Illinois Credit Union Hall of Fame
Joseph S. DeRamus
The Illinois Credit Union Hall of Fame would not be complete without remembering Joseph DeRamus. Before his death at the age of 87, he spent over 50 years as a catalyst for action in the credit union movement.
DeRamus is an example of what can be accomplished with a lot of personal effort and limited financial resources. His early years were spent working for the Rock Island Railroad until the depression forced him to leave. Many early credit unions in Illinois were organized by employees of the railroads. DeRamus was persuaded to take on the challenge of the struggling Illinois Credit Union League as the first managing director in 1932.
Cost-cutting measures he instituted included sending his family to Michigan to their cottage and using a cot in the office as his resting place. Little of his time was spent on the cot! Instead he could be seen walking the streets of Chicago or riding public transportation. Cars and cabs were not in his stringent budget. DeRamus’ efforts paid off.
There were 98 credit unions and 20,000 credit union members when DeRamus embarked on his mission. When he retired, there were 1400 credit unions and 650,000 members. While a league employee, he personally organized more than 600 credit unions, achieving a long-standing record that exceeded 100 credit unions in a single year!
DeRamus was paid a mere $100 a month when he was hired and got a fifty-dollar-a-month raise after two-and-a-half years. This difference made it possible for his family to move back to Chicago. DeRamus reported to Tim O’Shaughnessy. In reflecting upon his boss, DeRamus described an individual who ran the show with an iron hand. Even with his outstanding results, DeRamus was required to report to his boss in person or by phone at 5:00 p.m., no matter what! These beginnings could not have predicted his retirement in 1955 with an annual pension of $6,000 a year for life.
With all of the work DeRamus did for the credit union movement, it is amazing that he had any free time. He could be spotted on the golf course with his distinctive cross-handed grip scoring in the low 70’s. Here was a human being who excelled in many playing fields.
Joseph DeRamus was an extraordinary person and a great credit union pioneer. He was respected by credit union people and often envied by managing directors in other states. DeRamus was an inspiration and a force that resulted in Illinois becoming the acknowledged leader with the highest number of credit unions, having the largest number of members and greatest shares, loans and assets.
DeRamus had a lending philosophy based on people helping people. He believed that a loan decision should focus on the strength of a person’s character over their known collateral.
On the national scene, DeRamus helped to organize the Credit Union National Association in 1934 at Estes, Colorado. The Credit Union National Extension Bureau paid his expenses to the meeting as a reward for establishing so many credit unions in Illinois. His boss O’Shaughnessy opposed the proposed by-laws and drafted his own. This was the beginning of a power shift.
At the annual meeting in 1935, the board voted DeRamus as managing director even though O’Shaughnessy had been assuming that role without the official title for several years. O’Shaughnessy made every effort to have this overthrown at the fall session, but the motion passed again reconfirming DeRamus. This made it possible for Illinois to fully support CUNA.
DeRamus served as a director of CUNA Mutual Insurance for over 25 years. Joe succeeded Edward A. Filene after his death and boasted that he never missed a board meeting. Upon his retirement in 1962, he was elected an honorary board member and had the privilege of attending all board meetings with expenses paid.
DeRamus was a staunch supporter of advertising and voted to have a national program financed by the society. Both print and radio spots were run for two years. This resulted in additional credit unions being formed and many more people gaining exposure to the services available to members. It marked a new era in the development of the credit union movement.
A person of many talents, DeRamus excelled in several unrelated fields. Although he was a trained concert violinist, he suddenly stopped playing when a romance went awry. He was a poet who expressed his guarded feelings freely there. In his poem entitled Home, he pens "It took a lot of roaming through the land Before I came to know and understand A loved one’s tears." This undoubtedly included the miles traveled as editor for the railroad magazine and the miles walked to inspire the formation of credit unions.
DeRamus was a credit union pioneer with a zeal that will always be remembered. We are proud to honor his memory. We recall his achievements upon his inauguration into the Illinois Credit Union Hall of Fame.