How HFCU Has Become One With Its Local Community

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Call it Zen and the Art of Community Credit Unions, because Hermantown Federal Credit Union really is one with its community.

When HFCU expanded its community charter to include all of St. Louis County, the credit union that formerly served only the small town of Hermantown was determined to remember its roots.

"When we built this facility a few years ago, the board wanted it to fit with the community," said Doug Ralston marketing and public relations manager for the $55-million credit union. "Years ago, when times were tough, the community came together and built the Jackson Project, a housing project. It was essentially a bunch of little brick homes. Our building is a replica of the Jackson Project."

But it wasn't enough that the exterior of the building was an ode to a project-there was still the inside of the building to consider.

"Once again, I sat down with our CEO at a table, and he said, 'Wouldn't it be neat if we put up lots of old photos from the town,'" Ralston related. "At the time, there was no museum for the town's history, there was no historian or historical society. So we wrote a letter to the newspaper that they published asking the people of the town for any old photos they might have. We were deluged by the response."

The result: Hermantown Federal Credit Union has become the de facto history museum of Hermantown, Minn., and because of the credit union's efforts, the town now has a historical society, as well.

But it's not just the facility itself that is one with the community-so is its staff. "We have one woman here who will be celebrating 30 years with the credit union," Ralston boasted. "The average employee has worked here 15 years. They can tell you the stories behind all those photos. They are the community."

Of course, neither a credit union nor a community can survive on history alone, and HFCU's "off-the-beaten-path" approach to serving the community reflects that.

Take, for example, the Harley Davidson sitting in the lobby.

"We've got this Harley Davidson store near here, where we've set up a unique indirect lending program," he said. "Usually, when you walk into a Harley Davidson, you either have to bring the financing with you, or finance through Harley Davidson."

But HFCU struck a deal with the local Harley store so that now, the store also offers credit union financing.

HFCU's 15,000 members can also check out the working gas fireplace on display in the lobby. It's not just there because it gets cold in Minnesota.

Curtis Oil, a local company, has a whole variety of businesses from convenience stores and gas stations to its Hearth And Home stores, which offer gas fireplaces, stoves and other gas appliances. HFCU is the exclusive finance provider to the Hearth And Home division of Curtis Oil-and if a member wants to buy a gas fireplace like the one he saw at the credit union, bet you can guess where he can get a loan to buy it.

"We're not the typical credit union, that's for sure," Ralston suggested. "We're always just a little bit outside of the box."

And very much inside the heart of its community.

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