‘Here for the long haul’

Published 9:01 am Wednesday, December 23, 2009

FRANKLIN—Despite having its origins at what would eventually become the International Paper Co. paper mill, Bronco Federal Credit Union officials insist the company is here to stay and wants to help members who will be affected by the mill’s closure.

When BFCU was charted in 1941, membership was exclusive to employees of the Camp Manufacturing Co. After the 1956 merger between Camp Manufacturing and the Union Bag and Paper Co., membership was extended to the employees of the combined company, Union Camp Corp.

Pam Vaughan, who serves as the marketing and human resources manager for BFCU, said Tuesday that membership eligibility was expanded after the flood of 1999, the same year the National Credit Union Administration allowed

BFCU to become a credit union for select employee groups. Those groups comprised 57 small and large employers, Vaughan said, including the City of Franklin, Southampton Memorial Hospital and the local school systems.

“Looking back now, the foresight of the people who were here then was very good,” Vaughan said. “We pretty much saturated the market.”

Eligibility expanded again in 2002 or 2003, Vaughan said, when the NCUA provided a community charter to BFCU, essentially offering membership to anyone who lives, works, worships, attends school or does business regularly in the Southside Virginia region from Southampton County to Virginia Beach.

“We have a large membership, but we still concentrate on Southampton County, Franklin, Isle of Wight County and Suffolk,” Vaughan said, adding that the credit union now has 19,000 members.

Vaughan said about 14 percent of the membership, or roughly 2,660 people, are IP employees.

Asked how the mill closure would affect BFCU, Vaughan said, “I don’t think we know at this point in time. Until we actually see where it goes and who it affected, we really won’t know.”

NCUA, which is based in Alexandria, Va., reports that BFCU had assets worth $207,837,196 as of Nov. 17.

The credit union was named Business of the Year by the Franklin-Southampton Area Chamber of Commerce in March.

“We have the ability to go forward in the future and to help people through this,” Vaughan said of the mill closure. “We are here and willing to help, but people have to call us.”

In a letter posted on the credit union’s Web site, CEO Bob Petty said BFCU is “here for the long haul.”

“People helping people is the very reason credit unions exist,” Petty said. “We know the mill closure is going to present some serious challenges for many of our friends and neighbors, and we want them all to know that we’re here to help them find solutions to financial problems they may experience along the way.”

BFCU customers were divided over what affect the mill closure would have on the credit union.

“I think (BFCU) will withstand it,” Erica Parris, a Franklin resident waiting in line to use the drive-up teller at the Stewart Drive branch, said on Tuesday. “I think there are enough people around here that use it other than the mill people.”

Sharon Piersa of Franklin, who has a savings account at BFCU, disagreed.

“People have got a lot of loans here, (including loans for) houses,” Piersa said Tuesday. “I don’t know what they are going to do. The whole towns of Franklin, Ahoskie (N.C.) and Suffolk are going to be affected.”