Looking Back: Members 1st of NJ FCU Chairman John Henderson Looks Back at CU’s 80-Year Legacy
By: Marissa Anema, VP, Marketing & Communications, NJCUL

As Members 1st of NJ FCU celebrates its 80th year of service to its community, Board Chair John Henderson, whose father was one of the original members back when it was Cumberland Teachers FCU, looks back for the League’s Legacy Series on the credit union’s founding and how its grown to be what it is today. He recently gave Marissa Anema some insight into the credit union’s humble beginnings as a teacher’s credit union…

Anema: Tell me how the credit union got its start?

Henderson: A group of like-minded teachers consisting of seven men and women from around Cumberland County organized what became in 1938 as the Cumberland Teachers FCU.

Anema: Who were the key players and founders?

Pictured clockwise from top left: Members 1st of NJ FCU Chairman
John Henderson's father, Laurence Henderson; 
John Henderson at the credit union's 80th anniversary celebration; 
Laurence Henderson's credit union passbook;
the credit union's 80th anniversary logo. 

Henderson: The initial founders appointed officers were Ralph Robinson – President 1938-1940; Laurence Henderson (my father) – Vice President 1938-1967; Robert Craig – Secretary 1938-1948; H. W. Letts – Board Member 1938; Mary E Rossi – Board Member 1938; J. Albert Starkey – Board Member 1938; and Carrie R. Schureman – Board Member 1938.

Anema: Why was the credit union formed, who was it established to serve?

Henderson: Our founders formed the credit union to help fellow teachers as a means to make loans more affordable.

Anema: What was the need that the credit union was meeting that the teachers couldn’t find elsewhere?

Henderson: In 1938, America was slowly pulling out of the throws of Depression and the economy was beginning to see signs of improvement. The "war drums" were sounding off in Europe and the turmoil which followed resulted in people looking for safe and secure places to handle their financial transactions. Our credit union built that trust and security amongst the teaching profession. I believe if you searched through other credit union originations you would find that workers were looking for like-minded interest.

Anema: Do you know how much the first deposit and/or loan was for?

Henderson: I am not sure if it was the first however my father, Laurence Henderson, made a $5 deposit on February 24, 1938. He was assigned the account #4. His booklet reflects his account activity for the year and shows he earned 25 cent dividend! I understand that the first loan was for $100 and all seven original members cosigned the loan! In 1942, our budget was $342.20. It also shows that we paid a state league dues of $25 and a convention fee of $8.

Anema: Where was the credit union’s first location?

Henderson: Individual homes were the center of the credit union including the homes of: Ralph Robinson, Rose Sternberg, Mary Doerr, and Beverly Brown. As we grew we continued operations out of a building on South Delsea Drive in Vineland; Landis Ave. in Vineland; and then we added a Bridgeton Branch, and after a merger with Salem Teachers Credit Union a branch in Woodstown.

Anema: What makes the credit union different than other financial institutions?

Henderson: I think the two most important are the “people helping people” philosophy and the not-for-profit structure!

Anema: How has the membership changed/grown over the years?

Henderson: During the course of 80 years, we have served teachers, school employees, staff from the City of Vineland, and various other select employer groups (SEGs).

Anema: What do you think was the cause for the membership growth?

Henderson: We provide a safe, secure, and trustworthy financial services while maintaining convenient and up to date services for our members.

Anema: How did you become involved with the credit union?

Henderson: My mother and father started an account for me when I was 3 months old in 1945. The day I was born, my mother was helping my grandmother pick strawberries for the market that morning. I presume that mother made the first deposit from her strawberry pickings. It has been my source for financial services ever since.

Anema: What keeps you involved in the industry?

Henderson: I still make use of the financial services; however, I still enjoy helping others and I believe that the words my father had carved in a piece of walnut over his fireplace hold the best reason: "Be thyself, and be worthy to be thyself"!

Based in Vineland, N.J., Members 1st of NJ FCU now serves over 8,000 members from 100 select employer groups. For more information on Members of 1st of NJ FCU, visit www.membersonenj.org