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<p>LANCASTER, S.C. – During a time when few women worked outside of the home and even less had careers in the banking industry, Laura Fleming, president/CEO of Founders Federal Credit Union bucked most trends and forged new ground. Fleming, 65, who recently announced she will retire at the end of the year after 42 years at Founders, is humble and reflective on her illustrious career. Early on, she had the foresight to see that having just one sponsor would almost halt any future credit union growth, a vision that wasn’t too popular with many at the time. In the end, it turned out to be one of many decisions that would make Founders the largest credit union in the state with 118,000 members and $840 million in assets. “I think Founders is positioned to continue successfully for another 50 years,” Fleming said, confident that her successor Bruce Brumfield, Founders’ executive vice president who’s been groomed for the last three years to take the helm January 1 has enveloped the credit union’s mission. She’s a hometown resident, born and raised in Lancaster, home to Springs Cotton Mills, a 70-year old billion-dollar textile giant (now called Spring Industries Inc.). Shortly after graduating from high school in 1955, Fleming was hired by James Bradley to work as a clerk at the Bank of Lancaster, which was owned by Springs Cotton Mills. Bradley, a long-time Springs executive recalls Flemings “commitment to grow in her level of responsibility and good judgement.” “She’s one of the people I admired for being able to develop and grow and assume leadership,” Bradley said. In 1960, Fleming and a four-person team was assigned to write the program that would computerize Springs Cotton Mills’ five credit unions and over the next two decades she would work her away up from administrative assistant to supervisor and administrator. By 1979, the credit unions were in the throes of growing pains and members voted in favor of consolidating under one name, Springmaid Credit Association. The new moniker allowed for a larger member base because Springs Cotton Mills began purchasing plants outside of the state, restricting the credit union ability to cross state lines. Fleming recalls the name change as being as sore spot for some of the cotton mill’s executives because of the word `union.’ “Some had problems with that word because the company was so proud that they were able to keep the union groups at bay,” Fleming recalled. “We went with the word `association’ but I had to explain to a lot of people what we were at credit union conferences and meetings.” At the newly-formed association, Fleming became the first general manager and among the first women ever to be given a management position by Springs. She recalls telling her all-male executive team, “if you’ll forget that I’m a woman, I’ll forget you’re men, and we’ll just be a group of folks working to make this the best credit union we can.” By the early 1980s, Springmaid continued its growth in large part due to fallout from a series of bank mergers in the area. Fleming said many residents were angered by the acquisitions and were looking for an alternative with Springmaid. In 1983, the association changed its name to Springmaid Federal Credit Union, shortly after NCUA’s ruling allowing credit unions to include select employees groups within their field of membership. But it was in 1993 when Fleming had, what one colleague called an “epiphany.” The credit union’s board came to the tough decision that the `Springmaid’ name did not reflect the direction it wanted to go in. No longer solely sponsored by Springs Cotton Mills, the decision to rename the credit union Founders Federal Credit Union started out as tumultuous with some of the company’s executives but eventually became a `non-event.’ “It didn’t bode well with some but I’d say this was one of two epiphanies in her career that has made Founders what it is today,” said John Franklin, president of South Carolina Credit Union League. “The other being, early on, she had the management and wisdom to convince five separate CEOs, five boards and a corporate treasurer that merging all Springs credit unions into one would be the way to go.” Indeed, today, Founders has 250 SEGs, 347 employees, 14 branches and an operational center. Throughout her career, Fleming has served as chairperson of the South Carolina Credit Union League, member of NAFCU’s advisory committee and CUNA’s values campaign advisory task force. From 1998 to 2001, she served on the board of directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond-Charlotte, North Carolina branch. Of all the success Founders has seen over Fleming’s career, she is most proud of the financial counseling the credit union has provided to members, some which were on the brink of bankruptcy. The type of member that attends free sessions with one of Founders’ four counselors run the gamut from those who earn $10,000 a year to high-income members earning $200,000 annually. “Right before my eyes, low-income people have elevated themselves to middle-class status,” Fleming said. “We saw a real need to offer the counseling and it truly has helped people understand what it takes to grow financially, to budget and stay out of debt.” “I’m so confident that when I walk out the door on Dec. 31, the credit union won’t miss a beat,” Fleming said. “It was important to bring someone in who has a total understanding of our mission and our values and Bruce is certainly that person.” Married to her high-school sweetheart, Archie for 46 years, they have twin daughters, Alison and Angie and five grandchildren. “They’re both close enough where we can go spend more time with our grandkids,” Fleming said. The Flemings are also looking forward to traveling and visiting old friends. Fleming will still be on the periphery serving as a consultant to Founders a few times each month. She just recently started a two-year term with the South Carolina Credit Union League and was appointed by Gov. Jim Hodges to serve a seven-year term on the state’s Public Service Authority as chairman of the finance audit committee. “I have this need to continue to stay mentally alert,” Fleming explained. She’s adopted a quote by Pres. Theodore Roosevelt on work ethic as her own: `One of life’s prizes is to work hard at work worth doing’ – “I truly think that sums up my career. When I look back at what we’ve been able to do to improve the quality of life for our members, I truly believe that will be my legacy.” -</p> <p>[email protected]</p>

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