School, city, credit union bring new branch to Fennville

By: 
Ryan Lewis, Editor

The City of Fennville, Fennville Public Schools and Allegan Credit Union came together in a unique collaboration this spring to return an in-person financial institution to town.

The credit union’s newest branch, at 432 W. Main St., had a soft opening May 30 and will celebrate its grand opening all week starting June 18. It’s the former Huntington Bank location.

Offering all the amenities and services the member-owned, not-for-profit financial cooperative offers its more than 6,000 members at its other two branches in Allegan and Gobles, the branch is also a welcome institution for Fennville.

Mayor Tom Pantelleria said, “When Allegan Credit Union realized Chemical Bank was leaving, they had contacted me and stated that they had some success coming into smaller communities like ours. They thought Fennville was a good fit.”

Chemical Bank closed its branch in late 2017. Huntington Bank had closed its branch in 2013. Both left ATMs in their wake, but the need remained for in-person banking services. After Chemical Bank’s announcement, Pantelleria filed a complaint with the Federal Reserve, saying the move was “inherently a discriminatory practice” because low- to moderate-income residents will be left without financial services, but that request was denied.

Pantelleria suggested the credit union speak to the school district, which had purchased Huntington’s former location on M-89 in 2016 with hopes of connecting the campus to the main thoroughfare and for further development. The building had sat vacant until now.

Discussions with the credit union began at the end of December and renovations began in March.

District superintendent Jim Greydanus said the credit union seemed to be focused on the community.

“They’ve been a nice partner in this; they’re providing Fennville with a good, community-based service,” he said.

Allegan Credit Union CEO Kris Lewis pointed out the credit union’s mission is: people over profits, relationships over revenue and community over credit score—all of which is represented in this move into Fennville. The credit union spent its first 72 years with only its Allegan location before opening a branch in Gobles late last year. Now it has its third, seeking to support the community by not only providing low-cost services and financial education but also interacting with the communities in which they operate.

“Credit unions were founded by people who understood the importance of cooperatives and putting people before profit,” Lewis said. “Going to Fennville is just another way for our credit union to serve the communities and neighbors we love. Allegan Credit Union is a place that believes in living and breathing our cooperative roots, of being someone that provides low- to no-cost products and services, financial literacy and the up-to-date technology needed to do banking.

“Our hope is to give back to Fennville, their schools and the surrounding communities for many years to come.”

The credit union has a nearly five-year lease and has the first option for purchasing the property.

The school district had explored several options for the building, such as creating a community education building, a gifted and talented center, and a drop-in homework and tutoring support center for students. Last year, school officials said it was home to the Fennville Robohawks for building and testing robots during the competitive robotics season.

School board president Dave Johnson said district officials were thrilled to be able to offer this resource to the community, even though it wasn’t what they had in mind when they bought the building.

“When the building came up for sale it was at such a low price that we couldn’t miss out on the opportunity to connect our school district to the downtown area,” Johnson said. “And, since buying it, we have been thinking of different opportunities to serve the community... But when the bank closed, and we had the opportunity to bring Allegan Credit Union to our downtown area, we knew it was a way the district could support the community that is always so supportive of its schools.”

Lewis has told the district the credit union will look to support the school.

“Allegan Credit Union works hard to be a good neighbor in our communities,” Lewis said. “We will look to support Fennville schools and students with programs that teach about money management, giving back in the same partnership that brought us to Fennville.”

It has already offered programs to Fennville students, including a visit by second-graders in May to learn the importance of saving money.

Pantelleria said the credit union’s arrival was a big relief.

“I know that out of several issues we have struggled with in this community, this was the most volatile,” he said. “I’ve heard more complaints and concerns and comments about how bad they thought it was that banks leaving would be. A lot of people were upset.

“Now they have several options. They still have the ATMs, but now they also have a physical outlet they can go and visit in person.

“I’m very, very happy about it.”

Contact Ryan Lewis—who is not related to Kris Lewis—at rmlewis@allegannews.com or (269) 673-5534.

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