MANCHESTER, N.H. - If America's Credit Union Museum Executive Director Peggy Powell has her way, the entire nation will know the story of how America's credit union movement came into its own. "We have this wonderful rich history about credit unions across the country but no one place to tell the story of credit unions," said Powell. "So the goal of the museum is two-fold- not only to promote cooperatives and credit unions but also educate present and future generations on the value of savings and the sensible use of credit." In 1908, with counsel and guidance from Canada's credit union movement leader, Alphonse Desjardins, local attorney Joseph Boivin served as the president and ran the nation's first credit union right in his home. Originally called St. Mary's Cooperative Credit Association the credit union's name was revised in 1925 to La Caisse Populaire Ste.-Marie, or "Bank of the People," St. Mary's. Since 1994, when Armand and Joanne Lemire donated the Boivin family home to the New England Credit Union Heritage Foundation, plans to restore the house to create a national credit union museum, and build a state-of-the-art conference and training facility began. Donations totaling approximately $1.4 million went to the restoration project and Powell is hoping to raise the remaining $1.6 million needed to keep the museum up and running for future generations. Rochester, New Hampshire-based design/build firm Willey Brothers and local contractor Jewett Construction Company were selected for the renovation of the 7,800 square-foot, three-story Victorian home. According to Powell it was vital that the project preserve a part of history while still breathing new life into the museum. The first and second floors pay tribute to the old. On the first floor the four rooms where business used to be conducted and the original receiving hall is furnished with antiques. There is also a children's room designed to give young people a perspective on the value of money from 1908 to now. Another room will be a viewing room where visitors learn about credit unions from a 12-minute video short created by CUNA Mutual. Elevators will take visitors to the second floor, which is exhibit space. "The biggest part of this museum is having the artifacts and memorabilia," said Powell. "The exhibits represent a real cooperative effort and though we need financial support we also need to go back and look for the history and memorabilia from credit unions in all 50 states - that is what is going to make this museum the very best. And it doesn't have to be gifted, it could be on loan to the museum." The museum is looking for everything from an original logbook to old CU board games to put on display. "The great thing about the credit union movement is that it is not all bricks and mortar," said Powell. "Many credit unions were started in kitchens and briefcases and that history is what is so neat." The third floor features a state-of-the-art conference/training room designed to look like an old town hall complete with wainscoting. In addition to providing two screens and two projectors that can be used simultaneously or independent of one another, the room has a catering kitchen on site fully equipped with dishwasher and coffee maker. While there is no food preparation on site, those using the facility will be provided menus and in the future the Web site will also provide links to local caterers to make selection easier. The Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Family Credit Union has offered to donate all water and soft drinks for any group that uses the conference room. "There is nothing like actually being in the building," said Powell. "To have all these months of planning come together in this great tribute to credit unions and what they've done over the years is just wonderful. And part of the fun for me is to see the visitors' reaction." The two-day grand opening kicks off October 17 with a formal dinner for the foundation board, museum advisory board, league presidents and CEOs from larger credit unions. On October 18 the public ribbon cutting takes place, and that night another reception limited to those involved with the room-naming dedication. Those who made donations to the museum were given the opportunity to name various rooms in the museum in honor of former presidents, board members, CEOs etc. At press time the museum hours had not been set and for now Powell will continue to wear many hats at the museum. Powell considers the museum a work in progress and has lots of plans in mind for the future. Eventually she would like to expand the children's room and have lots of interactive activities that focus on comparing prices and earnings from the past and relate them to the current day economy. In addition she would like to have an exhibit that demonstrates the ripple effect of a $150 loan in third world countries being helped by the World Council of Credit Unions. "This has been an unbelievable education," said Powell. "My dream has always been to restore a Victorian home but now I think my new dream is to buy one already restored. The credit union museum in Quebec has been around 18 years so we still have a long way to go and a lot to look forward to." -email@example.com
International CU Day marks credit union history being made, preserved with America's Credit Union Museum
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