Celebrate the WESTconsin Journey!
Posted: December 19, 2019
WESTconsin Credit Union originally known as Menomonie’s Farmers Credit Union was originally established in 1939 to serve members and patrons of the local Farmers Union Co-op. We still have a large membership population that are farmers but we have since grown to include many backgrounds, careers and age groups. We are going to be taking a journey down the yellow brick road of WESTconsin’s history, be sure to check back as we add to the timeline!
On December 5, 1938, Chris Hovland, William Millar, Jr., J.C. Martinson, Stewart L. Gevne, Edward Torgerson, Harold E. Martinson, and Jean Long signed Articles of Incorporation, applying for a charter for the Menomonie Farmers Credit Union.
Apply for a Charter
On January 12, 1939, the Articles of Incorporation of this credit union were approved and filed with the State Banking Department in Madison, Wisconsin. The above people, along with a few others, made modest deposits in the credit union that totaled about $2,000.
Articles of Incorporation
Ruth Ann (Gilberts) Kelley sent this message upon receiving the January-June 2019 $MARTLIVING Member Connection Newsletter. "The home pictured on the front of the newsletter is where I grew up, and the credit union became part of our family. The sign in the yard brought back many memories of that very dynamic time. Little did we know that those late-nite and dinner-time phone calls, the Sunday-afternoon drop-ins, and often-interrupted family pastimes would end up as a multi-million-dollar enterprise serving so many people in WESTconsin! We even had to give away our little Cocker Spaniel, Bootie, because she barked and peed at each new arrival!
Memories from Ruth Ann, Art Gilberts' Daughter
The legend we learned was that Dad (Arthur Gilberts) had brought the credit union home in a cigar box!
While I am deeply grateful for the work of the credit union in home-town Menomonie and the surrounding towns, I am truly touched by the honor of remembrance. May WESTconsin Credit Union continue to grow and prosper, along with your members."
November 1, 1949
Art managed the credit union from his own home until 1953. The front porch was remodeled and a sign put up saying "Credit Union Office". Assets at the time were just over $21,000.
Art Gilberts Hired as First Full-Time Manager
By 1953, the credit union had grown to over $365,000 in assets and the Board of Directors decided the credit union should have its own office. Office space was rented one-half block off Main Street in downtown Menomonie at 712 5th Street.
Credit Union on the Move!
Menomonie Farmers Credit Union has grown to nearly $4 million in assets, and is now on the move again. This time, it's to the first building it built and owned, at 426 South Broadway in Menomonie.
On the Road Again
The 1970s were ushered in with the first savings deposit insurance for Wisconsin credit union members. Member’s deposits were insured by the Wisconsin Credit Union Savings Insurance Corporation.
Savings Deposit Insurance
Share CertificatesIn the early 1970s, share certificates were added, giving members more savings options.
Line-of-credit LoansLine-of-credit loans were also added in the 1970s.
By 1973, the credit union assets totaled $11 million.
With Menomonie Farmers Credit Union's (MFCU) continued growth and success, other credit unions in the area turned to MFCU to merge for greater strength and to save credit union service in their communities. Falls Credit Union in River Falls merged with MFCU in December 1974.
River Falls Merger
The credit union had by this time more than outgrown its space and had over $14 million in assets. An addition was constructed at the Broadway office. The second floor was rented out to four tenants, and MFCU occupied the remainder of the space.
Addition to Menomonie Office
Noted in the Menomonie Farmers Credit Union Newsletter: The weather that preceded the 38th Annual Meeting of the Menomonie Farmers Credit Union was about as bad as any endured this past winter. In spite of bad roads and a lousy weather forecast, 260 members attended the Credit Union's most important annual function. That year the attendance gift consisted of "a manicure set that can be carried in a purse or pocket". Board of Directors members that year were Chairman, Dean Ormson; Vice-Chairman, Robert Marine; Treasurer, John Miller; Secretary, L.C. "Pete" Hendrikson; Neil Fellrath and Dennis Olson.
38th Annual Meeting
The River Falls office outgrew their space and broke ground on a brand new space during the summer of 1978. The office was completed and opened to the public in early 1979.
River Falls Office Move
Barron MergerBarron Credit Union merges with Menomonie Farmers Credit Union.
Amery OfficeAlong with their office in Barron, the Barron Credit Union also had an office in Amery. This office joined Menomonie Farmers Credit Union as well.
Baldwin MergerSt. Croix Co-op Credit Union in Baldwin merged with Menomonie Farmers Credit Union.
By the Winter Newsletter Menomonie Farmers Credit Union had made Traveler's Cheques available at the Menomonie office. They were available at the other offices soon after. Noted in the Newsletter: Traveler's Cheques are important when traveling and the American Express Traveler's Cheques are readily accepted around the world. They have a unique refund system for lost cheques which make it possible to get an easy, convenient refund any day of the year including weekends and holidays, here and abroad, even at night, across America.
Baldwin Office RemodeledThe Menomonie Farmers Credit Union Baldwin office was remodeled during the fall and winter.
Continued GrowthBy December 1980, the credit union had assets of $29.9 million.
January 19, 1981
Art Gilberts Day was held at Menomonie Farmers Credit Union on January 19, 1981. Members could stop in and have a cup of coffee with Art that day. A Retirement Toast and Roast was also held for Art at the Stout Commons the Friday before. Excerpt from Art's President's message: I have enjoyed working with the Menomonie Farmers Credit Union during the past 38 years. It has been a real thrill to see it grow from a $2,000.00 Credit Union to the $30 million Credit Union we have today.
Art Gilberts Day
Robert J. Wilson was named to succeed Arthur C. Gilberts who retired on January 22, 1981. Bob joined the Credit Union in 1958 after four years in the Air Force and three years with a consumer finance corporation. He was named assistant manager (Vice President) in 1962. Greg Lentz succeeds Wilson as Vice President, and James F. Mense and Gilbert Christianson were both appointed Assistant Vice Presidents.
Robert J. Wilson Succeeds Arthur C. Gilbert
Amery Office ImprovementsThe Menomonie Farmers Credit Union office in Amery received some exterior facelifting. Then the interior was spruced up as well.
Operations OfficerPresident Bob Wilson announced the appointment of Leo Schindler to the newly created post of Operations Officer. His responsibilities consisted of policy regulation compliance, documentation, staff training, security, and assisting in overseeing the data processing function including computer program updating and changes.
Share Draft AccountsMenomonie Farmers Credit Union added another service, Share Draft Accounts. These looked like checks and were used like checks. They earned 6% per annum quarterly interest on a low monthly share draft balance. This eliminated the need to move funds from one account to another to earn interest on the balance. Paychecks could also be deposited into a share draft account. Along with this, ready reserve line-of-credit loans were added to cover checking account overdrafts.
Direct DepositDirect deposit, promoted for the first time to its members in the 1980s, quickly expanded into a convenient way for members to do business at the credit union. "The no wait way to deposit money" was now available to members. "You'll never have to worry again about lost or stolen payments because each one is safely forwarded to your credit union. But best of all, direct deposit means convenience. You'll never stand in another teller line again."
By 1986 thousands of credit union members had taken advantage of Menomonie Farmers Credit Union MasterCard and Visa credit cards services.
Credit Cards are Introduced
Northwest St. Croix Credit Union in New Richmond merges with Menomonie Farmers Credit Union in September.
New Richmond Merger
ATM AccessTYME machines called automatic teller machines (ATMs) become available providing access to members' money 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Up to three transactions per day were allowed with a maximum withdraw of $200 per day.
Wisconsin credit unions saw a major change in 1985 when the Legislature passed a law requiring all credit unions in Wisconsin to become federally insured. The change assured the safety of credit union deposits. It also subjected Wisconsin credit unions to added regulations.
IRAs and Money Market AccountsIn 1985, Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) and insured money market accounts were offered.
In 1989, U.S. Savings Bonds became available.
U.S. Savings Bonds
Name Changes to WESTconsin Credit Union
Over the years, as we merged with other small credit unions in the area, our field of membership grew to include virtually all occupations in 14 counties across western Wisconsin. In the summer of 1990, we recognized this growth by changing our name to WESTconsin Credit Union. This change was made to recognize the diversity of the membership and the various communities served throughout western Wisconsin.
In July 1990, the credit union started offering fixed rate mortgage loans through CUNA and WHEDA; then in 1992, the credit union was approved to sell mortgage loans through Fannie Mae.
Account Access by Phone was Introduced
CUTELE was introduced making it possible for members to access their accounts from home, work or even when traveling—24 hours-a-day, 7 days-a-week from their touch-tone telephone. After filling out an application, members would receive a PIN by mail and they were set to check balances and deposits, transfer funds between accounts, verify that checks have cleared, and make loan payments. In 1996, CUTELE was updated and renamed CALL-24, offering enhanced options.
Saturday Hours Became Available
Saturday hours were added at the Menomonie and River Falls offices realizing that for some people Saturday may be the only time they can get to an office. The Saturday hours provided full services including loans.
Gregory A. Lentz Succeeds Robert J. Wilson
Gregory A. Lentz was named to succeed Robert J. Wilson who retired on October 1, 1993. Greg joined the Credit Union in 1974 as a Loan Officer, after serving one year as a management trainee for a finance company. He became Vice President in 1981. Further growth of WESTconsin Credit Union resulted in the addition of two people to the management team. Corporate officers were: Greg Lentz, President; Lora Benrud, Vice President, Human Resources & Member Services; Sharron Buss, Vice President, Finance & Information Systems; Jay Fahl, Vice President, Marketing and Sales; Leo Schindler, Vice President, Consumer/Agricultural Lending and Collections; and Mike Schmitz, Vice President, Branch Operations and Real Estate Lending.
A satellite office was opened on the UW-River Falls campus in September 1994.
Downtown-Menomonie Location Remodeled
In 1994, the leases of the renters on the second floor were terminated, the credit union building was completely remodeled and WESTconsin Credit Union now occupied the entire building.
A Plan America, now known as WESTconsin Investment Advisors, representative was added in 1994.
Four Counties in Minnesota are Added to Membership Field
The membership field expanded into four eastern Minnesota counties - Goodhue, Dakota, Chisago, and Washington. With these additions the field of membership totaled 14 counties in Wisconsin and 4 in Minnesota.
A new office location was opened on the northern side of Menomonie to better serve our members.
UW-Stout Alumni Association
In 1995, the credit union bylaws were amended to accept members of UW-Stout Alumni Association as members of the credit union.
Credit Card Scenic Designs
Scenic credit cards were introduced. One version was taken from the observation tower in Hoffman Hills State Recreation Area near Menomonie. The other had a farm scene taken by Mary Jean Raile of Menomonie and was the winning entry in the Picture WESTconsin photo contest.
WESTconsin Credit Union Scholarship
WESTconsin Credit Union congratulated the first group of WESTconsin Credit Union Scholarship recipients! We are happy to be able to continue to award scholarships each year.
UW-River Falls Alumni Association
The summer of 1997 welcomed the addition of UW-River Falls Alumni Association members as members of the credit union.
The WEST Check Card (debit card) was introduced in January 1998.
Business Loan Department Expands
In 1999, the business loan department was expanded and a fleet representative was added.
Sharron Buss Retires
2000 brought the retirement of Sharron Buss. The management team was restructured as follows: Greg Lentz, President; Lora Benrud, Vice President – Finance; Jay Fahl, Vice President – Marketing; Leo Schindler, Vice President – Lending; and Mike Schmitz, Vice President – Operations.
Our Service Center was created to more conveniently and efficiently help our members.
In 2000, WESTconsin Credit Union assets topped the $250 million mark and construction began on the East office in Menomonie, to house the administration offices and a member service area.
Menomonie—East Office and Administrative Center
The East Menomonie Financial Service and Administrative Center is completed to support the growing needs in all of our communities.
Volunteer Club and Travel Club
Both the WESTconsin Volunteer Club and the WESTconsin Travel Club were introduced.
WESTconsin Credit Union Online
In 2001, WESTconsin Credit Union members are able to access accounts safely and easily over the internet through WESTconsin Credit Union Online available through our website, westconsincu.org. With WESTconsin Credit Union Online, members are able to view account balance and history, transfer funds and set-up automatic transfers between WESTconsin Credit Union accounts and more. Online bill payment is also available.
WESTconsin Credit Union added the Membership Value Pricing (MVP) program August 1, 2002. MVP rewards members who use WESTconsin Credit Union as their primary financial institution and maintain significant deposits and balances on loans, with rate and fee discounts, higher certificate rates, and other benefits.
Express loans are offered, a Member Education and Resource Library added, and an on-staff Credit Counselor is available to work with members who want help and guidance on a range of issues – from budgeting or managing a checking account, to developing a plan to get out of debt.
Business Loan Services Expands
Business loan services expanded with the addition of an experienced loan officer to serve the New Richmond, Amery and Baldwin areas.
A new full service facility in Hudson opened in 2004.
Assets totaled more than $436 million.
Credit Card Online Access
Members are able to obtain information about WESTconsin Credit Union Visa Credit Cards in 2004 securely online. The credit information included recent transactions of the month and the last three statements. These statements can be downloaded to a money management program, and WESTconsin Credit Union Visa bills can be paid online.
WESTconsin Realty, LLC
This year also welcomed the debut of WESTconsin Realty, LLC which was established to assist members and potential members with the entire home buying and selling experience.
Roy F. Bergengren Award for High Achievement
The CUNA Mutual Group, the credit unions movement’s primary insurance provider, presented WESTconsin Credit Union with the 2004 Roy F. Bergengren Award for High Achievement for our community focus, quality service to members, and involvement with the credit union system.
Business of the Year
WESTconsin is named the 2004 Business of the Year by the Greater Menomonie Area Chamber of Commerce and nominated for a similar award in River Falls.
Field of Membership Expands
In 2005, WESTconsin Credit Union had the opportunity to expand its field of membership to 14 counties in Wisconsin and 4 counties in Minnesota. Assets totaled more than $462 million.
WESTconsin Credit Union redesigned their website to add more information and be more user-friendly. Secure email forms, financial information and resources, the community events calendar, and more were added. Online banking, bill payment, and loan applications continued to be available 24 hours a day.
WESTconsin Credit Union Logo is Updated
After the original logo served WESTconsin Credit Union well for sixteen years, in 2006 the logo was updated. The new logo is a reflection of WESTconsin Credit Union’s presence in the community and in the lives of our members. The blue and green swirl design (an abstract of the hills and rivers of the region) represents our members’ affection for the geographical area in which we live. The continuous motion of the swirls indicates that members are encouraged to visit WESTconsin Credit Union for financial needs throughout all stages of their lives. Assets totaled more than $485 million.
Kidz Credit Union
In 2006, WESTconsin Credit Union opened its first Kidz Credit Union located in the Menomonie Middle School. WESTconsin Credit Union is highly involved in teaching financial literacy to youth and offers several classroom and interactive programs for use in schools.
Our newly constructed office in Amery was also opened in 2006.
WESTconsin Credit Union's Spring Valley Office opened. More than 250 attendees including the Wisconsin Guernsey Princess and Spring Valley Royalty enjoyed the open house.
In September of 2007 WESTconsin Credit Union opened an office in Prescott. At that time it was our southern-most location.
Menomonie High School Credit Union
In continuing our commitment to education, our first high school credit union office opened in the fall of 2008 in Menomonie High School. Other high school offices opened is subsequent years including River Falls in 2009, Hudson and New Richmond in 2010, Amery in 2013, and Baldwin in 2018. River Falls and Hudson have since closed but we continue to assist with financial education as it fits.
In order for WESTconsin Credit Union to meet members’ requests, the highly anticipated e-Statements were available to members in 2008.
School Supply Drives
Youth education remains an important focus of WESTconsin Credit Union. Since 2008, WESTconsin offices have been participating in local School Supply Drives benefitting students in need.
WESTconsin Scholarship Program
The WESTconsin Scholarship Program awards $1,000 scholarships to graduating seniors from communities served by our offices. We also sponsor many hands-on financial literacy resources available to students, parents and educators through our Student $avers services.
WESTconsin offices receive numerous community awards in 2008. River Falls received Chamber of Commerce 2008 Business of the Year. New Richmond Office Manager and Supervisor were chosen as Chamber Members of the Year. They were praised for their extensive community involvement and volunteer efforts. Julie Moe, in Prescott, was selected as Chamber Member of the Year.
Asset growth continued during 2008, reaching $576 million and serving over 60,000 members.
In 2009, WESTconsin Credit Union celebrated 70 years of service with year-end assets climbing to $646 million and $702 million in 2010.
In 2009, WESTconsin Credit Union launched a social media presence on Facebook, Twitter and company blog. Efforts are continued to connect with our members and the public through social media applications that drive engagement and interaction while promoting our products and services.
In 2010, ACCEL Members Financial Counseling was made available to provide our members with access to financial education and counseling services.. These services are free to all WESTconsin Credit Union members.
In 2011, WESTconsin Credit Union receives national recognition from CUNA for outstanding marketing achievements with the ‘We Can Count on WESTconsin’ – Member Stories campaign.
Outstanding Service Award
Robert (Bob) Casey received the Outstanding Service Award by UW-River Falls in 2011.
In 2011, WESTconsin Credit Union purchased land in Eau Claire for a new office. The new Eau Claire office opened during the summer of 2012.
To accommodate employee growth, plans were set for an addition onto the Menomonie-East office to house our Service Center and new training facilities. The Menomonie-East addition opened during the summer of 2012.
Bonus Dividends and Interest Refunds
Assets for 2012 reached $825 million. Because of the significant amount of income the credit union accumulated in 2012, WESTconsin’s Board of Directors moved to return nearly $1 million back to our membership in the form of bonus dividends and interest refunds.
Mike Schmitz Retires
The retirement of Mike Schmitz, Chief Operations Officer, brought Jim Wookey, then Hudson Office Vice-President, to Menomonie to replace Mike.
WESTconsin Title Services, LLC
We also acquired Schrader Title to create a new CUSO company, WESTconsin Title Services, LLC.
Due to increasing demands for greater convenience and anywhere access to accounts and banking services, Mobile Banking is introduced in 2012. The new service enables members the ability to access balances, history, transfers and bill payment from mobile devices that have web browser capabilities. A mobile web version of our website is also launched, shortly followed with the release of a Mobile App.
Budget or Bust, a youth board game developed by WESTconsin employees, receives a Diamond Best of Show Award from CUNA in 2012.
Corporate Team Grows
Early in 2013, we added two more officers to the corporate team. Niki Yarrington was added as Chief Talent Officer and Mike Tomasek as Chief Information Officer. We now have Greg Lentz - Chief Executive Officer, Lora Benrud - Chief Financial Officer, Jim Wookey – Chief Operations Officer, Jay Fahl – Chief Marketing Officer, and Leo Schindler – Chief Lending Officer.
Amery High School Credit Union
WESTconsin Credit Union expanded their high school presence by opening another high school location at the Amery High School. On October 4, 2013 the Amery Community Club, along with the school district and credit union representatives conducted a ribbon cutting ceremony celebrating the occasion.
The mortgage lending department expanded to offer services to members at our Menomonie-East office. In the fall, mobile deposit services began plus the business department started to offer business payroll and credit card payment processing.
WESTconsin was awarded the Certificate of Achievement from the USDA.
In 2014, WESTconsin continued to grow community ties by merging with Valley Credit Union located in Chippewa Falls and opening a new office in Ellsworth.
Lora Benrud Succeeds Gregory A. Lentz
Lora Benrud becomes Chief Executive Officer in August and Jerilyn Kinderman replaces her as the new Chief Financial Officer. WESTconsin net worth at this point is just over $100 million.
75th Anniversary & Kindness Counts
Kindness counts and in honor of our 75th anniversary in 2014, WESTconsin Credit Union celebrated with the theme of Kindness Counts-Pass it on! This theme sparked the Kindness Counts campaign. A couple times a year the credit union has a day to give back to the community and asks members to share kindness like confetti.
Advances in technology allowed WESTconsin to start using electronic signatures or eSignatures to process members' consumer lending needs.
New Chief Lending Officer
2015 brought changes to our corporate team and the credit union welcomed Mark Willer to the team as the Chief Lending Officer.
More technology allowed WESTconsin to offer EMV chip Platinum Visa Credit Cards to help members with fraud security while using their cards in 2015. WESTconsin also offered other conveniences to members through home banking and bill payment, as well as mobile payment and mobile deposit on smart phones and tablets.
Net worth in 2015 rises to over $117 million with a net income of over $14 million.
WESTconsin reached 5,000 likes on our Facebook page.
WESTconsin Title Services Moves
In 2016, WESTconsin Title Services moves into a new office building on South Broadway in Menomonie.
Chief Experience Officer
Jay Fahl transitions from Chief Marking Officer to Chief Experience Officer.
Platinum Million Dollar Lender
WESTconsin received the USDA Rural Development Award as a Platinum Million Dollar Lender. This award is presented each year to lenders who have partnered with, and made significant contribution to, supporting Wisconsin rural residents looking to become homeowners through the USDA Guaranteed Rural Housing (GRH) Program. Business Loans & Services also worked to approve QuickBooks to work with Business Online Banking in 2016.
Employee fundraising efforts reached $55,000.
By 2017, it was time to provide another location to better serve our members in the Eau Claire and Altoona communities. The Altoona office was opened in April as our fourteenth office location. By the end of the year that office was already serving over 700 new members.
Hudson underwent a renovation in order to better serve our members.
$MART Financial Literacy
2017 brought some changes to our youth financial educational programs. In April, the credit union released their new branding, $MART Financial Literacy. $MART stands for Supporting Financial literacy within our communities, Mentoring credit union members and members of the community on their financial journey, Advocating for credit unions and financial literacy, Relationship-building with credit union members, educators, parents and members of the community, and Teaching credit union members of the community about finance. This included three levels, $MART Start for youth and teens, $MART Future for high school through young adulthood, and $MART Living for adults through retirees. Our high school offices also became known as $MARTCUs or $MART Credit Unions. This program also received a Diamond Award from CUNA.
SBA Express Delegated Lender
On the business side of the credit union, the approval of a two-year renewal as an SBA Express delegated lender was announced.
New Chief Experience Officer
WESTconsin Credit Union welcomed Stephanie Rasmussen as Chief Experience Officer.
Construction Begins on New Administrative Center
In September, WESTconsin broke ground on the new Administrative Center next to the Menomonie-East office. It was completed in July of 2019.
Throughout the year WESTconsin Credit Union holds many fundraisers and campaigns. In October the credit union holds a chocolate bar fundraiser that benefits local organizations. In 2018, this fundraiser benefitted local agriculture organizations and the marketing materials for this fundraiser received a Diamond Award from CUNA. This stemmed the theme for the credit union’s 80th anniversary in 2019.
Within online banking, Money Management is released in 2018. This online tool helps members better manage their money using their mobile device or tablet. Cross account access is also offered to members as part of their online banking capabilities.
New Chief Lending Officer
In 2019, WESTconsin celebrated the work of Mark Willer when he retired in August and welcomed Scott Giltner as the new Chief Lending Officer.
Many employees moved into the Administrative Center in July which allowed construction to begin at the Menomonie-East office to remodeled the retail space and provide a new area for the Business Lending department.
2019 marks WESTconsin Credit Union’s 80th anniversary. Throughout the year employees gave back to the credit union’s agriculture roots by partnering with local agriculture organizations and businesses.
Debit Cards and Credit Cards
WESTconsin debit and credit cards received a face lift.
Youth Savings Account
A new youth savings account product was launched. This supports the credit union’s mission to help young members learn the value of saving money and financial fitness.
The Business department launched a new online banking platform, Business Connect.
"Best Of" Award Winner
WESTconsin Credit Union received the "Best Of" Award for "Best Financial Organization 2019" from the Central St. Croix Area Chamber of Commerce. Our Baldwin office attended the event to accept the award.
More to come!
Throughout our history, WESTconsin Credit Union has been and remains active in supporting several worthy non-profit causes that benefit those in need within our field of membership. Some of our key partners include Children’s Miracle Network (CMN), ACS - Relay for Life, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, local food pantries/shelves, United Way organizations and Junior Achievement.