Credit union celebrating 50th year
By Mark Sherry
Mark Sherry photo
Premier Financial Credit Union’s Kiel staff is comprised of (from left) Rachelle Bessert, Nancy Boutchard, office manager Peggy Goch, Lisa Barnes and Heidi Kraus. They are gathered around a table featuring a contest promotion in recognition of the credit union’s 50th anniversary this year.

Early in 1962, a dozen employees of the Lauson Engines division of Tecumseh Products Company in New Holstein thought they saw a better way to manage their personal finances.

Fifty years later, thousands of members of Premier Financial Credit Union know from experience that they are enjoying a better way to manage their personal finances.

Today’s Premier Financial Credit Union began as the La-Tec Employees Credit Union, with the La-Tec standing for Lauson and Tecumseh. Those dozen employees of the company filed an organizational work sheet on Feb. 1, 1962, and on March 12 of that year the first board meeting was held.

That first Board of Directors included names such as George Grube, Lloyd Gregoire, Lloyd Ruh, Fred Hayon and Elroy Loose. A Kiel resident, Loose is the only remaining member of Premier Financial who served on that first board 50 years ago. Steve Nothem, current president and chief executive officer of Premier Financial, chuckled when he saw Loose’s member number is in the low digits compared to some members today whose number is over 30,000.

Didn’t know about credit unions

Loose said he was working at Tecumseh at the time and recalls Grube and others talking about creating something called a credit union. “They asked me if I wanted to go along with it,” Loose said. “I didn’t really know what a credit union was.”

Some people today have yet to get to know the credit union difference and how it would benefit them. “It’s just something that they thought would be a better way for the people,” Loose said when asked why they started the credit union all those years ago.

The same holds true today.

Credit unions are not-for-profit financial institutions owned by their members, so all profits are returned to the member-owners in the form of lower rates on loans, higher returns on savings and lower and fewer fees.

All depositors, regardless of how much they have on deposit, enjoy equal ownership of the credit union—a cooperative which has a single purpose of benefiting the members who do business with them.

When the La-Tec Employees Credit Union held its first board meeting with 16 people attending, the minutes reflect an anticipated membership someday of about 500 people. A month later 47 Lauson employees were members. By year’s end in 1962, 226 members had joined.

Back then a member of the credit union had to be a Lauson employee, but that requirement has long since disappeared. The founders probably would not have been able to imagine today’s membership of about 8,800 or the $70 million in assets reached this past year.

“I think that’s pretty good,” Nothem said of those statistics, “especially because for many of those 50 years we were a closed charter (open only to Tecumseh employees).”

Celebrating 50 years

To celebrate its 50th year, Premier Financial Credit Union has several activities either under way or planned. “Game of the month” contests are being conducted in Premier’s advertising, at its Web site and in its offices. All entries are put into a drawing for a chance to win a $50 gift card.

Open houses will be held at each of Premier’s locations—New Holstein, Kiel and Chilton—beginning with the Kiel open house the week of March 5-9. People are invited to come in and meet the Kiel staff, enjoy some treats and take a chance at winning some prizes. Weather permitting, Nothem said customers might even find him washing vehicle windshields in the Kiel drive-up window lanes one morning or afternoon during that week.

The big celebration will take place at Premier’s annual meeting, scheduled for Sunday, April 22 at Millhome Supper Club east of Kiel. Members have been mailed information about the dinner and comedy show which will be part of the event. The deadline for RSVPs is April 2.

Kiel office opened in 1981

The credit union’s Kiel office opened on Oct. 1, 1981, and into 1985 it was located in the old Ramminger building. On July 22, 1985 it opened its current Kiel location at 530 Fremont St.

Last year saw some continuing progress at Premier’s Kiel location as the parking lot was expanded and the drive-up system was updated, all done toward the goal of making for a more convenient experience for its members.

Members also see some familiar faces when they stop at the Kiel office. Senior Member Service Representative Nancy Boutchard has been with Premier Financial Credit Union for 15 years, while Junior Member Service Representative Lisa Barnes has 10 years of experience with Premier. The branch manager in Kiel is Peggy Goch, while other junior member service representatives are Rachelle Bessert and Heidi Kraus.

Becoming a member of Premier Financial Credit Union remains a simple thing to do. Members must either reside or be employed in Calumet, Manitowoc or Sheboygan counties, or portions of Fond du Lac or Outagamie counties; and maintain a $5 account balance.

“The purpose of most lenders is to generate profits for shareholders,” Nothem said. “That’s not the case with credit unions. We’re owned by our members, our board consists of local citizens elected from within the membership and their role is to ensure members’ financial needs are met.” That includes free checking accounts and no fees on loans.

Premier Financial Credit Union has come a long way from the days when Grube did the books on a card table in his basement. The original incorporators required a 25-cent entrance fee to become a member, and its original assets were a typewriter, adding machine, a file box and a four-drawer filing cabinet.

Assets and membership have grown tremendously over the years, but what has not changed is the primary reason to belong to the credit union—it’s just a better way of doing things for the people.