Three weeks ago I received a unique document. It was John Tippet’s 2001 speech to Navy FCU’s board at their annual planning conference. John Tippets was then CEO of American Airlines FCU, now retired.
The presentation was typed in full along with the slides used. John presented his credit union’s strategy and how he believed this implemented credit union’s unique design.
Ten years later (2011) Navy’s planning COO requested a copy. Now twelve years further on, I will share some of his thoughts. I believe they are an important example of a leader’s vision and provide important perspective today.
The American historian David McCulloch wrote over a dozen books and countless speeches on transformative events (1776) and the people who played important roles. His accounts are lively and compelling. He drew upon stories from his subject’s diaries, letters, speeches as well as second hand press accounts recreating these past scenes.
As an author, he believed history was larger than life. A country’s stories, he believed, are its most critical resource. When well presented, often from original records, they enlarge the spirit and shape our understanding of who we are. And what we aspire to become.
If one reads the Congressional Record transcript of Ed Callahan’s last testimony as NCUA chairman on April 24, 1985, there can be no question of his impact. His eloquence, factual knowledge and even humor with the committee shows their respect of his leadership of NCUA during this very vital time for financial services. The words recreate the event and provide, still today, insight into a leader’s talent.
Or read the July 16, 1982 hearing transcript of NCUA General Counsel Bucky Sebastian’s testimony before Chairman Rosenthal’s House Committee on Government Operations. The Committee was investigating the failure of Penn Square Bank and its impact on credit unions. It had occurred just two weeks earlier. The back and forth between Sebastian and the Committee chair jumps off the page. It shows clearly two very different understandings of the event and the role of government. Bucky’s powerful argumentative style is on full display!
The Absence of Credit Union Records and Original Documents
The years 1981-1985 were pivotal in credit union evolution. Their response to the economic crisis and the deregulation of America’s financial system was critically important for their members’ future.
These major events unfolded just as NCUA was still organizing itself as an independent agency with a three-person board appointed by the president. Prior to this federal credit union oversight had been by a single Administrator housed within HEW.
In response to these changes, a separate credit union press of weekly or monthly newsletters was begun. These included CUIS (credit union information service), NCUA Watch, Report on Credit Unions and smaller commentaries. The trades wrote current stories in their weekly updates mailed to members.
These critical original documents from this period are hard to find. I have contacted CUNA Mutual, CUNA, the Credit Union Museum and even the Library of Congress. No copies of any of these written sources seem to be available.
Even more vital would be recorded speeches. In this era all major credit union conferences would make cassette recordings of the keynote speakers and sell them to attendees to take home to boards and staff unable to attend.
A major event was CUNA’s Governmental Affairs Conference held every February at the Hilton Hotel. The NCUA chair’s speech would be a highlight. I found a copy of Callahan’s 1983 and 1984 presentations. But the most pivotal ones from 1982 and 1985 are missing.
State leagues and other conference organizers routinely recorded presentations by NCUA personnel as well. Finding copies of these tapes is very difficult. The firms organizing the events have long ago moved on. These live recordings are often seen as yesterday’s news when found in office records.
In this pre-internet period, NCUA communicated with its staff in six regional offices and the credit union community with a new media, VCR. NCUA’s Video Network issued 21 productions over three years. No copies can be found for many episodes. Neither NCUA nor the National Archives have the tapes of these critical updates.
Telling the Credit Union Story
Contemporary leaders are focused on creating their story rather than learning about the past. Many of the participants from this critical 1981-1985 era have retired years ago. Memories fade. When their boxes of credit union experiences and keepsakes are opened by children or grandchildren, they rarely have any personal meaning for the family. So out they go.
The founders of these earlier newsletters and conferences leave no legacy of their vital role of credit union events now forgotten.
But somewhere in a closet, garage, or basement storage area I believe some of these original records (newsletters, recordings, VCR’s) exist kept by those as memories of an important part of their lives—but even more consequential, I believe, as original sources of credit union history.
Can reader’s provide suggestions where some of this trove of credit union history exists?
I will be glad to digitize any records that a person wishes to keep. The years of 1981-1985 are a turning point.
Parts of John Tippet’s 2001 statements on his credit union’s strategy will spark controversy. It did then and it will today. Some of the same challenges remain. For the credit union story is always being updated.
Can you help me fill in some of the missing parts from an earlier era? It will be entertaining, illuminating and educational. Please let me know what you find or where I might look.