Every branch has a story - A new blog series from Kevin
Here’s the story of how the credit union came into existence, and the location of our first “real” office.
Members often comment to me about the “great” location of a particular branch. They usually make the observation not as praise, but as wonderment. It’s like they assume the branch was placed in that location out of pure luck. In reality, nearly every branch MIDFLORIDA operates found its location out of patience, hard work, research and planning. This blog may not appeal to all members, but over the course of time it will chronicle the history of each of MIDFLORIDA’s branches. Enjoy. – Kevin Jones
The Journey Begins
In the 1950s, the US economy was booming and good-paying jobs were plentiful. The new middle class wanted to purchase cars, washing machines, and other modern conveniences. However, most banks did not make small-dollar consumer loans, and the rates on loans offered by finance companies were very high. The growing middle class needed a source of affordable credit, and for many, the answer was a credit union.
The Founding of MIDFLORIDA
MIDFLORIDA began in 1954 as a teacher’s credit union serving Polk County. The first manager of the credit union, Rebecca Keith, told me that the Polk County School Superintendent approached her, a young history teacher at the time, and asked if she would volunteer to manage a credit union. She had to ask him, “What is a credit union?” He explained it to her, and she told him that she wasn’t sure what she was getting into, but said she would try!
The first office of the credit union was actually the front porch of Ms. Keith’s home on Interlachen Parkway in Lakeland. If the members of the credit committee approved your loan, she would get the shoe box from under her bed and meet you on the front porch to disburse the loan. Once the credit union became more established, she asked the Superintendent for a proper office. He allowed her to use a small room in the basement of what was then Lakeland Senior High School (and is now Lawton Chiles Middle Academy).
After a few successful years, the credit union had reached the point where it could afford a real office. Ms. Keith went to the board and asked to purchase a house for sale on Gary Road, only about half a block from her home. The board agreed to buy the house and a small, Florida Cracker-Style house became MIDFLORIDA’s first true branch. The house was so small that the enclosed front porch was the “lobby,” and transactions were completed through an open window that faced the porch.
Years later, the credit union actually built a new office building, encapsulating the original house! The entire house is still inside the building and can only be seen from the attic of the new building.* For years, the old porch served as the credit union’s computer room, because it was the only room in the old cracker house that had a concrete floor.
For many members, “Gary Road” (as it was known), will always be the credit union’s main office. For me, the office symbolizes the nature of a credit union. I can picture a group of unpaid volunteers meeting at that little house to review and approve loan requests, all for the sole purpose of helping others achieve the American dream!
Check back soon for the next blog – “The Branch in the Swamp”
*Note: MIDFLORIDA still owns this building, however, it now serves as an extension of our corporate offices and houses several support departments.