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GREENSBORO, N.C. – It’s difficult for Elizabeth “Sis” Hamilton to know what she’ll do on Tuesday, Sept. 2. For the past 60 years, she’s spent her weekdays working in the credit union industry – or more accurately, at one credit union. But the 78-year old Hamilton, president/CEO of Summit CU is retiring on Aug. 29, and the most she knows at this point is “it will feel strange.” That’s an understatement for a woman who grew up on a tobacco farm in Stoneville, N.C. and who cut her teeth on credit union management at the ripe age of 18 when she began working for Southern Bell Telephone Company and was elected secretary of the board of directors of what was then called Tri-City Telco Credit Union. Over the next six decades, “Sis,” as Hamilton is affectionately called, held various volunteer leadership roles for local, state, and national credit union organizations including 25 years on the board of directors of the North Carolina Credit Union Network (she was its first female board member); 21 years on the CUNA Board; and 12 years on the NASCUS Council Board. She also served for eight years on the North Carolina Credit Union Commission she was appointed to by former Gov. Jim Hunt. Not bad for a woman who remembers getting up as a child at 4 a.m. to milk the cows and do other assorted typical farm chores along with her four siblings. Sis intended to become a teacher and even received a full scholarship to attend Meredith College in Raleigh, but she changed her mind in her senior year in high school, and when she graduated at age 16 she enrolled in a two-year secretarial and accounting course at a Greensboro business school, paying her own way with money she earned and saved from doing assorted things on her family’s farm. “My mother started us young with saving money,” Sis recalled. “Anything we wanted to buy for ourselves had to be with money we had earned and saved. We realized at a young age that the money we saved came from somewhere.” In 1943, when she completed the two-year program – she actually finished it in one year – Sis took a job at Southern Bell Telephone Co. It was there that she earned her nickname, although she said at the time it was “Little Bitty Sis.” “Every one there had a nickname. We had a tendency to give each other nicknames, and I got mine because I was so young and small,” she said. The name stuck, although it was eventually shortened to just “Sis.” Hamilton had no problem working as the only woman in the company’s plant department and juggling the responsibilities of the being secretary of Tri-City Telco Credit Union’s Board. But she didn’t expect to assume the role of treasurer shortly after without notice, when the credit union’s treasurer had to unexpectedly leave for Greenville, N.C. So at age 18, Hamilton found herself as treasurer of Tri-City Telco Credit Union which was the equivalent then of being general manager. The credit union at the time had $48,000 in assets and 400 members. She was the only staff the credit union had. “Everything was done manually, the only machine I had was an adding machine,” Hamilton recalled. The credit union was located in a closet at the Southern Bell Telephone and it was open for three hours a day – one hour before work, another at lunchtime and for one hour after work. Two years later the credit union had grown enough to be able to afford Hamilton to hire two part-time staffers. The hours the credit union was open remained the same -7-8 a.m., 12-1 p.m., and 5-6 p.m. – and the three of them rotated shifts. Despite the unusual hours, Tri-City Telco CU still managed to grow. “The company employees just supported the credit union, there was a lot of loyalty to the credit union,” said Hamilton. Eventually, the credit union moved into leased space near the telephone company building and hired full-time staff. Tri-City Telco moved into leased facilities three more times. In 1975, when Southern Bell Telephone merged with another telephone company in Winston-Salem, the credit union changed its name to First Telco CU. Five years later, it purchased its own building on Summit Avenue where the credit union continues to be headquartered. In 1989, when the CU began to take in select employee groups, it changed its name again to Summit CU. The credit union currently boasts having $98 million in assets and 22,000 members including 90 SEGs with branches in Raleigh and Winston-Salem. Sixty years is a lot of years to rack up memories and achievements, and Hamilton has her share. Summit CU was the first credit union in North Carolina to add a drive-up window and offer safety deposit boxes to members, and it was the first to join the Greater Greensboro Chamber of Commerce. Summit was also one of the first to offer share drafts and credit cards to members. “I’ve enjoyed so much and been so fortunate,” said Hamilton. “I’ve had a very rewarding career and have no regrets about not going into teaching.” So why is she retiring? “It’s time,” she answered. “Things change, and I have to change with them.” Hamilton isn’t sure how it will feel not working at the credit union – she will continue to volunteer on the CU’s board as its treasurer. In her last weeks at the credit union, she was busy tying down a lot of loose ends so everything would be in place when her successor, Sam Whitehurst, currently CEO, Winston-Salem Employees CU assumes his new responsibilities at Summit. She was also busy packing up the many plaques she’s received over the years in recognition of her leadership and contribution to the credit union movement. One honor she won’t be able to pack up and take with her is the “Elizabeth `Sis’ Hamilton Charity Golf Tournament” organized by Summit Credit Union that was held Aug. 18. Proceeds from the tournament went towards a scholarship fund dedicated in Hamilton’s name. Hamilton still calls Greensboro home, and she and her husband Jim of 57 years have no plans to move. “I don’t know what I’ll do, I’ll just make it up one day at a time,” she said. -

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