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Waupaca celebrates members on 30th merger anniversary

Zwickers employee credit union later renamed Waupaca Area Credit Union prior to 1989 merger

Monday, December 9, 2019
Dodge Brooks has fond memories of his younger days visiting the corner of Royalton and 10th Street, the site of a popular A&W root beer stand.

But, since 1979, the corner lot has been occupied by a credit union.

Brooks was reminiscing this fall while enjoying a root beer float at the Community First Waupaca Branch during a Member Appreciation Day as part of the 30th anniversary celebration since the 1989 merger of Waupaca Area CU. “If you ordered a large root beer, it was 10 cents,” he said. “Small ones were a nickel. Hamburgers were a quarter.”

Waupaca Branch Manager Heidi Mauritz came up with the idea of serving root beer floats as a throwback to the past. A wall-mounted historical display in the branch’s main hallway also detailed the site’s history.

Our members enjoyed the root beer floats and learning more about the 30-year history with Community First,” said Heidi. “The historical wall display in the hallway also helps tell the earlier history involving the credit union that started in the former Zwicker Knitting plant just a couple blocks away.”

Pre-merger history
The Zwickers-Waupaca Credit Union was chartered in 1957. “We pooled our money together and we could borrow from each other,” said member-owner Betty Drath, who worked at the Zwicker plant in the early 1960s.

The credit union operated inside the Zwicker plant until obtaining a community charter in 1979 and changing its name to Waupaca Area CU. That prompted the purchase of the nearby former root beer stand-realty office as its first office and community branch.

Between 1979 and the 1989 merger with Community First, member-owner Nancy Helbach recalls visiting the small branch staffed by Alice Trinrud, president of the Waupaca Area Credit Union. “There were two small rooms and a bathroom,” Nancy said. “It was all by hand back then. It was all ledgers and calculators. Alice probably knew every member.”

When the newly-built Community First branch opened in September 1989, Pat Frechette, a member from Weyauwega, joined Alice as one of the original branch employees (between Alice Trinrud and Darci Kotter in the 1989 photo).

“It took a while for people to get used to having a community credit union because they weren’t very well informed,” said Pat, who retired as assistant branch manager in 2003. “If people asked me, I would say, ‘It’s not a bank; it’s member-owned. We have better dividend (savings) rates and can offer lower interest loans.’”

The community welcomed us with open arms,” said Darci (Wied) Kotter, the first Waupaca branch manager. “We had a lot of products and services, better hours and offered a lot of education, helping people meet their financial goals.

This remains true today three decades later.

“Community First found a way for us to refinance our home and manage all of our banking needs in one location,” said Member-Owner Heather Lyman. “We wanted to deal with people who were local themselves and knew the needs of the community. Community First was the perfect choice.”

The local presence continues to be important to Waupaca, said Terri Schultz, president, Waupaca Area Chamber of Commerce/Convention & Visitor Bureau. “With the help of Community First Credit Union, Waupaca continues to grow and prosper, making Waupaca a great place to live, work and visit.”

Did you know?
o   Zwickers-Waupaca Credit Union was organized by female employees in a first aid room in August 1957, less than a year after the Appleton-based Zwicker Knitting Mill built a new plant at Churchill and Columbian streets in Waupaca.

o   With the 1989 merger, the Waupaca branch became Community First’s fifth full-service branch and first location outside the Fox Cities.

o   For 29 years, part of the Waupaca teller staff has worked weekdays at Community First’s oldest nontraditional branch at the Wisconsin Veterans Home at King. Community First has operated a branch at the home since 1991 when it responded to a state bid request to provide financial services to veterans living there.

o   The Waupaca branch is a key location for the Community Blood Center, which holds blood drives there every eight weeks (5-6 times a year). Many of the donors are Community First member-owners and their life-saving contributions provide critical blood products to 17 hospitals throughout the region, including ThedaCare Medical Center-Waupaca. In 2018, nearly 200 units of blood were collected.



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