Illinois Credit Union Hall of Fame
John L. Kelly
Reflecting upon his life at the age of 94, Kelly summed up his service to members in this autobiographical quote: "I would have to give my work with credit unions top priority. I am very proud of my small part in developing the credit union movement. Join one if you can and urge your children to do the same."
Apparently many people have taken Kelly’s advice. Credit unions in Illinois boast a total membership exceeding two-million people, representing over 600 credit unions. Much of this success was spurred by the tenacity of pioneers like Kelly.
Kelly had three totally different careers. First, he began as a teacher. Then, he joined the postal service in 1924. And he retired from the Illinois Credit Union League after ten years of service. How did he get "hooked" on credit unions?
During Kelly’s tenure with the post office, he volunteered to be on the Welfare Council. He received a letter from the post office department in Washington, DC praising the local success of credit unions. Kelly contacted Roy Bergengren, who referred him to the officers of the Springfield Postal Credit Union. After this meeting, credit unions in the Champaign area got a jump start.
John met with 50 employees on March 27, 1931 and they agreed to start a credit union. Kelly was elected to serve on the board and also served as the treasurer and manager. Within the next five years, Kelly continued to expand credit unions by helping organize eight more in Piatt and Champaign Counties. Urbana Postal and the University of Illinois Employees are just two examples of those credit unions that still remain today.
At the end of this period, Kelly was elected to serve on the board of the Illinois Credit Union League. Two years later, in 1938, he accepted the position of field representative on behalf of the league, traveling the state to organize more credit unions. Because of his success, two additional field representatives were hired and Kelly was promoted to assistant managing director.
Employees of the Illinois Credit Union League have Kelly to thank for researching and establishing an employee benefit plan in 1945. Of course, many more choices are available today than at its inception.
Kelly retired from the Illinois Credit Union League as assistant managing director in 1955 at the age of 58. Ironically, he was not given the position of managing director because his health was fragile; Kelly outlived DeRamus, Brietzke, Tinnes and the board that voted him out.
Kelly continued to support the credit union movement until his death in 1994 at the age of 96. In 1947 the East Central Chapter changed its name to the John L. Kelly Chapter. The Hall of Fame is proud to honor his memory.