Appleton Historical Society Talk

by: Mike King
Appleton Historical Society.

CEO shares credit union’s story with Appleton Historical Society; presents surprise donation

Community First Credit Union officially began in 1975, but its roots in Appleton go back decades earlier with Appleton postal employees and one of the city’s largest employers.

It was 1930 when the Appleton Postal Credit Union was chartered and became just the 20th credit union in Wisconsin. In 1943, employees at Appleton’s Zwicker Knitting Mill received a charter as Zwickerknit Credit Union.
In February, Community First President/CEO Cathie Tierney was invited to talk about the credit union’s early days and Appleton connection as the featured speaker at a regular monthly meeting of the Appleton Historical Society.
She told how Community First founder Maury Dresang helped form the Outagamie County Employees Credit Union while working at the county highway department in 1953.
“He and 10 other county employees got together, threw in $10 each to start the Outagamie County Employees Credit Union,” Cathie said. “He ran it as a total volunteer operation for many, many years. He would go around to folks that worked for the county and collect deposits. When people needed a loan, they would come to him and he’d make a loan written on the deposit funds. He always said the nurses who worked at the Outagamie County sanitorium were net savers and the guys at the highway department were net borrowers. That’s how it all worked out.”
By the late 1960s, Dresang had made a name for himself among local credit unions as an astute businessman, and both the Zwickerknit and Appleton Postal credit unions turned to him for guidance. Recognizing an opportunity, in 1970 he started the Appleton Credit Union Service Center – the first of its kind in Wisconsin – by combining the resources of the three credit unions and offering regular office hours and professional service staff under his management. Originally located in the Blair Building on Wisconsin Avenue in Appleton, it soon moved to the former Dorn’s grocery store building that still serves as Community First’s Richmond Street branch today.
Within a few years of the center’s opening, other employer-based credit unions had joined. “It had never been done before,” Tierney said. “He had to go to the state of Wisconsin to get approval. Each of the credit unions was still a separate organization with its own directors and members but they shared a staff.”
In 1975, Dresang applied for and received a community charter for Appleton Community Credit Union.

A few years later, he successfully lobbied to change state law and orchestrated the largest merger in credit union history, convincing 12 separate boards of directors to merge into Appleton Community CU in February 1978. Three months later, it was renamed Appleton Area Credit Union and eventually as Community First Credit Union in August 1983.
Dresang retired as president/CEO in December 1993. He passed away in March 2019.
Tierney, who joined the credit union in 1976 and rose through the ranks to become chief executive in 1995, had a surprise for AHS officials at the conclusion of her presentation. She brought along a donation of $10,000 from Community First in honor of the historical organization’s 10th anniversary.

“It was a great turnout during a pretty nasty snowfall,” said AHS board member Christine Williams. Earlier, upon learning that the group was losing its monthly meeting venue, Tierney also offered AHS officials meeting space rent free in the Oneida branch that previously served as Community First’s home office. “It was an amazing night,” Williams said.
The funds, which were matched by a grant, will be used to help pay off the mortgage on the Appleton History Museum at 128 N. Durkee St.
“It was an unexpected honor,” said AHS secretary James Richter, a retired Appleton city employee who has been a Community First member-owner from the start. “Our board and volunteers have worked so hard our first ten years to bring Appleton history to the community as a whole.”
The donation and matching funds bring AHS to $78,806, closer to its $100,000 goal to pay off the museum debt and provide “a strong foundation for the Society’s efforts to preserve and share Appleton’s history,” said Attorney Tom Sutter, AHS president. “We are humbled by the support of Community First and many others in this fine community for our activities in reminding folks about Appleton’s past as we forge ahead into the future.”

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