The year was 1934. Denver was home to just under 300,000 people.
Civic Center Park was turning 15 years old, and the Denver City and County Building was barely a year old. The country also happened to be in the darkest days of the Great Depression; not the sort of context out of which you would expect a financial institution to emerge. Nevertheless, it was against this backdrop that eight school teachers decided to start a credit union. Their mission was simple: provide loans to fellow educators. Funded with their own savings, Denver Public Schools Credit Union was born. Their mission has not only lasted; it has grown. DPS Credit Union is now Westerra Credit Union. More than 100,000 people bank there. They’re not customers, though: because Westerra Credit Union is a not-for-profit co-op, everyone who is a customer is also a member and an owner.
Nancy Bunte is Westerra Credit Union’s Vice President of Marketing. She’s worked there for a decade—a decade that’s been extremely busy. In 2006, DPS Credit Union changed its name to Westerra Credit Union to better reflect its membership. In 2005, Safeway Rocky Mountain Credit Union merged with the then DPS Credit Union, Gateway Credit Union came onboard in 2006, and Jeffco Credit Union was added in 2009. Today, nine branches service members in the Denver metro area, overseeing more than $1 billion. With the recent expansion, Westerra now reaches Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, Douglas and Jefferson counties. It has partnerships with the City of Aurora, Safeway Corporation, as well as the employees, students, graduates, and retirees of Denver Public Schools and Jeffco Public Schools. Despite this recent growth, 80-plus years of serving teachers remains embedded in Westerra’s DNA. Bunte said Westerra is still an education-focused credit union. “We believe it’s important that students and adults learn financial skills,” Bunte said. “Financial education is very important to us.” To that end, Westerra has made it a mission to bring financial education to its members in creative ways.
One way to raise financial literacy is to bring that message straight into classrooms, a method that echoes Westerra’s educational roots. “If a student opens an account at Westerra, we’ll give $52.80 to a school program of their choice,” Bunte said. Representatives from Westerra also give short presentations on any number of financial topics, from learning about the importance of saving to paying attention to fees charged. Recently, Westerra has expanded this program to include nonprofit groups in addition to school groups. In 2015, Bunte said Westerra donated and presented to 48 groups in the area, a mix of high schools, elementary schools, middle schools, community associations, Boy Scouts, Special Olympics and more.
Recently, Westerra began a new partnership with Infinity Park in Glendale. Anthony Weaver is the Branch Manager at Cherry Creek branch. “Not only do I work here in the Cherry Creek office, I live in the community as well,” he said. “Infinity Park is something I’ve been exposed to personally over the years. I’ve been able to get to know the people at Infinity Park and its very community focused.” He said partnering was a great match that served the objectives of both organizations. For Westerra, it’s an opportunity to support a growing community asset and to introduce itself to a loyal, supportive and active community of fans. “One thing I’ve noticed about the Glendale Raptors is that a lot of the people involved with it are the same people [who are active elsewhere throughout the city].” In addition to rugby games, Weaver said events such as the free summer movie series at Infinity Park, Monday Movie Madness, also brings people together, helping to build a strong community.
Another trait both Westerra and the Raptors share is a straightforward goal. The Raptors and Infinity Park offer world-class rugby as a friendly, fun, and low-cost way for the community to have fun with friends and family. Westerra’s goal also keeps its members and its neighbors as a priority. “We think everyone should have the opportunity to join a credit union if they want to” Bunte said. “We’re a not-for-profit membership cooperative, so savings are passed on to members. It’s an alternative to the for-profit banking system. We’re owned by all our members. The money stays here in Colorado.” It’s a pretty straightforward goal. And 82 years of success shows that it works.
Photo by Seth McConnell