PUTNEY—In the nearly 65 years of its existence, the River Valley Credit Union has evolved from a card table with a cigar box for a cash drawer to a $60 million financial institution.
The latest step of that evolution came a couple of months ago, when the credit union bought the former Sawmill Country Store building on 52 Main St. at a cost of $300,000.
Over the next few months, the building will be renovated and turned into the credit union’s new Putney office. RCVU president and CEO Jeffrey Morse said they will be moving into the Sawmill by Thanksgiving.
“It was a good deal for us,” Morse said. “The building was available and had a good footprint. We looked at other places and decided this was in our best interest, and in the town’s best interest.”
While the largest part of River Valley’s operations is now in Brattleboro at its Putney Road branch, Morse said there was not any consideration about leaving Putney.
“Leaving Putney was never an option, not with this institution’s history and the support we have here,” he said.
A chance meeting
What was then known as the Putney Credit Union started in 1946, the product of a chance meeting at the Putney Co-op between Putney resident Julie Rosegrant and Roy Bergengren, an agent for credit union movement founder Edward Filene.
Filene, who owned the department store in Boston that bore his name, popularized the idea of local nonprofit financial cooperatives in the 1930s and hired Bergengren to spread the word.
Bergengren, a Dartmouth alumnus who owned a summer home in Montpelier, stopped in the Co-op and asked Rosegrant if she would be interested in starting up a credit union in Putney. She said yes, and Putney Credit Union was born.
Rosegrant, who died in 2006 at the age of 101, together with her husband Robert and other volunteers, started the credit union and it grew quickly. She eventually became its manager and spent much of the remainder of her life associated with the institution she helped create.
The credit union was located in the original Co-op building on Kimball Hill at the start. It later occupied a tiny building on 97 Main St., before settling into its present quarters on 79 Main St. in the early 1990s. Because it had grown to the point where it no longer just served Putney, it became River Valley Credit Union in 1998.
Morse said the credit union is renting its current building in Putney and that the owner of the building “had some other plans for it.” That provided the impetus for River Valley to look for a new location.
Morse said that since taking over as president and CEO in November 2005, River Valley has nearly doubled in size. Much of that growth, he said, has come in the past three years as the financial meltdown and recent bank mergers have prompted consumers to rediscover local institutions.
“We’ve been averaging about 11-13 percent growth each of the last three years,” he said. “People are sick of the big banks and want to bank locally.”
The credit union recently opened a branch in the Brattleboro Food Co-op. It also has branches in Bellows Falls, Townshend and Springfield.
Membership in the credit union is open to anyone who lives or works in Windham and Windsor counties in Vermont and Cheshire and Sullivan counties in New Hampshire.