“…if you reflect back to when we opened our doors in October 1949, with only $1,211 in Assets and 34 Members.”
– 1st Nor Cal Annual Report 2018
Humble beginnings. 34 members deposited an average $35.61 each to start what was then known as Contra Costa County Employees Federal Credit Union. Our Credit Union started in the County Sheriff’s department when the sheriff dropped a shoebox with $1,211 on the desk of his secretary, Elinor Aljets, and asked her to start a credit union. Credit unions were still new in the United States, being created in 1934 to promote credit for people of modest means. The Federal Credit Union Act, signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was the result of many of the banks failing due to the Great Depression and the remaining banks that would only lend to their rich friends who ran corporations.
Our newly-formed Credit Union had no office and no paid employees. Mrs. Aljets conducted business and bookkeeping chores from her Sheriff’s office desk job. Her first piece of furniture was an orange crate. Borrowing would often exceed available funds. So, the Credit Union would have to borrow which was common in those early days.
In 1951, the Credit Union hired their first full-time paid employee and moved into a room in the old Curry home on Escobar and Pine Streets in downtown Martinez. Two years later, the office moved again to a small enclosure in the then county car pool garage at 725 Ward Street and a second paid employee was hired. It was also during 1953 hand posting gave way to a Burroughs bookkeeping machine.
In 1955, the office moved to the Martinez Veteran’s Memorial Hall at 930 Ward Street, but in early 1962 the Board of Directors started the process of constructing their own building. That building at 1111 Pine Street, which is still our main administrative headquarters and branch, opened on July 12, 1965.
The first non-county employees from the city of Martinez were admitted for membership in 1959. From 1970 to 2004, employees of other cities and county districts were allowed to join the Credit Union. What was notable during this time period was that two of those city employee groups, El Cerrito and Richmond, came from a merger of their credit unions. To reflect the expansion to city employee groups, the Credit Union was renamed Contra Costa Federal Credit Union. Our first branch office was opened in Richmond in 1972. Subsequent branch offices were opened in Martinez at the Muir Station Shopping Center, Antioch, and Benicia.
In 2005, the Credit Union received a special Trade, Industry or Profession charter from the National Credit Union Administration, which regulates all federal credit unions and insures 99% of all credit unions nationally, to expand to city, county, state, and school employees in Contra Costa, Alameda, and Solano Counties. A third merger in 2014 added Pittsburg city and school employees.
2016 was a watershed year. Membership growth had flattened, and the Board of Directors had a decision to make: Either be acquired by a credit union and lose our identity, or expand the charter to include the local east bay community and maintain the Credit Union’s independence and uniqueness. The Board voted for independence, and we became 1st Northern California Credit Union (“1st Nor Cal” for marketing purposes).
1st Nor Cal turns 70 years old this month and is stronger than ever. Other than a couple of name changes and the addition of new membership groups, branches and services, we’re operating pretty much the same as we did in 1949. From day 1, we have been laser focused on member service, and 70 years later, nothing has changed. We live by the philosophy “People Helping People” every day. With the hundreds of decisions our staff makes daily, not every member will agree with every decision. However, we are always willing to listen to members’ concerns and have made many changes over the years based on your valuable input.
We started from humble beginnings with a shoebox and an orange crate and now have five offices and 75 employees serving our 30,000 members. That is a lot to be proud of. Happy Birthday, and thanks to all of you who have made this Credit Union a success.