MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) – The country’s oldest credit union, St. Mary’s Bank, turned 100 this week.

A century ago, Manchester’s sprawling textile mills would soon employ nearly 20,000, and they needed somewhere to save and borrow sums of money that often were too small for banks to bother with.

The workers, many of them French-Canadian immigrants, had heard of new not-for-profit financial cooperatives in Canada, and decided to try one themselves. On Nov. 24, 1908, St. Mary’s Bank was born.

Started by Monsignor Pierre Hevey, its first office was in attorney Joseph Boivin’s (bo-VAN) apartment on Manchester’s West Side. Boivin, the credit union’s first president, let the organization use his space rent-free.

Initially, the all-volunteer staff conducted transactions during evening hours, but the credit union grew and moved to a larger building nearby in 1913.

By 1923, St. Mary’s assets had grown to more than $1 million. Six years later, the Great Depression began with a historic stock market crash.

Around the country, thousands of banks failed. In 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered a bank “holiday” right after being inaugurated to halt the panic and rush emergency legislation through Congress.

St. Mary’s stayed open during the bank holiday and continued to grow. In 1934, Roosevelt signed the Federal Credit Union Act, which officially authorized the formation of credit unions nationwide.

Later legislation gave credit union members the same level of federal deposit insurance as bank depositors.

Today, U.S. credit unions have more than 85 million members, including the nearly 60,000 members of St. Mary’s.

“You’ll still find St. Mary’s Bank very near the first office we ever had on the West Side of Manchester. Most important, we have the same ideals that led us to make history in 1908,” says Ronald Rioux, president and chief executive.

The New Hampshire Credit Union League has worked with St. Mary’s to celebrate the birth of the American credit union movement and to draw attention to credit unions. Rob Kimmett, the league’s senior vice president for marketing, said the state’s credit unions are doing well this year, bringing in more customers than last year and lending more money.

Rioux said having community roots has helped.

“For us, there has been no need to engage in the subprime lending you hear so much about and what really caused this whole ripple effect we are experiencing,” he said.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.