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MADISON, Wis. – People outside of Madison, Wis. sometimes refer to its Credit Union Center Campus – comprised of CUNA Mutual Group, the Credit Union National Association (CUNA), the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU), the Filene Research Institute and a branch office of CUNA Credit Union – as the “Magic Kingdom.” Why? “Perhaps it’s because a lot of magic gets done here,” laughed Steve Goldberg, vice president of small credit union development and consumer affairs officer at CUNA Mutual. Turning serious, Goldberg added, “The campus represents the vibrance of our industry. It’s not a grand palace, but it’s a very good working facility. And many people who visit say, `Gosh, we didn’t realize so much was located here.’ ” Indeed. CUNA Mutual, an insurance and financial services company owned by its credit union policyholders, is the campus’ biggest occupant. Serving credit unions and their members across the globe, the company has about 2,600 employees at the Madison campus, with another 2,000 employees scattered throughout the world. Next in size is CUNA, the nation’s primary trade association for credit unions, which employs roughly 200 at the Magic Kingdom, with another 40 or so in its governmental affairs office in Washington, D.C. The third occupant, the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU), employs about 40 people. A handful of folks also work at the Filene Research Institute and the CUNA Credit Union branch, which serves both employees on the campus and residents of Dane County, in which Madison is located. In addition to these five employers, the Credit Union Center Campus contains a spacious cafeteria, full workout facility and an extensive network of underground parking. So how did such an impressive facility get located in Madison, Wis., population 200,000? The credit union movement actually has a long association with the progressive Midwestern city. The first U.S. credit union opened in 1909 in New Hampshire, far from Wisconsin. But during the next few decades, as the seeds of the credit union movement were beginning to sprout, Wisconsin became the first state in the nation to establish an office of credit unions within its statewide banking system. Edward Filene, a credit union pioneer, was impressed with the state’s enlightenment. He and other credit union boosters also realized the city was centrally located, an important consideration in the days of railroad travel, and was close to a large city, yet not too big itself. City size was also an important issue for the movement’s pioneers. They didn’t like the notion of a grass-roots cooperative being located in a sprawling metropolis, but did want it to close enough to one to take advantage of the numerous resources associated with any large metropolitan area. The well-regarded University of Wisconsin also factored into the pioneers’ decision. The university was considered the world’s foremost spot for studying cooperatives back then (and still draws droves of students today to study at its International Center for the Study of Cooperatives). Even better, Glenn Frank, then president of the university and a friend of Filene’s, offered free land and research support if the credit union movement created its headquarters here. And so in 1934-35, first CUNA & Affiliates, and then CUNA Mutual, opened for business on the city’s east side. They shared the same facility. The companies relocated once, then settled in a new home – Filene House – in 1950. President Harry S. Truman was on hand for the dedication. In 1960, CUNA Mutual relocated to a farmland plot on the city’s far West Side. A two-lane country road ran in front of the company’s new building at 5910 Mineral Point Road, which contained a cafeteria because there was no convenient place for workers to grab a bite for lunch. The company’s sole neighbor was St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church. “ Back then there were no plans or dreams about someday having an international credit union campus here,” said Goldberg, who started with the company in 1968 as a student intern. But CUNA Mutual kept growing, adding to its building several times. The company then purchased adjacent acreage from St. Thomas Aquinas, and whispers of a “campus” could be heard. Those whispers turned into a distinct buzz in the late 1970s, when word leaked that discussions were in place about moving CUNA’s operations to Mineral Point Road. The talks progressed, and the campus concept was born. In 1980 the Credit Union Center Campus was officially unveiled in what Goldberg called “a watershed event” for the entire credit union industry. The new campus included the same building Goldberg started in 12 years earlier, now six or eight times its original size, a new structure (5710 Mineral Point Road) for CUNA and WOCCU, and the futuristic looking cafeteria building, or International Commons, a distinctive circular structure with a glittering band of gold-tinted windows encircling the top. A series of underground tunnels connected the buildings, partly to help employees survive Wisconsin’s harsh winters, but also to help service the campus’ extensive underground parking, which CUNA Mutual installed to avoid creating an unsightly web of parking lots. The crowning touch? The campus’ Walk of Nations, a group of 61 computerized flagpoles that alternately fly the flags of all of the countries affiliated with WOCCU. At its unveiling, it was the largest mechanized flag display in all of North America. “To think you didn’t have to be in Chicago or New York to be the financial center of a major industry was very exciting,” said Goldberg. “And for those of us who grew up here in Madison, the campus was a source of great pride and good fortune.” Of course the development of the campus wasn’t just for show; it was intended to facilitate the work done by all of the organizations located there, and bring key components of the credit union movement together. “CUNA Mutual’s investment in the campus is a sound investment in the credit union movement,” said Michael B. Kitchen, president and CEO of CUNA Mutual. “As an industry leader, it is important we provide credit unions with a training environment conducive to helping them succeed in a competitive marketplace. We want the Credit Union Center to be a source of pride for the movement.” Pete Crear, executive vice president and chief operating officer of CUNA, agreed. “Being together in Madison benefits credit unions and all three organizations because we have readily available the knowledge to support each other and the movement,” he said. And while acknowledging the distinct identities and mission of CUNA, CUNA Mutual Group and WOCCU, Crear said part of the strength and uniqueness of the credit union system comes from the close association of credit union trade and insurance organizations. “The physical proximity (of the organizations) in Madison reminds all of us, every day, that we serve financial cooperatives through a special system, both here and around the world. It’s a privilege all of us enjoy.” Jen Gallagher, marketing support manager in CUNA Mutual’s international division, has only been on campus since May. Yet she’s very impressed. “Externally it’s very attractive,” she said. “I’m a very nature-oriented person, and the campus’ greenery, flowers and trees help my emotional well-being.” Gallagher also appreciates the campus’ little benefits, like being able to grab a fresh salad at the cafeteria or easily winding her way around the campus via the tunnels. But despite all of the amenities found at the Magic Kingdom, Gallagher said the campus’ real magic lies in the people who work there. “I graduated from college in 1995, and knew I was never going to work somewhere where people weren’t passionate about what they did,” she said. “Well, I certainly found a lot of passionate people here, which makes my work exciting and interesting.” -

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