The grand opening of the Old West Federal Credit Union branch in Union is a month away, but residents in need of banking services already have reason to celebrate.
A new branch opened for business Monday at 539 S. Main St. The credit union is being welcomed enthusiastically by the community, which has not had a banking institution since 2016 when Umpqua Bank closed its Union branch.
“It is exciting, absolutely,” said Jocelyn Jones of Union.
The opening of the branch means residents will no longer have to leave town to do their banking.
“This will be way more convenient,” Jones said.
Michele Later of Union expressed a similar sentiment.
“Now if I need cash, I don’t have to go to La Grande,” she said. “All I have to do is walk down the street.”
LaVon Hall noted the credit union will be particularly helpful for seniors. The Union resident explained many seniors do not like banking online, something many Union residents have likely done more often since Umpqua Bank closed.
“A lot of the elderly don’t bank with computers,” Hall said.
She added many seniors also do not like driving over icy roads in the winter to
La Grande to bank.
The new branch of Old West Federal Credit Union is in the old Community Bank building. The interior of the bank has a distinctly Union and Grande Ronde Valley flavor with at least a dozen large black-and-white prints of local photos decorating its walls. Many of the photos, which include those of ranchers at work and World War I veterans, were provided by the Union County Museum, said Branch Manager Cheryl Hargrove. The images were converted into prints by the Mitres Touch Gallery in La Grande.
The photos are meant to reflect how dedicated the credit union is to serving the people of Union.
“The credit union is all about local folks,” said Ken Olson, CEO and president of Old West Federal Credit Union.
Credit unions are not-for-profit organizations that exist to serve their members. Like banks, credit unions accept deposits, make loans and provide a wide array of other financial services. Olson said that because credit unions are not for profit, they can charge lower rates than traditional banks.
Old West Federal Credit Union also has branches in La Grande, Baker City, Pendleton, Hermiston, John Day, Prairie City and Burns.
The services provided by the Union branch include a drive-through teller, safety deposit boxes, an after-hours deposit station and an automated teller machine.
People in the Union business community who are excited about the new credit union include Stacey Dixon, office manager for Union Market. Dixon said that after the town’s last bank closed, Union Market staff had to make one or two trips to La Grande a week to deposit money. Those days are now gone.
“This will be a huge, huge, convenience,” she said.
Dixon said the presence of the credit union will also help Union Market because it will mean fewer people will be coming to the store to cash checks since they can now do it at Old West.
“We were becoming known as the First National Bank of Union,” Dixon said.
Walt Brookshire, owner of Union Drug Co., is also encouraged by the opening of Old West Federal Credit Union.
“It is a step in the right direction,” he said.
A Union City Councilor, Brookshire said the credit union will boost the city’s economy by reducing the trips residents make to La Grande, where they not only bank but likely buy groceries and do other shopping. He believes having Old West in Union will mean residents will do more of their shopping in town. Brookshire said, though, it may take time for many residents to get back into the habit of shopping and banking in Union.
Dustin Deckert, an employee at Union Market, noted another plus to having a bank in town is it will make it easier for businesses to have change on hand.
Old West Federal Credit Union made its interest in Union public on May 17, 2018, when it conducted a town hall meeting. One of the issues Old West’s Olson addressed at the meeting was his concern about the availability of enough fiber optic bandwidth for the credit union’s computer system.
“We are a bandwidth monster,” Olson said on Monday while recalling the 2018 meeting.
Fortunately, Old West determined that enough bandwidth is available for the operation of a credit union branch. In early September, the credit union announced it would definitely be establishing a branch in Union after acquiring the old Community Bank building.
Olson said Old West is bucking a trend by opening a branch in Union. The CEO said banks and credit unions have been pulling out of rural towns, but he hopes this is the start of a reversal of this movement.
“It is a pilot project,” Olson said, adding that even in today’s technological age, it is critical for banking institutions to have a brick-and-mortar presence in communities.
“How can you serve main street but not be on main street?” Olson said.