Readers' Choice

'Comme D'Or'

April 24, 2012
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Self-published by Holy Rosary Credit Union of Rochester, N.H., to commemorate its 50th anniversary, "Comme D'Or" is accessibly written and structured in a way that reveals its author's solid understanding of the nature of the credit union model. At a time when uncertainty about the nature of the difference between banks and credit unions is far too common, it would be quite easy for a writer coming from outside the movement to write the history of a credit union as if it were that of a bank, with the economic story taking center stage.

Fortunately, Michael Behrendt doesn't fall into this trap. The city planner of Rochester, N.H., by profession with a book about that city's architectural history already under his belt, Behrendt brings an enormous depth of knowledge about, and appreciation for, the social and cultural history of Rochester to "Comme D'Or." As a result, while the economic aspects of Holy Rosary Credit Union's development are not neglected, people and community are (very appropriately) at the core of the narrative.

Behrendt includes an extensive introduction to the credit union's socio-cultural background and micro-biographies of key personalities. He also draws heavily on oral history sources to tease out revealing moments that highlight the complexity of the credit union's relationship to its larger community.

Given his appreciation of the social character of Holy Rosary's origins, Behrendt concludes his book with a very insightful discussion of the way in which the credit union has attempted to navigate the challenge (which the whole credit union movement has been wrestling with for decades) of growing, while maintaining a sense of community. Mixing quotes from social capital theorist Robert Putnam with insights into the present state of the credit union from contemporary volunteers and staff, the discussion is a deep treatment of the issue that contributes meaningfully to the ongoing conversation concerning credit union identity.

Overall, in spite of (or perhaps because of) its unorthodox structure and source material, "Comme D'Or" is one of the best credit union histories I've encountered. Its sympathetic and in-depth treatment of the people involved in the organization make it a must-read for anyone thinking about undertaking a similar project for their own credit union. As for the more academically minded, the pop-history tone can sometimes come off as a bit too fluffy, but it is more than made up for by:

1. The sophisticated treatment of identity issues, and

2. The discussion of the Franco-American influence on the credit union. Hopefully, this book will be but the first installment in a larger project of describing the influence of Quebec on the American credit unionism post-1910.

In sum, "Comme D'Or" absolutely deserves a place of pride on any credit union history nerd's book-shelf!

MATT CROPP is the author of "Credit Union History," a blog about the credit union movement.



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