ARTESIA, N.M. -Everyone has vivid memories of their childhood they pull out every so often and reminisce about. But how many of us recollect credit union statements being strewn over the livingroom floor, alphabetizing them and stuffing them in envelopes? In fact, that’s one of Ronnie Johnston’s sharpest and fondest memories of his childhood. He is joined in his memory by his older brother, younger sister and both his parents who made sure the entire family had a hand in helping in the operations of what was then called Artesia School Employees CU and which his father Warren helped form and managed for 30 years, almost from its inception until 1986. As the original name of the credit union infers, Artesia School Employees CU was chartered in 1955 and formed by a group of teachers after one of them applied for a $300 loan from a bank and was turned down – that teacher, Leonard Witcher, and five generations of his family, are all members of the CU. The elder Johnston, who was also a teacher at Artesia High School, became treasurer/manager of the CU, its only employee. His office consisted of a “cubby hole” in Artesia High School that was close to the classroom he taught in. The CU was open two-to-three hours a day and after school hours. It paid him a whopping salary of $25 a month. From the outset, operating Artesia School Employees CU was a Johnston family affair. In addition to everyone pitching to get members’ statements out on time, mother Shirleen posted the CU’s journal. Eventually, says Ronnie, she became proficient enough to the point where she was able to interview members for loans. “I remember as a kid our phone rang all the time with calls from members. The house phone was basically the office phone. It was a 24-hour a day job. People would call at night or weekends if they needed something,” Ronnie recalls, adding that he has a lot of fond memories of those days. “My father always found a way to help people out. I remember times back when the credit union didn’t have enough money to loan out and members were on a waiting list. My father would go to the teachers’ lounge at the high school and tell them they needed to deposit some money so the credit union could make the loans,” Ronnie says. He also remembers when his father decided to install computers at the credit union in 1983. “They spent hours getting them up and running. Now we wonder how we went for so long without them,” Ronnie says. Ronnie became president/CEO of Artesia School Employees CU in 1991 – both his parents are still alive – and the CU has seen several changes under his leadership. For one thing, it has its own facility that’s located about a quarter of a mile from Artesia High School. It moved into the new facility in September 2001, and it added an addition to the building in January 2005. In addition, Artesia CU has grown in size. The CU’s assets are now $36.7 million and it has 4,107 members. That compares to his dad’s first year as CU manager, 1956, when the assets were $31,564 and it had 166 members and his last year when assets were $3,813.1 million and the CU had 689 members. In Ronnie’s first year as president, the CU’s assets were $5,504.2 million and membership was 957. What’s more, it expanded its field of membership and changed its name to Artesia Credit Union. “When I became CEO, membership was still limited to school employees and their immediate family members. We were basically a share and loan credit union with $5 million in assets. I saw we had to grow to advance and thrive and remain viable. So we began adding select employee groups and then got our community charter in 2005,” he explained. Although Artesia CU is still heavily involved in the city’s schools, its FOM includes Chavis and Eddy counties. Artesia CU’s loan portfolio these days is about $24 million. The bulk of its portfolio comes from auto loans, and Ronnie says the credit union will add indirect lending to its product mix with CU Direct in about two months. The credit union’s staff has also grown and now includes 17 full-time employees. But running it is still a Johnston family affair. Ronnie’s wife Tammy, a schoolteacher, works at the credit union when necessary, and Ronnie says, “she’s learned how to do just about anything. It’s nice knowing I can call on my family in an emergency.” His 19-year old twin sons Stuart and Stephen have also worked at Artesia CU since they were 16. They’re both freshmen in college, and Ronnie candidly admits one of them – Stuart – has already informed his dad that when he graduates with his business degree he intends to come back and take his dad’s job at the credit union. His other son Stephen is pursuing other interests and wants to be a coach. Daughter Leslie recently graduated college with an accounting degree, and Ronnie says she occasionally comes to the credit union and helps out. “My father passed on the credit union lessons to me, and I’m passing them on to my children. People can’t borrow unless people deposit, it’s a full circle,” Ronnie says. Like his father who was instrumental in the formation of the Credit Union Association of New Mexico and was very active in all league activities including serving on the board, Ronnie too has been similarly involved – he is vice chairman of the CUANM Board. After watching his father manage Artesia CU for 30 years and leading it himself for the last 15 years, Ronnie in retrospect says the thing he’s most proud of is “no matter how large our credit union has grown, our philosophy has never changed. I still know most of the members by name and know their families. I’m proud of how the credit union has helped their families throughout the past 51 years. The credit union has been part of my life for as long as I can remember, and my folks taught me that the member comes first.” -

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