Johnson retiring from credit union after 34 years

SueAnn Johnson has seen much more than technological changes in her 34 years in banking.

Johnson is retiring from her job as manager of the Princeton branch of Spire Federal Credit Union on Aug. 3.

Johnson was on duty during the armed robbery of the credit union. She was also employed at the credit union when her boss had to go to prison for not following a certain banking regulation.

That latter event was tied in with resident Casey Ramirez’s moving a lot of cash through the credit union during Johnson’s first few years on the job – which began in August 1978. The federal government requires financial institutions to report when any amount over $10,000 in cash is moved either in or out of any of their accounts, according to Johnson.

The credit union’s manager at the time hadn’t adhered to the rule. Johnson remembers the manager telling her that he didn’t think credit unions were under that regulation.

Ramirez, meanwhile, was convicted of conspiring to distribute cocaine and  tax evasion. He was eventually sentenced to 20 years in prison in 1984.

It “was an uncomfortable time” for her as one of the employees of the credit union, she said. She explained that some of the employees had to testify in court about what happened regarding the lack of currency transaction reports.

She also said it is uncomfortable for her to talk about that now, but acknowledged that it is part of the history of the credit union and her time there.

Johnson spoke with gratitude about being hired at the credit union by Jerry Davis, which she said is a story in itself.

Johnson, a native of northeast Minneapolis who had earned a college degree in elementary education after high school, had been unable to find a job in her field after student teaching in Hopkins. She was one of 3,000 applicants for 16 elementary teaching positions at the Hopkins district and wasn’t hired.

So in 1972 she began working at Northeast State Bank in the Twin Cities. She had experience working as a bank teller while attending college. But after four years at Northeast State Bank, she quit to have her first child. The next year, 1977, she and her family moved to Princeton.

Davis, who was a neighbor in Princeton, urged her, during a neighborhood picnic, to apply for a teller opening at what was then the Princeton Co-op Credit Union.

She wasn’t that interested to begin working again because she was raising a family, but Davis, who was manager at the credit union, encouraged her again to apply. But after she filled out the application, Johnson’s then two-year-old son scribbled all over it with a red crayon. When she told Davis about it, he told her to still drop it off and asked when she could begin working.

It is unlikely that an application filled with scribbling would usually get accepted, she said, but she got the job.

She worked into different positions at the credit union, going from teller to payroll, accounting, accounts payable, collections, loan officer, assistant manager, and finally, manager in 1995.

As for not going into teaching, she said, “I know I would have enjoyed it but I don’t feel I would have missed it.” She also added that she felt she has been an educator in guiding customers on how to deal with their financial problems and setting goals.

Each of those people “has a story” about where they are in their life, she continued, and they need someone to help them make decisions. That could be, she said, about buying a house or car, having a child, getting a college education or planning for retirement. The financial advisor’s job, Johnson explained, is to find out what the person needs and wants, and then point out options.

Part of her experience was giving financial advice during the country’s recent historic housing market collapse with record foreclosures and recession. Johnson saw many who hadn’t taken enough care with their debt and even those who had “perfect credit” get in financial difficulties because of losing their jobs.

Something else significant that Johnson observed in her time on the job was the rise and fall of interest rates for borrowing and saving. She recalled she and her husband Tom getting a mortgage loan at 8 1/2 percent in 1978, in contrast to these days of 30-year mortgages at 3.625 percent.

At the same time, the interest rates on savings have dropped to hardly a percent, she said.

Technology dramatically changed how the credit union workers do business as well, Johnson noted. In her early years at the credit union, the employees used machines to manually print cashiers checks, certificates of deposit and member cards.

Also, there was no direct deposit until the latter years and there would be long lines at the credit union on paydays. Before the advent of the computer as a common tool, the employees used calculators to figure out accrued interest and jotted down numbers on pieces of paper to figure the amounts, Johnson said.


The Y2K event

On Jan. 1, 2000, concern grew among customers at financial institutions, including at the Princeton credit union, because people widely believed they would lose their bank balances when computers rolled over to the new century, Johnson said.

Many were so “scared” that they withdrew their deposits and placed the cash under their mattresses, she recalled. Those fears turned out to be unfounded but businesses like the credit union took precautions by installing back-up computers.


The armed robbery

Johnson was in her office at the credit union shortly after 2 p.m. on June 29, 1995, when the armed robbery took place at the credit union, apparently the first at a Princeton financial institution. The robbery came 16 days before Johnson took over as manager from Bette Miller.

A man with a scarf over the bottom part of his face and wrap-around sunglasses over his eyes and a hood over head, trotted into the credit union, pointed a revolver at teller Joyce Edmonds and demanded that she fill an athletic tote bag with money.

After she complied, the robber fled, with Miller in foot pursuit on the street until she lost sight of him.

Johnson looked at a “pale” Edmonds who told Johnson, “I’ve been robbed.”

Authorities on Sept. 7 of that year fatally shot Greg John Glynn, 37, at a cabin in Grand Rapids after Glynn was reported to have come out holding a gun aimed toward police. Authorities believed Glynn was the armed robber of the Princeton credit union and three other financial institutions in the state that summer.


The overall


Despite having some not-so-good things happen at her workplace, Johnson says she found her 34 years at what was to become Twin Cities Co-op Federal Credit Union, and then Spire Federal Credit Union, enjoyable.

“I loved working with the staff members,” she said. As she thought about her last day on the job coming up, she said that many of the members of the credit union have become her friends.

“I thought it was a real rewarding career,” she said. “Each day is different.” She also said the Princeton credit union branch has maintained a small town atmosphere. Customers and employees became like family members, sharing photos of grandchildren and vacations, she noted.

Johnson says she looks forward to having the time to pursue interests like the trip she plans with three sisters to Arizona for a month’s stay this coming January. She also plans a similar trip to Brainerd, and one to North Dakota to see a brother, and looks forward to just spending more time with her family.