It Runs in the Family: Service Series Spotlight on Bob Millard, President/CEO Thunderbolt Area FCU

Bob Millard has been working at Thunderbolt Area FCU for over 60 years, since the credit union was founded by his father back in 1951. The credit union is very active in serving its community, with food drives, Financial Reality Fairs for school, and more.

What brought you to the credit union industry?
My father was one of the seven founding members of Thunderbolt Area Federal Credit Union when it was called Airwork Employees Federal Credit Union. He and six other employees of Airwork Corporation put up five dollars each and were chartered effective May 1st, 1951 with the assistance of Jimmy “Shorty” Johnson from the New Jersey Credit Union League.

 ACPressphoto
 Bob Millard sits down with a member to discuss financial options.
(Photo courtesy of Atlantic City Press)

I was always above average in mathematics and arithmetic, even at a young age. At the end of each year, I would help my dad calculate the dividends for each of the members--there were about 300 at the time. I ran the totals on the dividends using a hand crank adding machine. So, during my childhood, I spent my New Year's Eve and New Year's Day doing that so the credit union could open up on the first work day after the holiday. I liked that; it was kind of fun and I looked forward to doing it.

By the time I was in high school and taking Accounting classes, I became more involved. I helped them get their first electronic machine. At that time, my mom started working at the credit union as well.

It runs in the family, I guess you could say. There's always been somebody in my family at the helm of this place since 1951.

Why have you stayed involved for so long, over 60 years?
Once I got a little older and was eligible to serve on the board of directors, I started working directly with the members. I realized how sad it was in this area. It's a very depressed area. People would have their refrigerator go out and they didn't have $200 to buy another one, sometimes would get themselves into all kinds of financial trouble trying to make ends meet. I enjoyed working with them. I wouldn't call it official credit counseling because I hadn't really had any formal training in it, but I'd do it constantly. And that's what makes it rewarding, seeing somebody who thinks this is his last climb up out of the mud clean themselves off and have a future.

How would you describe credit unions as being different? Why should people care about credit unions and know about them?
If you're downtrodden and you make an attempt, this credit union will help you. I insist that that occur. In fact, I meet with every new member who joins and everyone who gets their first loan. We talk.

A couple months ago, for example, a member for 15 years or so was in trouble. She had gone through a divorce and her ex-husband took advantage of her. She had about 15 credit cards that were maxed out, and she was struggling to make payments. She was living in an apartment with her husband and three kids and needed to find a house. Nobody would lend her the money; both of them had low credit scores. She came to me as a last resort, we sat down, and I talked with her and her husband. I worked with her on her debt and in a couple months got two thirds of those cards paid down to zero and actually got some credit increases on the other one so she could build up credit.

We also found out that her husband was able to do construction. So, I encouraged them to find an affordable home in foreclosure that maybe needed some work that her husband could do himself. And they were able to do that. We were able to loan them the money for the home and for a few thousand dollars extra to fix it up. So, they got their first home. And their payments along with taxes and interest is about $400 a month less than what they were paying for an apartment that was falling down.

I had the cooperation of my board because this was extremely risky to lend to these members with a credit score just above 500. So, we took a chance, and they've been true. And excited that they’re moving ahead. That kind of stuff I enjoy most.

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Thunderbolt Area FCU is a credit union chartered to serve the underserved in the southern part of New Jersey from Vineland to the Delaware Bay. For more information, visit the credit union at 1601 Cedar Street Millville, NJ 08332; call (856)-327-5755; or visit their Web site www.tbafcu.com.