Credit Unions: Born in a Log Cabin

This entry was posted by Wednesday, 17 November, 2010
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From left to right, Edward A. Filene, Roy F. Bergengren, and Claude R. Orchard

“In a log cabin in the Rocky Mountains, the Credit Union National Association was formulated in 1934.  High up on a mountain somewhere within the park…a tablet [will be] attached to the face of a rock, not too high for easy reading by the curious tourist, which will record this important historic event.” — Roy Bergengren, Crusade, 1952

Roy’s prediction was right.  In fact, on August 10, 1954, in honor of the 20th anniversary of the Estes Park Conference, a plaque was mounted on the wooden building named ‘Texas Cabin’ that birthed the Credit Union National Association.  But, a plaque is a mere reminder of the history that occurred.

When credit union leaders began discussing the formation of a national organization, there were no funds for a large gathering.  Many of the conference attendees used vacation time to attend.  August, being a prime vacation period, seemed an ideal time for attendees to “synchronize” their meeting.

Since a number of meetings had already occurred in the East, Bergengren and Orchard wanted to find a central locale for the event. A number of meetings had occurred in the East and the pair hoped to offer Western attendees a break from long continental travel with respect to the travel of Eastern attendees.

They used a ruler and map to find a suitable location not too far from either coastline. Claude Orchard suggested Estes Park because he had vacationed there and found it to be a fine location. The ruler found Estes Park to be three-and-a-half inches from the Pacific Coast while only six inches from the Atlantic Coast–an excellent compromise.

While the geographic location and time of the meeting proved critical, the unique geology of the camp provided the perfect backdrop.  Roy recounted, “it seemed to me that the mountains had a powerful restraining influence on our deliberations.  We literally lifted up our eyes unto the mountains.  I felt many times that the proximity of the eternal hills helped us materially to keep our balance and complete our mission” (Crusade, p. 239).  Then when the deliberations became too much, attendees had the chance to hike, play ball or go for a horseback ride.

When reflecting upon Estes Park, Roy Bergengren found symmerty in the birth of Credit Union National Association, America’s pioneering spirit, and U.S. presidents.  ”Once upon a time a candidate for the Presidency of the United States was seriously handicapped  if he had not been “born in a log cabin…It was althogether fitting and keeping with tradition that the Credit Union National Association should also come into being “in a log cabin” (Crusade, p. 238).

With all that is happening in the world these days, and the hectic lives we lead, we should all remember that one of the greatest accomplishments of the credit union movement was to write its founding document in a log cabin.

Texas Cabin, Estes Park YMCA Camp, 1934

Source: Bergengren, Roy F.  1952.  Crusade: The Fight for Economic Democracy.

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