Seeds of Utah Heritage Credit Union blossom over 50 years
By Suzanne Dean
MORONI—Mary Kay Mickelson of Manti told members attending the Utah Heritage Credit Union annual meeting last week how the “seed got planted” for a local credit union 50 years ago.
Mickelson, 80, knew the story because she was there. Her late husband, Mark Christensen, is generally regarded as the founder of what is now Utah Heritage.
Mickelson grew up in Salt Lake County. One day her brother, who worked for United Airlines, came home with a brand new car. At the time, she couldn’t imagine how he could afford such a fancy vehicle. He told her he had financed the car through the United Airlines Credit Union.
Tragically, just a few years later, her brother died, leaving a wife, children and the car loan. Then Mary Kay learned that because of arrangements her brother had made through his credit union, the loan had been paid off and his family could keep the car.
“Boy, was I impressed,” she told the annual meeting Thursday, Feb. 7 at North Sanpete Middle School, where the credit union observed its 50th anniversary.
After her marriage, she and her husband settled in Moroni, where he had a job as assistant manager of the Moroni turkey processing plant. Mark Christensen put Mary Kay in charge of the family finances. It wasn’t long before she told him that what their family really needed was a credit union.
Mark went to his boss, Ralph Blackham, the general manager at Moroni Feed at the time. Blackham told Christensen to do some research on how to set up a credit union—and to set one up.
Mary Kay wasn’t involved in the details of chartering what became Moroni Feed Credit Union. She said her husband consulted with Ivan Cox, the owner of Central Utah Telephone Co. in Fairview, which had a small company-based credit union. And Mark made a lot of trips to Provo.
The final charter didn’t limit membership to Moroni Feed employees. Anyone in the community could join. Th at provision set the stage for long-term credit union growth. The first board meeting was held Dec. 10, 1969. About that time, the first 23 members cumulatively deposited $2,000.
(Mark Christensen, as well as a son of Mark and Mary Kay Christensen, drowned in the Wales Reservoir in 1978. Mary Kay is now married to Vaughn Mickelson, a retired educator from Manti.)
For the next 20 years, the credit union was housed at the processing plant. Leonard Everitt, 86, another original member who was at the annual meeting, remembers attending an early annual meeting in a conference room above the plant cafeteria.
(Everitt is a case in point of how the credit union has grown. Four generations of Everitts are now members. Besides himself, there is a son, grandson and great-grandson.)
And for at least the first 20 years, the credit union didn’t have loan officers, Watson told the annual meeting crowd. “You went into a room with your application, and there was a loan committee” that said “yes” or “no.”
It wasn’t until June 3, 1994 that Mar Dye, the first credit union president; the Miss Moroni royalty that year; and Donald Watson, chairman of the board at the time and now credit union CEO, participated in a ribbon-cutting marking the completion of a new credit union headquarters at 84 W. Main in Moroni.
By then, membership had grown from the original to 3,000, and assets had gone from $2,000 to $9 million. About 2000, the credit union opened a second branch in an old house on Main Street in Ephraim. Later, it bought the house next door and turned it into a loan office.
In August 2004, with membership at about 5,600, Moroni Feed Credit Union opened a branch in the Gunnison Thrift way. Four years later, the credit union opened a fourth location in Mt. Pleasant east of Terrel’s Market.
The expansions happened because people asked for them, Daniel Green, a credit union staff member said at the time. “It’s the community asking,” he said.
When Moroni Feed Credit Union turned 40 in 2009, it announced in an ad in local newspapers that it was time for a new name. Th e credit union had expanded far beyond Moroni Feed employees. It had members in both Sanpete and Sevier counties. So “Moroni Feed Credit Union” didn’t fit anymore.
Th e operation announced the change to Utah Heritage Credit Union and unveiled a new logo that included a drawing of the iconic Horseshoe Mountain east of Mt. Pleasant.
In 2013, the credit union started planning and budgeting for probably the most ambitious project in its history—a new building for the Ephraim branch.
In 2017, the credit union tore down the two houses where its account serving and loan offices were housed. And at the end of July, 2018, it cut the ribbon on a commodious full-service building with wide drive-through lanes and abundant parking.
“We love, love, love the new building,” branch manager Sandy Burr said. “We love the functionality, the flow, everything.”
Since its founding, the credit union has been committed to community service. For example, in 2002, the Sanpete Messenger reported the credit union would close for a half day so staff could deliver 152 quilts, 25 afghans, 31 receiving blankets and 253 dolls, all donated by members, to Primary Children’s Medical Center.
In 2003, the count was 125 quilts, 467 dolls, 181 wooden toys and six hats. In 2005, credit union staff assembled hundreds of “toy kits,” clear plastic bags filled with toys for children hospitalized at Sanpete Valley Hospital. In 2010, the credit union raised thousands of dollars for earthquake relief in Haiti, and in 2012, it gathered cash and goods for victims of Hurricane Sandy in New York and New Jersey.
And virtually every year, the organization has helped out with Sub for Santa, awarded college scholarships, and donated to high schools and Snow College. “There have been hundreds and hundreds, many of you here today, who have made (the credit union) what it is today,” Mickelson said at the 50th anniversary celebration.
Watson announced that Utah Heritage now has 7,900 members and $72 million in assets. And total assets are up $5 million from a year ago, he said. The credit union has a loan portfolio of $56.9 million, up 14 percent from the previous year, Watson reported. That’s quite a feat “in these little valleys of Sanpete and Sevier,” he said.
“We pay tribute to the people who had the foresight to establish this institution,” Watson said. He acknowledged people who have served on the board, on the supervisory committee and on the loan committee when it was operating.
He added that “it’s because of all you members who have borrowed and repaid loans that we have the assets we have today.” “Th ank you for 50 years,” he said, “and may we look forward to another 50 years.”