Loan Officer Develops Specialty In Making Loans To Amish, Mennonites

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Co-workers at Farm Bureau Credit Union here call Vera Rudolph the "Friend of the Amish."

A loan officer for the $375-million CU, based in nearby Goshen and serving 40,000 members, has approved loans since 1991 for a unique field of membership that includes Old Order Amish and Old Order Mennonites, both with lifestyles that forbid the use of such modern conveniences as electricity, televisions and telephones.

"When you think of Amish, you think of somebody that drives a horse and buggy or has a beard and wears plain clothing," she said. "There are Old Order Amish and Old Order Mennonites with much this same lifestyle."

She said they've borrowed money for everything from skid loaders and expensive cookware to buggies and construction supplies for duck houses and farms.

"I even loaned money to one young fella who wanted to pay for his wedding," she said, explaining that the bride's father had recently left the church. "If the father had financed it, nobody would have been allowed to attend the reception."

But, unlike the typical loan officer who waits for the business to come to her, Rudolph makes house calls, barn calls, whatever it takes, she said, to keep her members happy.

"On my way home tonight, I'll stop and get two signatures," she said. "One for a family that applied for a loan over the phone, the other for an older couple that wants to sign power of attorney over to their grandson."

Rudolph said she her morning route to work includes stops at Amish and Mennonite-run businesses such as a produce auction, a fabric warehouse and a grocery store where she collects weekly deposits.

"I guess you could say I'm an extra-miler," Rudolph said. "But to me this is all natural. It's just what we do (as a credit union) for our community."

She said that these members have come to trust her, even ask for her by name.

"I very much understand their lifestyle and the way they do business," she said. "So, I have many, many members come in for a loan, then tell their relatives to come in and ask for Vera."

She said she has never had a problem with her Amish and Mennonite clientele. In fact, she boasted that the credit union branch has a "non-existent" delinquency rate.

"We are a rural community so our delinquency overall is so low it's off the screen," she said. "But, with this group in particular, there is no delinquency. We have no problems making loans to our Amish and Mennonite members."

She said while most have church insurance to back loans for bigger purchases such as homes and farmland, a special lending product was created for those who wanted better fixed rates.

"If we are going to give them a fixed-rate loan and put it on the secondary market, they have to have outside insurance," she said. For those who can't get that outside insurance for whatever reasons, she said, the CU designed a non-conforming balloon loan that accepts the church insurance and gives them a fixed rate for seven to 10 years.

"When that loan matures, we can just rewrite it," Rudolph said, explaining that it works well in communities that tend to sell and split their properties again and again to accommodate extended families.

Rudolph, who has been involved in agriculture lending since 1980, said she loves her work.

"I guess because it's new everyday," she said. "You just never know what's going to come up next."

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