Milton has worked 41 years saving, serving, and supporting small credit unions. "I started my credit union career at Prairie View [Texas] A&M University Credit Union [now Prairie View Federal Credit Union] as a part-time file clerk, working my way through college. After a short time, the treasurer/manager shifted more of the bookkeeping responsibilities to me, and that's when I became hooked."
"In 1981, I was hired as CEO of Houston Teamsters Federal, which was one of three mini Teamster credit unions in the area. It had $250,000 in assets, 350 members, and a single sponsor--Teamsters Local 919, the Houston brewery for Anheuser-Busch.
"Back then, unions were very territorial, so the three Teamster credit unions naturally had their own little corners. My goal was to unify them. In fact, that was the topic of my five-year plan at Southwest CUNA Management School."
Her goal became reality when the other two Teamster credit unions approached hers to merge.
"As a minority female leading a credit union for the Teamsters Union, I had my work cut out for me. For some credit union board members, the fact that I was a minority posed somewhat of a culture shock. But I was determined to prove my ethnic background didn't matter, and I could do the job."
Milton proved her mettle during a local strike in the early 1980s that nearly shut down the credit union. "Some of the members who worked at the company involved in the strike made up one-third of the credit union's loan portfolio. I worked hard to restructure the loan agreements to keep the credit union going.
"Board members saw me do things that even the NCUA examiner told me no one else would have done. I saved the credit union money by doing things it normally would have paid people to do. With help from attorneys I knew, I took on that role--filing a judgment and stating the credit union's case during arbitration. I also took a significant pay cut. The board saw my willingness to do whatever it took to save the credit union."
Now, Milton describes the relationship with her seven-member board as a "very supportive, happy, little family."
The credit union often is home away from home as Milton logs in long days. That, she claims, comes with the territory. "You can't be CEO of a small credit union and work 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. You must do whatever it takes.
"Large credit unions have resources. They have staff to do the things that need to be done," explains Milton. "In small credit unions, the CEO is 'Heinz 57,' meaning a whole bunch of things in one. Working in a small credit union often means working twice as hard."
Milton is up to the challenge. From day one, her dream to make Houston Teamsters Federal full service has kept her faithful to small credit unions, despite an offer 15 years ago to manage a larger one. "I knew I could go to the large credit union and enhance whatever products and services it had, but I wouldn't be able to establish and put them in place."
Leading by example
Milton is comfortable in her role as champion and cheerleader for small credit unions. "I want to show other small credit unions the possibilities. I don't want them to think size defines what they can do. If I'm in a small credit union and can do something, that encourages others that it can be done."
She credits Barbara Stephens, CEO of Houston Municipal Employees Federal Credit Union, for being her role model and encouraging her that "it's not about size; it's all about heart."
"I'll do whatever needs to be done to help other small credit unions," Milton notes. She's a bookkeeper/consultant for three small credit unions in the Houston area and performs annual audits for a couple of others.
One of her proudest moments came recently in her role as chair of the Texas Credit Union League's Small Credit Union Committee.
"We worked hard to set up an affordable health-care program for small credit unions. Most don't have enough employees to offer a health-care plan. We found a company to organize an insurance group in which small credit unions can participate. That was exciting for us, because the plan covers one employee or 10."
It's little wonder people call Milton a support system and lifeline for small credit unions. This comes naturally, as she says her personal beliefs tie so closely with credit unions' people helping people philosophy.
"My mother and grandmother taught me it truly is better to give than to receive. And my husband--who was on Houston City Council, was appointed justice of the peace, and, now retired, still serves as a visiting judge--shows me the true meaning of service.
"To serve rather than be served is such a great parallel to what credit unions are all about. I'm willing and able to give of my time and talents. I've been blessed and I'm blessed to bless others. It all ties in to who I am and what I believe in."
It's All About Heart
In addition to her credit union duties, Milton:
- Serves as the corresponding secretary to the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions, New York;
- Makes presentations at NCUA's small credit union workshops and the Texas League's annual meetings;
- Has served as president and board member of the Houston Chapter of Credit Unions;
- Works closely with the chairman of Partners for Progress, a support group for small credit unions;
- Volunteers with The Sunshine Kids, an organization for children with cancer in the Houston area;
- Serves as a financial counselor to church members; and
- Is helping to organize a credit union at her church.