Back in 1956, when moms stayed home and dads went to work – single-income families with the Canadian dream of owning a home or buying a new DeSoto, were routinely denied credit by the local banks.
That’s when the idea of forming the Warfield Credit Union was first sparked in the back of a fire truck by H.M. (Ace) Bailey, the resident fireman
“We were all young people with families who couldn’t get loans so we felt there had to be a banking system here in Warfield,” recalled Jim Nelson, a founding member. “So when the proposal was made by the fire department to do this, it just all came together.”
The fee to join was 50 cents, though the founding group wasn’t deterred when someone didn’t have two quarters to rub together.
“Ace Bailey was a good friend of mine,” said Nelson, himself a longtime volunteer firefighter and veteran Warfield politician. “He and I used to go out on the weekends and visit different people we knew to try and get them to join the credit union,” he chuckled. “If they didn’t have the 50 cents, we’d put it in ourselves just to build the membership.”
Over time, the Warfield Credit Union grew into a $17 million venture and valuable community asset. The organization fundraised for various local charities, paid for sporting events and school team uniforms, provided annual scholarships for J.L. Crowe, Rossland Secondary and Webster School students, and in the ‘90s, invested in the development of Emerald Ridge.
“It was a real community venture and we came a long way,” Nelson reflected, mentioning board meetings were held in their homes with the wives catering meals.
“We all went into it with a great deal of pride and wanted it to succeed.”
And succeed it did until 1997, when the lone institution merged with Kootenay Savings Credit Union (KSCU) after it could no longer compete with larger branches.
Today, July 3, is bittersweet for Nelson because the Warfield KSCU branch is closing its doors for good.
“It is upsetting losing the credit union in Warfield after all the community spirit that went into building it,” he said.
“There was a great deal of interest when it all started, and I question if anyone would be able or have the incentive to start their own credit union now,” Nelson sighed. “But it’s a sign of the times and things have to move forward.”
One person who knows very well how the banking world has advanced over time, is 39-year credit union employee Rose Gaudry.
Right out of high school in 1976, she began her career in Warfield Credit Union, and walked across the street from home to work for 32 years.
Now working in KSCU’s Castlegar branch, Gaudry said what she misses most is the people she served for decades and the staff she worked alongside.
“It was always a friendly service as Warfield Credit Union and continued that way as Kootenay Savings Credit Union,” she said. “People have been coming there for years and they became like family.”
Gaudry recalled working long hours in the early days, when bank duties like payroll and loan payments were calculated manually.
“Back in those days you’d be working a lot of overtime just trying to get through the day,” she explained. “I remember having a lot of headaches from using so much mind power.”
She remembers hearing the news that the credit union was merging with KSCU.
“I was excited,” said Gaudry. “This brought not only stability for our little community branch but also more career opportunities for us all.”
With computers now managing banking processes, plus the convenience of telephone and online banking, Gaudry’s time has been freed up to connect one-on-one with members.
“Technology allows us more time to work with our members and find exactly what they are looking for and help them with those services,” she said. “I am sure we will be missed by the members but we are fortunate to still have a lot of KSCU branches, so it’s good.”
The Warfield KSCU location will continue to have an ATM and night deposit service.