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GARDEN GROVE, Calif. – As manager of California’s First FCU – which is literally California’s first federally chartered CU – Mary Whipple describes herself as a “dinosaur.” “I come from the old school,” she says. In credit union parlance, Whipple explains, that means someone who still believes in personal service (“My members are my family,” she says), will go the extra mile for members when it comes to loans and other services, is content to remain a small financial institution and isn’t interested in becoming a mega-credit union or expand with a community charter. That’s not to say that the Garden Grove, Calif.-based credit union hasn’t kept up with the times. Although relatively small – 1,100 members and $10 million in assets – it offers a full range of products and services including home banking, from its nondescript location inside an office building here. The only products not offered are first mortgages, and bill pay, the latter because nobody wanted that service, Whipple says. Whipple, along with two full-time and one part-time employee, run the credit union, which was founded in December 1934 and was the first federally chartered credit union in California. It was also the first federally chartered credit union west of the Mississippi River, according to one of its founders. Since its founding as Adohr Milk Farms FCU, it has had a single field of membership: the employees of Adohr Farms. The company, founded in 1916 by Merritt and Rhoda Adamson, was one of the West Coast’s largest dairies in its day and eventually grew to become one of the world’s largest milk producers. The Adohr company name was created by spelling Rhoda Adamson’s first name backwards. Adohr Farms was subsequently purchased by the Southland Corp., then sold off in pieces in the 1990s to other companies. The credit union today, which initially had been located at the Adohr Farms plant, serves employees at what is now Heritage Foods in Westminster. In October, the credit union changed its name, noting that the Adohr name was no longer applicable. “The name change better reflects the credit union’s evolving membership,” it explained to members on its Web site www.californiasfirstfcu.org. “With the recent closure of the Adohr plant, the Adohr Milk Farms Federal Credit Union moniker no longer accurately represents the credit union’s field of membership. “Instead, we’ve chosen to focus on the heritage and history that makes our credit union a unique financial institution,” it said. “Established in 1934, the credit union truly was California’s first federal credit union in the state. We’re proud of this fact and want to communicate our longevity and strength in our name.” As for Heritage Foods, Whipple says the company is strong and growing, which should help the credit union maintain a solid member base. “We actually are pretty much the same as we were when we were founded,” Whipple says. “We have one little SEG. It’s the same group of people we have always been serving.” Although the changes to the sponsor group have caused some problems for the credit union, Whipple says there was never any thought given to expanding with other SEGs or seeking a community charter. “To become a community charter when we’re surrounded by community charters – we have five right in our area – didn’t seem to be a wise thing,” she says. “I don’t have the infrastructure. I don’t have the people. I don’t want to deal with the fraud.” She quickly adds that she is content to just continue serving her existing members. “It was a conscious decision to take care of the people that we’re taking care of now (and not expand),” says Whipple, a 30-year veteran in the credit union industry who has been in her current position for the past 11 years. Eschewing the “bigger is better” philosophy gives her more flexibility to deal with member needs, she says. “I make loans that nobody should be making,” she admits. “I make loans to unemployed people. My whole philosophy is the way it was a long time ago. I’m not making wholesale loans to homeless people but sometimes you have to make those decisions and help people out. I like that. I don’t want to lose that by becoming a big credit union. I don’t think that’s what we’re all about or should be all about.” Despite that, she says she has been approached by larger credit unions interested in merging California’s First into their operations. She has rejected those overtures. “I think if you talk to credit unions our size, I’m sure we’re not the only one that is not interested in being a mega credit union. I think it’s really hurting,” Whipple says, referring to banking industry attacks on the growth of credit unions. “I am perfectly happy with this credit union,” she adds. “We help our members. I come from the old school. I came up from where it (the CU industry) was a long time ago.” -

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