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During the Great Depression and the slow recovery following it, credit unions grew fast—from 8,036 credit unions and 2 million members in 1939, to 23,866 credit unions and nearly 22 million members by 1969, according to CUNA statistics.
Frank Matous Sr., former CEO of Tandem Federal Credit Union, in Warren, Mich., was a pioneer who contributed to that growth. He and five other Chrysler workers each deposited $10 to form Dodge Truck Forge and Amplex Federal Credit Union in 1941. Today, the credit union—renamed Tandem Federal in the late 1950s—has 3,137 members and $20 million in assets.
Matous grew up on a Nebraska farm, but moved to the Detroit area after the Depression to work at the Chrysler truck plant. He worked in the tool crib, keeping track of the tools workers used to build vehicles in support of the war effort.
Frank was elected treasurer/CEO of the fledgling credit union. He and the other charter members promoted the credit union to their co-workers.
“For the first several years, Dad carried the credit union with him into the plant in his satchel every day,” says his son, Phil Matous, president/CEO of $49 million asset Total Community Credit Union, Taylor, Mich. “The plant’s tool crib was the credit union office.”
On many Saturday nights during the credit union’s early days, members would visit the family’s apartment to withdraw money from their accounts for the weekend. The credit union safe was stored in a family closet. “Mom would cook chicken for board meetings at the apartment,” adds Phil.
A strong contributing factor to the start of the credit union, according to Phil and his brothers, Frank Jr., Stephen, and John, was the influence of Monsignor Clement Kern, then a Detroit priest who advocated for the city’s underserved population.
Later dubbed “Detroit’s priest,” Fr. Kern was a risk-taker, says Phil, “and he saw that same quality in Dad.” Many of the truck plant workers had checkered pasts and uncertain financial futures. Some were ex-convicts and ineligible for the armed services.
“My father had a strong feeling that people deserve a second chance,” says son Frank Matous Jr. “He really believed in the credit union motto, ‘not for profit, not for charity, but for service.’”
“He appreciated helping people; he got a big kick out of it,” adds Phil. “That provided a solid basis for the credit union.”
His legacy isn’t limited to starting a credit union and leading it for 45 years. All four Matous sons worked at Tandem Federal as youths and at other credit unions as adults.
“We were brought up with credit unions as toddlers,” says Phil. “We loved them, and they’ve been part of us from day one. We just have it in our blood, I guess.”
The kids helped out with everything from sharpening pencils as preteens to counting money as teenagers. Their father was proud that the boys followed in his footsteps.
He was also proud of the trust credit union members and co-workers placed in him. “Dad took pride in the fact that the plant guard never questioned what he had in the satchel when he walked in and out of the plant each day,” notes Phil.
Frank Sr. also helped organize and served on the boards of other Detroit-area credit unions. He was active in the early days of the Michigan Credit Union League and was inducted into the Northeast Chapter Hall of Fame in 1988. Just before he retired in 1985, the credit union’s capital ratio was about 22%. The credit union was strong because he was frugal, explains Phil.
Next: After retirement