of Hejl’s achievements was successfully dealing with the preparation for and handling of the anticipated computer problems during the Y2K changeover in the year 2000. Following Hejl, Charleen Brown saw the introduction of credit union credit cards, a major modernization step. Jacque Phelan and Annette Webber worked together to lead the credit union to branch out and include the Town of Rangely for its consistent support and the Rangely Parks District for its support and assistance with the Rangely schools interscholastic sports programs. In 2018, Webber oversaw, with the full support of Superintendent Chris Selle, the addition of an office opening in the Meeker Administration Building and the addition of the Meeker Parks District to the field of membership.
These past 60 years have shown the credit union keeping the members as the priority of their actions and policies, making certain the shares remain safe and secure, giving bonus dividends on good years, keeping loan rates low, helping young people establish credit, and working hard to extend the best possible credit rates to its members. It is easy to see how deeply the roots of the Rio Blanco Schools Federal Credit Union are imbedded in the region and how the original mission statement is still at the heart of the credit union’s purpose. The goal now is to prosper for another 60 years, and more.
Thanks to Bill Mitchem, one of the founding members, for all of the interesting details of how the credit union started.
By Julia Davis | Special to the Herald Times