Baseball, boxing and ominous signs of impending war abroad occupied the headlines in Weirton, West Virginia in 1939. That was the year Steel Works Credit Union, since renamed First Choice America Community Federal Credit Union, was founded. The original name was Steel Works Employees Security League Federal Credit Union. The chartering of this new organization on May 17, 1939 was not treated as the huge local story it perhaps deserved.
The Security League initially was created for employees of the Steel Works Department of Weirton Steel Company.
In the 1930s the thriving Weirton Steel Company was attracting immigrants from all over the world. They came for the good-paying jobs in a land of freedom. With their skills in bricklaying, carpentry and mechanics, these immigrants were giving Weirton an exceptional rich heritage of diversity. They came from around the globe…Italy, Poland, Ireland, Germany, Wales, Greece and elsewhere. Many of these early steelworkers settled in North Weirton. It was in this bustling, blue collar neighborhood of boarding houses, drug stores and saloons, that Weirton’s first credit union had its origin.
In the small upstairs office of the Colonial Grocery Store at 237 Main Street, the tiny Steel Works Employees Security League put down roots. The founders guided it through the first key steps of organizing, chartering and opening for business. In its first year of operation, the organization listed 977 members and assets of $20,000.
Probably none ever imagined that future years would see their credit union mature into one of the community’s dominant financial institutions.
It has been said that steel mill executives were annoyed, at first, upon learning that a credit union had been organized in the Steel Works Department. Local legend has it that one boss growled, “We already have a union.” Upon learning that the new credit union stood for thrift and had adopted a “people helping people” philosophy, mill management quickly embraced the idea.
With its operating charter in place, the credit union reached out to mill workers and they continued to join in droves.
Before two years had passed, growth made it necessary for the Security League to change its name in 1941 to Steel Works Employees Federal Credit Union.
Millworkers liked the idea of pooling their resources at a not-for-profit place. Perhaps they had read about the success of the first credit union in North America, organized in 1900 for immigrant mill workers in Manchester, New Hampshire.
They wanted to save and borrow with friendly people they knew. They needed loans for cars and housing and furniture and college education for their children…and the credit union was not only friendly but had good, affordable deals. So what if the little office was in a dusty upstairs. So what if you wanted a $50 loan, and to get it, you had to wait until some fellow worker made a deposit later in the day. Those pioneering credit union members figured it wouldn’t always be that way…and how right they were!
Good management paired with steady growth led to the construction of a new office in 1963. This location at 3316 Main Street was in the business district of the community, for a change not in a mill environment.
Steady growth in membership, keyed by continued attractive loan and deposit rates, helped the business grow and flourish.
The year America celebrated its Bicentennial, 1976, a handsome new main office opened at 3501 Main Street, downtown Weirton.
In 1979, upon adopting a community charter, the once small credit union again would change its name…this time to Steel Works Community Federal Credit Union.
Adopting a community charter would prove to be a landmark decision because it permitted the credit union to redefine the boundaries of its field of membership. The effect was awesome in that the City of Weirton’s residents and its workers immediately became eligible for credit union membership.
Explosive growth followed that 1979 decision and expansion of physical facilities kept pace, as indicated by these examples:
- A branch office in Chester in 1979
- A drive-thru at the Weirton Heights Plaza in 1981.
- Acquisition of a building for a new branch office in Wheeling in 1983.
- A branch office in Steubenville in 1987.
- A new branch office on Three Springs Drive in 1995.
- A brand new Wheeling office in 1995.
- A branch office in Wintersville in 2000.
- A branch office in Elm Grove and a branch office at Wheeling Hospital’s Medical Park in 2007.
- A new Administrative Annex in 2009.
In terms of strength and security, the credit union enjoys a superior rating. Today, with assets more than $450 million, and approximately 38,000 members, First Choice America ranks as West Virginia’s largest credit union.
With over 95 dedicated employees including an experienced management staff headed by Scott E. Winwood, President and CEO, First Choice America is poised for an exciting future of helping members realize their financial potential and achieve their dreams.