Eight Cummins Engine Co. employees pooled their resources 75 years ago to create a financial institution in Columbus so fellow employees would have access to credit. That was timely and significant because the United States in 1940 was just emerging from a decade-long economic downturn known as the Great Depression.

What they formed was Cummins Employees Federal Credit Union, now known as Centra Credit Union. The credit union’s charter was granted 75 years ago today.

Columbus-based Centra has expanded over the years, from serving only Cummins employees to now residents in more than half of Indiana’s counties, plus select communities in Kentucky, New York and North Carolina. The Louisville metro area was added this year.

“Our 75 years is owed to our member base and the communities we serve. We’re here because of that,” said Chris Bottorff, Centra’s interim president, who also serves as president of the company’s southern region. “We’ve tried to make sure we have all the products and services they need.”

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Centra is working to enhance financial products and services for members, while also looking for opportunities to grow, he said.

Three years ago, Centra created its charitable arm, the Centra Foundation, as a way to better serve its communities by providing grants to nonprofit organizations, financial literacy programs and educational scholarships.

“The stronger the community is, the stronger the credit union is,” Bottorff said.

Centra has been celebrating its anniversary throughout the year, including member-appreciation weeks when it provided cookies or small gifts to thank people for being customers.

On Friday, employees at Centra branches dressed up for a Halloween costume contest and handed out trick-or-treat goodies, said Chrissy Mueller, a marketing and communications specialist.

Centra also has been collecting the stories about its customers to use in promotional campaigns.

Columbus resident Toni Held has been a Centra member for about 10 years and said her experiences have been positive.

“When I’ve had a questions, somebody always will sit down and talk to me. I like that they have multiple branches, which makes them easy to get to,” she said.

Held added that she likes the service Centra provides because the personal touch.

“I don’t feel like I am a number,” she said.

Philanthropic support

Held’s appreciation for Centra has contributed to her supporting several Centra Foundation programs. Two years ago she donated $100 to its Holiday Giving Program, which provides gifts for people registered for the Salvation Army Angel Tree program. Last year, Held contributed $100 to the Loretta M. Burd Scholarship program, named after the person who led Centra as chief executive officers for 25 years.“That appealed to me as an educator,” said Held, a teacher/librarian at Columbus North High School, regarding the scholarship program.Held said she also plans to donate to the Holiday Giving Program again this year.

“It’s nice to know you’re helping someone in some way in the community,” she said.

Working with members to make a difference in the community is a goal of the Centra Foundation, said its president, Lyn Morgan.

The foundation receives $75,000 annually from the credit union but also seeks donations to increase its philanthropic funding pool.

“Centra does try to engage members and the community in supporting these efforts and make a difference in the community,” Morgan said.

The Holiday Giving Program raised more than $12,000 last year to provide gifts for children registered for the Angel Tree program, she said.

In the past few weeks, the Centra Foundation awarded a $5,000 grant to Columbus nonprofit Sans Souci, which sells everything from discounted furniture to clothing. That money is being applied toward the cost of remodeling existing space and creating the agency’s Study and Education Center, said Erika Hefler, Sans Souci’s assistant director.

Sans Souci intentionally works with its employees to increase educational attainment and improve financial literacy skills so that they can transition to greater opportunities, Hefler said. About 50 employees will complete that education in a given year, she said.

The Centra Foundation grant will help furnish the Study and Education Center with computers and computer desks, a TV or projector for multi-media needs, and furniture, Hefler said.

“If it weren’t for foundations like Centra, nonprofits couldn’t do the things we do,” said Sheryl Adams, Sans Souci’s executive director.

About Centra Credit Union
  • The credit union’s charter was approved and granted on Oct. 31, 1940.
  • Founded by eight Cummins Engine Co. employees: Howard L. Freeman, Walter Hardin, George S. Gedges, Orville Horning, George Schaub, Marvin Hogan, Lester Adams and Stanley Sharon.
  • Originally named Cummins Employees Federal Credit Union. Members had to work for Cummins or be related to a Cummins employee. That requirement no longer exists.
  • The name changed to Centra Federal Credit Union in 1995 to reflect the organization’s growth and diversity. It changed to Centra Credit Union in 1997.
  • Headquarters located in Columbus.
  • Has a total of 22 physical locations in 11 Indiana counties — including Bartholomew, Jennings and Jackson — plus Cummins Inc. plants in Jamestown, New York, and Whitakers, North Carolina.
  • Also authorized to provide business services to residents from 50 additional Indiana counties and seven Kentucky counties.
  • Provides personal and business financial services.
  • Has about 130,000 members.
  • Employs more than 300 people.
  • Has assets of more than $1.2 billion.

About Centra Foundation
  • The charitable arm of Centra Credit Union, created in 2012 as a public foundation.
  • Provides financial support to not-for-profit organizations that serve communities where Centra Credit Union members and employees live and/or work.
  • Provides financial literacy programs for second-graders and high school students in Bartholomew, Jennings, Jackson, Decatur, Clark, Floyd, Jefferson and Shelby counties.
  • The Loretta M. Burd Scholarship Program awards 10 $1,000 scholarships annually to Centra members who are pursuing two- or four-year degrees.
  • Works with community organizations to address pressing community needs.
  • Provides support to Centra communities in the event of a disaster.

About credit unions

In the United States, credit unions are not-for-profit organizations that exist to serve their members rather than to maximize corporate profits. Like banks, credit unions accept deposits, make loans and provide a wide array of other financial services. But as member-owned institutions, credit unions focus on providing a safe place to save and borrow at reasonable rates. Unlike banks, credit unions return surplus income to their members in the form of dividends.

Here are some credit union milestones.

1849: Friedrich Raiffeisen, pioneer of rural credit unions, started his first credit society in southern Germany.

1864: Raiffeisen establishes first rural cooperative lending institution, in effect the first rural credit union.

1900: Alphonse Desjardins imports the idea of cooperative financial institutions from Europe to Canada, where he co-founded Caisse d’épargne Desjardins in Lévis, Quebec. The organization was a forerunner of current North American credit unions.

1908: Edward Filene, known for building the Filene’s department store chain, and Massachusetts banking commissioner Pierre Jay helped organize public hearings on creating credit union legislation in Massachusetts.

1909: Desjardins forms the first credit union in the United States in New Hampshire. The first U.S. credit union law is passed in Massachusetts with aid from Desjardins and Filene. The Massachusetts Credit Union Act of 1909 was the first comprehensive credit union law in the United States, and would serve as a model for the Federal Credit Union Act of 1934.

June 1934: President Roosevelt signs the FCU Act, which authorizes federally chartered credit unions in all states. The Federal Credit Union Division is placed within the Farm Credit Administration.

1977: Laws allow credit unions to begin offering new services, including mortgage lending and share certificates.

1980s: Credit unions are able to be more flexible in accepting members and can offer increased services to their members.

Source: mycreditunion.gov

Columbus area Centra Credit Union locations

Columbus

  • 2020 26th Street; 812-378-5962
  • 1430 National Road; 812-376-9771
  • 2165 Jonathan Moore Pike; 812-376-7661
  • 601 Union St.; 812-372-8811
  • 2010 West County Road 450 S.; 812-342-4403

Edinburgh

  • 11700 N. U.S. 31; 812-376-9979

North Vernon

  • 975 Veterans Drive; 812-346-9596

Seymour

  • 520 S. Jackson Park Drive; 812-523-3230

Corporate headquarters

  • 3801 Tupelo Drive, Columbus
  • 800-232-3642
  • centra.org
Author photo
Kirk Johannesen is assistant managing editor of The Republic. He can be reached at johannesen@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5639.