"We had a hard time getting decent service or loans from the banks," remembered Ken Johnson. Ken, along with fellow educators Zollie Sutherland, Gordon Hansen, William Hillard, Walt Reeves, Richard Hunt and Bob Bache - each ponied up $10 to satisfy the incorporation fee at the time to form a credit union. Sonoma County Schools Credit Union was granted operating status on Jan. 18, 1961.
The most involved job of the all-volunteer credit union was Treasurer. To offer some compensation for the extra hours, the original by-laws deemed the Treasurer would draw "from 25% of whatever excess funds remained after satisfying all expenses." In the first month 90¢ of excess revenue remained. Gordon Hansen, our inaugural Treasurer, netted a whopping windfall of 22¢ for his myriad hours of work.
By the second month the post of Treasurer transferred to Zollie Sutherland and his wife. For the next five years the credit union was run from the Sutherland's kitchen table. "We didn't have any regular hours of operation, but if we hadn't yet gone to bed then we were open for business," said Sutherland.
When assets of the credit union approached $500,000, it was too much to run from a kitchen table, and the first employee - Maggie Wattles - was hired in 1966. Maggie served as this credit union's top manager from 1970 to 1986. Her daughter, Lynne Gradek, is in her 36th year of working for us.
In 1999 the credit union was re-chartered from a SEG (select employee group, in this case Sonoma County educators) to a Community Charter (any resident, student or someone doing business in Sonoma County). In September 2007, the California Department of Financial Institutions, showing its confidence in our ability to manage growth while keeping the quality of Member services at extremely high levels, granted an expansion of the Community Charter to include residents of Mendocino County. In July 2011, the DFI granted an expansion of our charter to include Marin County. In December 2012, Community First took over the assets and membership of Health Care Professionals of Napa Federal Credit Union (formerly Queen of the Valley Hospital CU).
Community First is the second-largest financial cooperative based in the North Bay. As of Dec. 1, 2014, we had 17,000 local co-op Members and assets of $173 million.