Education First was founded in the 1930s as the Columbus Ohio Teachers Federal Credit Union. The Credit Union opened its doors for business in February 1936 – or rather its kitchen door, because in the beginning days of the Credit Union, Education First operated from founder Herb William’s kitchen on the West Side of Columbus.
(Pictured Left: Founder Herb Williams.)
Herb Williams was a Columbus educator and school administrator with a vision to create a credit union for local educators – where teachers and school workers could bond together to help each other save and borrow rather than using a bank. Columbus school employees in need of a loan would go talk to Herb and be approved for their loan over a handshake.
“A story I always tell about the early days of the Credit Union is the story of when my son was born,” says Norm Landry, who joined Education First in 1956 as a young Columbus Public school teacher at the recommendation of his mother-in-law, a school secretary.
In 1959, his son Brett was born with severe jaundice and in need of an emergency blood transfusion.
“In those days, a Columbus teacher’s insurance didn’t cover newborns. Brett was taken to Children’s Hospital where he was given two blood transfusions.”
When it was time for the baby’s release, it was also time to pay.
“We needed $500,” says Norm.
He called the Credit Union. “C’mon over,” he was told by Education First’s founder Herb Williams. Even though it was after regular banking hours, Norm was given the $500 loan from William’s kitchen table and took his baby son home that day.
The Credit Union soon outgrew Herb William’s kitchen and moved its headquarters to the Seneca Hotel in Downtown Columbus.
Former Columbus Public school teacher, Johnetta Collins recalls getting her first loan from the Credit Union at the Seneca Hotel in 1962. She had just graduated from The Ohio State University and was excited to begin her teaching career with Columbus Public Schools, but there was one problem; she would need a car to get there.
Her sister Barbara, whose husband was also a Columbus Public teacher, suggested the Credit Union.
“Herb Williams came to my rescue,” says Johnetta.
The Credit Union granted Johnetta her very first loan at the age of 21 from the Seneca Hotel, allowing her to drive to her first teaching position at Roosevelt Junior High School in her dream car, a 1959 Thunderbird.
Now Johnetta’s next hurdle was to get her driver’s license.
“Because of Herb’s trust, I learned to drive that summer in my high-powered T-Bird,” says Johnetta. “I made my first payment with my very first paycheck at the end of September! Now, what bank would have approved that in those days?”
The Credit Union’s next move was to an official branch. Located at 399 Livingston Avenue in the heart of Columbus’ German Village, this branch would serve Education First until 2018!
Many credit union members recall going to the Livingston branch on their lunch break during the school day.
Over the years, the Credit Union continued to expand throughout Central Ohio, with branches opening in Reynoldsburg, Westerville, and Downtown Columbus.
(Pictured above: The Credit Union’s Livingston branch in 2017, formerly located in German Village)
“From the beginning, Education First has always been member-centered, local, and more involved with the community than a bank,” says Henry Bland, now an Education First Board Member. Henry’s parents were some of the first members of the Credit Union in the 1930s.
In the 1970s, Henry, a Columbus City Schools English teacher, married his college sweetheart, Theresa, a computer teacher. They were starting out their teaching careers and married life together and opened a joint account with Education First. Herb Williams personally sat down with the young couple and gave them free financial counseling.
“Herb took the time to explain to us how credit worked and give us some financial advice,” says Henry. “The Credit Union has always been about education, not just lending money, but explaining how the whole process works.”
(Pictured above: Downtown Headquarters Ribbon Cutting Ceremony in 2018)
From Education First’s humble beginnings in the 1930s, a lot has changed.
In 1936, the average annual income was $1,506, the average price of a new home was $5,972, and the average price of a new car was $630. And, gas was $0.19 a gallon. But one thing hasn’t changed since 1936 – the Credit Union’s dedication to serving Ohio educators and school workers. For 85 years, Education First remains a member-owned, not-for-profit financial institution working in the best interest of Ohio educators.
We are honored to be celebrating the last 85 years of people helping people Thank you for being a member of Education First!
Education First Credit Union staff through the years: