Toledo Urban Federal Credit Union Opens Second Branch

Councilman John Hobbs, Juanita Greene, Bishop Robert Culp

By Fletcher Word
The Truth Editor

On July 16, 1995, Suzette Cowell opened the Toledo Urban Federal Credit Union in a small storefront. Over the years there has been steady growth – a larger building at 1339 Dorr Street, a free-standing building at the corner of Dorr and Detroit in 2015. Now, almost three decades after its humble beginnings, the credit union has opened second full-service branch.

On Friday, January 12, 2024, Cowell once again expanded the financial services she has brought to Toledo’s inner-city community and guided the financial institution into yet another section of that community. An enormous crowd of supporters, city officials and interested observers joined the staff of TUFCU for a ribbon cutting at the new Monroe Branch – across the street from Swayne Field. The new branch is a start to the revitalization of that neighborhood as the City of Toledo will be taking over a large part of the Swayne Field mall and turning it into a workforce development center.

The final pieces of the TUFCU effort to obtain the building from Fifth Third Bank fell into place last September when the Lucas County Commissioners during their 11 a.m. meeting and the Toledo City Council members during their 4:00 p.m. meeting both unanimously voted to grant TUFCU $75,000 in order to close the deal with Fifth Third. The government bodies’ funds of a combined $150,000, along with a matching amount from a donor, enabled the credit union to open its new branch in early 2024.

The newly obtained building on Monroe enables the credit union to expand its services to residents who are in the Englewood neighborhood, which borders the Junction neighborhood where the Dorr Street facility rests.

According to Cowell, many of the TUFCU clients are residents who walk to the building and many such clients will be more easily served by this second location. “They won’t have to get on a bus line,” she said later.

The Toledo Urban journey began in a small brown box almost 29 years ago – a brown box that had been dropped off at the Friendship Baptist Church by the National Credit Union Administration – the federal government body which oversees and insures credit unions. “Inside was a charter with no instructions,” said Cowell. “And we had 30 days to set up shop.”

Cowell had applied for a charter for the Toledo Urban Federal Credit Union with the urging of the Rev. Duane C. Tisdale, pastor of Friendship, and Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, both of whom wanted to see a strong Black-operated credit union in Toledo.

For its part, the NCUA had been less than cooperative. “They said we are people who don’t follow through,” says Cowell.

She did indeed follow through. Even without the assistance of NCUA.

“Nobody came in from NCUA to set it up, so we did the best we could. No one among us has ever said we had run a credit union. Their giving us a brown box was trying to set us up for failure,” says Cowell.

Nevertheless, TUFCU opened its doors for business under the watchful eye of the NCUA. “There were all those audits,” says Cowell. “We didn’t have a lot of capital and what we did have was going for outside auditors and outside attorneys.”

So TUFCU went to the community and managed to raise $184,000 between November 30, 1999 and June 25, 2000.

“People started sending money,” she recalls. “Three banks stepped up and made deposits. And with the help of an anonymous donor, we made it. We received a clean bill of health.”

Entities such as the Navy Federal Credit Union headquartered in Virginia, the largest in the country, stepped up and made a deposit. The Ohio Credit Union League, the former Mid-Am Bank and the former Capital Bank all lent a hand. Eventually Fannie Mae called Cowell to talk about doing business together – and TUFCU was off and running.

By 2015, TUFCU had finally achieved the goal of raising enough funds to start construction on its own free-standing building. On May 3, 2015 hundreds of credit union members, neighbors, elected officials and supporters gathered to place shovels in the ground and turn a dream into reality.

And on December 20, 2015, the new building at 1441 Dorr Street opened for business. “This is the beginning of a new day,” said Bishop Edward Cook, pastor of New Life C.O.G.I.C. and one of the founding fathers of the Credit Union back then, as he opened the dedication ceremony for the new 4,200 square-foot facility that offered members three times the space of the old building along with drive through service and ATMS.

However, that new building was quickly found to be not nearly spacious enough. Expanded services to an expanded membership meant that more staff was needed. More staff meant that more space was needed. A lot more space.

Finally, the acquisition of the much larger former Fifth Third branch has meant that the staff will no longer be crammed. At least for a while.

The first 28 and a half years of the Toledo Urban Federal Credit Union have meant more than simply a 9 to 5 business operation. Membership, services, assets are growing rapidly, especially in recent years. A TUFCU resource center will be opening on Dorr Street within a year or two. Is a third branch a possibility in the not-too-distant future?