Credit Union Pioneers

The credit union movement wasn’t started overnight. It’s the product of hard work from pioneers in Britain and across the world. We’ve compiled a list of the most notable figures in the development of credit unions – both UK and abroad – and highlighted the role they played.


The credit union idea was first conceived in the mind of Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen, mayor of several villages of Germany during a time of great famine. He dedicated his life to the establishment of credit societies in his native land. The humanitarian ideals and experiences of Raiffeisen were the guideposts for those who followed in credit union work. Principles such as the common bond of association for membership, profit sharing by the credit union members, and officers elected and serving as volunteers without pay are part of the modern credit union’s tremendous heritage from Raiffeisen.


A French Canadian, journalist and legislative reporter, Alphonse Desjardins was the man responsible for planting the seeds of the credit union idea in the New World where it was to flourish into a major economic institution. Disturbed over the exploitation of people through usury and guided by his reading about European credit societies, Desjardins formed the first North American credit union in 1900 at Levis, Quebec. He operated it for years at his own expense to demonstrate its purpose and value to the world. Desjardins subsequently helped to establish the first credit union in the United States in 1909, and cooperated in the development of the Massachusetts credit union law, first in the U.S.

EDWARD A. FILENE 1860-1937

The man most responsible for the establishment of the credit union as a nation¬ al economic movement and force in the United States was Edward A. Filene, Boston merchant and multi-millionaire philanthropist who became one of the 20th century’s outstanding prophets of economic and social progress. Filene gave of his time, his energy and his personal fortune to promote the credit union idea from the time in 1907 when he observed it in practice in India. His persistent encouragement of the growth of credit unions in the United States, and his campaign for credit union laws in the states and federal government entitle him to be known as the father of the credit union movement in the U. S. Filene House, OUNA’s international headquarters. is named in his honour.


The professional career of Roy F. Bergengren is one of the most dynamic chapters in the spectacular story of credit union establishment and growth in the United States and Canada. He was the man selected by Edward A. Filene to be the organizational architect of a national credit union movement as managing director of the Credit Union National Extension Bureau in 1921. A lawyer talented in writing, speaking and organizing, Bergengren’s skilled and dedicated leadership was a primary factor in the development of a truly national credit union movement. With the official formation of that movement at Estes Park, Colorado, in 1934, he guided it through its formative years as first managing director of the Credit Union National Association, CUNA Mutual Insurance Society and CUNA Supply Cooperative. CUNA Mutual office building is dedicated to his memory.

PIERRE JAY 1870-1949

A far-sighted public official, Pierre Jay shares in the honour of making possible the introduction of credit unions in the United States. As bank commissioner of Massachusetts in 1908, Jay recommended to the state legislature “That Massachusetts should not only authorize but put its prestige behind” the credit union organization. Jay subsequently invited Alphonse Desjardins, Canadian credit union pioneer, to help prepare a credit union bill and then played an important part in securing its passage by the legislature. The bill was signed into law by the governor on May 21, 1909, as the first state credit union law in the U. S.

REV. FR. M. M. COADY 1882-1959

Great impetus for the extension of credit unions in Canada came in the early 1930s from the work of the Rev. Fr. M. M. Coady, leader of the Antigonish Movement of adult education and economic group action. This perceptive priest devoted a quarter of a century to this task in his work as director of the St. Francis Xavier University Extension Department. Father Coady and his colleagues recognized the indispensable part the credit union had to play in such a program for human betterment and took a leading role in obtaining a Nova Scotia Credit Union Law. The influence of Father Coad/s Antigonish Movement formula for helping people to help themselves has spread far beyond the boundaries of Nova Scotia,


A key factor in the spectacular rise of the credit union as a vital institution in the economic and social life of the U.S. and Canada has been the assistance received from many far-sighted legislators and other public officials. The list of those who have helped is long and illustrious but credit union people will always reserve a special spot in their hearts for the Honourable Morris Sheppard, U. S. Senator from Texas. It was he more than any other who guided the first Federal Credit Union Act, which he sponsored. through the U. S. Congress in 1934. This Act, signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, made the rapid growth of the credit union movement in the U. S. possible. The memory of Sen. Sheppard’s great contribution has been perpetuated by grateful credit union people in his home city of Texarkana where the first federal credit union to be formed is named in his honour.

THOMAS W. DOIG 1896-1955

The name of Tom Doig belongs in the Credit Union Hall of Fame for many rea¬ sons, but he will probably always be best remembered as the greatest organizer in Credit Union history. In 32 years of dedicated service, Doig personally accounted for the organization of the tremendous total of 1,000 credit unions. Beginning as a volunteer in 1923 as a Minneapolis postal employee when he first learned about credit unions from a magazine advertisement, his natural gifts of persuasion and dedication made him the logical choice to be Assistant Executive Director of the Credit Union National Extension Bureau in 1930. He was named Assistant. Managing Director of CUNA in 1935 and first vice president of CUNA Mutual Insurance Society the same year. He succeeded Roy F. Bergengren as Managing Director of CUNA, CUNA Mutual and CUNA Supply Cooperative in 1945 and served in these posts until his death in 1955.


The Rev. Fr. Marion M. Ganey, a Roman Catholic priest from Illinois, has demonstrated that the age of credit union pioneering is far from past. His use of credit unions as a valuable aid in the fulfilment of his spiritual duties in remote overseas areas has been an inspiration and a guide to many others during the past two decades. Father Ganey first became interested in credit unions while serving in Punta Gorda in British Honduras in 1944. Relief work of his credit unions following a disastrous hurricane in 1945 so impressed his superiors that he was assigned full-time to credit union and cooperative work. When the British governor general was subsequently transferred to the Fiji Islands, he requested that Father Ganey be transferred to undertake the formation of credit unions there. Within a 4-year period, over 240 credit unions were organized in the Fiji’s and the credit union idea had been extended by Father Ganey to Western Samoa and Tonga.


The province of Nova Scotia on Canada’s eastern seaboard contributed much more than its share to the development and extension of credit union philosophy. One of the reasons was the dedication and leadership personified in the career of Angus Bernard “A. B.” MacDonald, a teacher whose influence ranged far be¬ yond the boundaries of his native province. An early member of the staff of the now famous Extension Department at St. Francis Xavier University and a leader in the Antigonish Movement, MacDonald stirred new hope in the hearts of people with the formation of study clubs and cooperatives. When Roy Bergengren travelled to Nova Scotia in the early 1930s to preach the credit union doctrine, he found a willing and able colleague in MacDonald. “A. B.’s” accomplishments were known nationally in Canada by 1944 when he was named to direct the Cooperative Union of Canada. He was also the first international director of the Credit Union National Association.


California’s Leo H. Shapiro is typical of the many young men in the 1920s who were inspired to a career of credit union service by the teachings of Edward A. ’Filene, father of the modern-day credit union movement. A lawyer by profession, Shapiro read an article by Filene in 1922, and he has been working in behalf of the credit union idea ever since. He served with his law books and legal knowledge and as a volunteer organizer of more than 100 credit unions. The California Credit Union League, largest in the world today, reflects his contribution. Shapiro participated in its organization in 1933, served as its first president, and has been its legal counsel from his San Francisco office for many years. His contributions in the development of legislation necessary for credit union expansion have been beneficial to credit union people everywhere.


New York’s Dora Maxwell was among the first to demonstrate that women could and would play a prominent role in the growth of the credit union movement. A dynamic personality, Dora Maxwell had a credit union career too varied for simple description or summary. She was treasurer of the New York Consumers Co¬ operative Credit Union in the early 1920s and was elected to the first board of directors of the New York State Credit Union League. She was employed by the Credit Union National Extension Bureau to work in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and was a signer of the Charter of the Credit Union National Association at Estes Park, Colorado, in 1934. Subsequently, during a 5-month period in 1935, she personally organized 120 cred¬ it unions. With the establishment of CUNA, she served on the field staff and as director of Organization and Education during the critical period until 1947. Dora Maxwell retired in 1955 after several years as representative of CUNA and CUNA Mutual in the Eastern states, but the trail she blazed exists today as a challenge and inspiration to credit union woman everywhere.

More Pioneers

EARL RENTFRO  1886-1956

More than any other individual, Earl Rentfro, a native Missourian, guided credit union development and use of life insurance in his 10-year period as first general manager of the infant CUNA Mutual Insurance Society. Loan Protection insurance the credit union way was his first contribution and he was first to suggest the development of Life Savings insurance as a valuable credit union service instrument. Rentfro’s career on behalf of credit union development was not limited to life insurance, however. He was first president of the Missouri Credit Union League and subsequently its man¬ aging director and worked effectively in numerous legislative campaigns for credit union laws in many states and in Washington, D.C.


Charles G. Hyland, a Wisconsin native, was, until his retirement, one of the greatest credit union organizers and leaders. Hyland first learned about credit unions from Tom Doig when he was working as a La Crosse city fireman. That introduction was to launch him on a career during which he organized over 600 credit unions, participated in the formation of both CUNA and CUNA Mutual Insurance Society, and served as comptroller of both CUNA and CUNA Mutual until he retired in 1957. He had an important part in bringing the international credit union headquarters to Madison, where he is still active in credit union affairs and is considered the “elder statesman” of the movement.

HAROLD MOSES  1901-1959

Shortly before his death in 1959, Harold Moses was honoured by his colleagues in the united credit union movement as the first person to serve continuously for 25 years as a National Director of the Credit Union National Association. Years alone, however, are an inadequate measure of the contributions made by this kindly, far-sighted Louisiana attorney in extending the credit union ideal. Despite the heavy requirements of his legal profession, Moses found time and energy to build one of the most distinguished and fruitful careers in the credit union movement. He was an organizer of the Louisiana Credit Union League and its president for fifteen consecutive years. He served CUNA as a National Director, secretary and vice president, and the CUNA Mutual Insurance Society as president in 1957-1959 and a member of its board of directors continuously from 1945 until his death.

SIDNEY STAHL 1901-1959

The work of Sidney Stahl, first managing director of the New York State Credit Union League, demonstrated even before the formation of the Credit Union National Association the vital role which was to be played by League managing directors in credit union establishment and expansion. A native New Yorker, Stahl began his credit union career in 1921 with that city’s Sixth Avenue Credit Union and participated in the organization of the New York League a year later. He was named League managing director in 1930 — the first to hold such a full-time position in the Western Hemisphere-and took part in the historic Estes Park, Colorado, conference in 1934 at which CUNA was born and served as one of its first National Directors. He also helped organize the National Association of Managing Directors. Through both word and deed, Sidney Stahl personified the finest in basic credit union philosophy throughout his lifetime. His career has been an inspiration and a guide to all others who followed in his footsteps as a League managing director.


Illinois’ Joseph S. DeRamus is probably best known for his role as a pioneer managing director in the building of one of the greatest credit union leagues. However, the impact of his personality, his ideas, and his service has been felt far beyond the borders of Illinois. His eloquent advocacy of the importance of the individual credit union member has been a beacon for the entire credit union movement. A railroader when he first learned about credit unions from Roy F. Bergengren, Deramus was one of those who put the credit union movement on the right track. He personally organized over 600 credit unions, participated in the formation of CUNA at Estes Park, Colorado, in 1934, and was the first person to serve for 25 consecutive years on the CUNA Mutual Insurance Society board of directors. A poet in his own right, the meaning of Joe Deramus’ career is probably best summed up in one of his own lines: “The Service We Render Our Fellowman Is Truly the Best Investment Plan.”


Members of the clergy were in the forefront of those to recognize the great potential of the credit union to alleviate human misery on the economic front. The Rev. Allen R. Huber, a minister of the Christian Church, was among the first Protestant clergymen to pioneer the development of church-cantered credit unions-both in the United States and in the far-off Philippine Islands. At Rev. Huber’s suggestion, his parishioners at Frankfort, Indiana, formed a credit union during the Great Depression of the 1930s to help meet their economic needs. In 1937 when Rev. Huber went to the Philippines on missionary duty, he saw the organization of the credit unions there as an answer to the economic plight of the people. He personally organized over 30 Philippine credit unions before he and his wife were taken prisoners in the Philippines during World War II. His work has been the foundation of the Credit Union Association of the Philippines.

Joyce Shewcroft (1912 – 2001) Australia

Joyce Shewcroft was a remarkable woman who achieved a great deal in her. She also became the first female chair of an Australian credit union when she chaired the Australian Broadcasting Commission Credit Union (elected in 1968), which she also co-founded. In 1945 Joyce was appointed legal adviser to the ABC. Together with Stan Arneil, she co-founded the ABC Credit Union. She also helped found the ABC Staff Association and became a foundation director. According to an article in the Quest magazine (May 1968 edition) Joyce’s role in the development of the ABC Credit Union was important and it states “As a founding director, Miss Shewcroft has worked to help the Credit Union multiply its membership 10-fold since its beginning”. On 31 December 1977 she was awarded an OBE for services to the ABC and the law. Like many pioneers in the credit union movement, Joyce Shewcroft was a person of great ability she was quite the “renaissance” woman.

Copyright British Credit Union Historical Society 2018 – All rights reserved

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close