The credit union idea is a simple one: People should be able to pool their money and make loans to each other. It’s an idea that evolved from cooperative activities in 19th century Europe. Since that time, the idea’s guiding principles have remained the same: (1) Only people who are credit union members should borrow there; (2) loans are made for “prudent and productive” purposes; (3) a person’s desire to repay (character) is considered more important than the ability (income) to repay. Members are, after all, borrowing their own money and that of their friends. These principles still govern most of the world’s credit unions. As the 20th century began, the credit union idea surfaced in Canada. Canada’s successful efforts profoundly influenced two Americans: Pierre Jay, the Massachusetts banking commissioner, and Edward A. Filene, a Boston merchant.
Over eighty years of serving you as a Cooperative, and then a Credit Union!
Your Spirit of America Federal Credit Union was formed to financially serve federal employees and military personnel and their families headquartered or living in Lincoln. The Credit Union has remained a success because of hard work from some very special people…members, volunteers and employees.
In 1931 a federal law required federal employees to take a 30-day leave without pay and reduce already low salaries. This brought hardship to many of the Lincoln Veterans Administration employees and their families.
To assist their co-workers, twelve employees decided to pool their money by purchasing shares and offering signature loans of $50 to meet extreme personal need. Each borrower was asked to deposit a small amount to shares every month. Sometimes this amounted to no more than a quarter.
On June 7 1932, the group received a charter under the then-existing Nebraska Cooperative Law. Each purchased $10 in shares and pledged to purchase $10 more each month. When the emergency passed, most members didn’t want to break up the cooperative.
In 1943 the Nebraska State Legislature passed a Credit Union Law. A special membership meeting was called on October 11, 1943. It was decided that the Cooperative should become a Credit Union. On October 16, 1943 the Nebraska Department of Banking and Finance approved the “charter” for the Government Employees Credit Union. All employees of the Lincoln VA were eligible to join.
In 1949 Dana Baird joined the Credit Union. Dana, who worked for the VA Regional Office (VARO), had recently welcomed his oldest daughter into the world and received a Credit Union loan for medical expenses. After that, he volunteered to handle the Credit Union’s bookwork. “We basically worked out of a briefcase,” said Dana. “If someone needed a loan, Board Members Bill Holdorf and Clarence Munson would tap people on the shoulder asking for deposits so the loan could be made.” In 1953 the Board appointed Dana Treasurer/Manager. He earned $20 a month. At that time total assets were around $18,000.
Eventually the Credit Union acquired a cubby hole next to the photostat office at the VARO. “It always smelled like formaldehyde,” said Dana. The Credit Union continued to grow.
“People started to ask, ‘why can’t I join’,” said Dana. “Many federal agencies were located in the same place (Anderson Building, 12th and O Street) and word had gotten out about the Credit Union.”
In 1956 it was decided to include any employee at the Anderson Building and any employee at the VA Hospital at 74th and J. Family members were also included. And in 1959, membership was extended to any civilian employees of federal agencies headquartered in Lincoln.
During this time, Dana worked at the VARO as a machine operator. He sacrificed his weeknights and weekends to run the Credit Union. In 1959, the Board decided to pay Dana $400 a month to be the first full-time Manager/Treasurer.
In the mid-sixties the Credit Union office was moved to 17th and N Street on the main floor. “It was a relief to spread out a little and get away from the smell of ink,” said Dana. Since no partition was available, file cabinets were used as a counter and to divide the room. By that time the Credit Union hired some part-timers, Sam Smith and Mrs. McGill.
It wasn’t long before the Credit Union outgrew this location and in 1971 moved to 37th and O Street. Then the building on 330 N 48th Street, was purchased in 1974.
Over the years, membership grew as news of the Credit Union got out. Civilian employees of the Air and Army National Guard and Postal Employees, retirees, permanent part-time federal employees (including the weekend warriors of the Nebraska Guard and Reserve) were enabled to join.
Dana retired in 1982. He stayed active at the Credit Union for three more years on the Board of Directors after his retirement.
In January, 1983 Rhonda Litt became president. Under Rhonda’s leadership several improvements occurred. In 1985 an updated on-line real-time data processing system was installed and in 1987 the Credit Union began Mortgage Lending with Home Equity loans. During 1988 the Credit Union constructed and moved to the present location at 325 North 52nd Street which includes a drive-thru. Several new benefits were instituted at this time including a Drive Thru. Since then your Credit Union now offers ATM services, Visa Check Card, Call 24 Telephone Teller Audio Response, eBranch Internet Access , Market Index Certificates, and many other programs and services. The Credit Union has now grown to almost $28 million in assets from $6.5 million at the end of 1982.
“Your Spirit of America Federal Credit Union had very humble beginnings. We began with the belief that people should help people and continue with that same ideology today.” Says Rhonda, “We will continue to serve you like the Credit Union owner you are. We are here to assist you with your financial needs and look forward to our next eighty years as your financial institution!”