First Members of Seven Seventeen Amazed by Growth

WARREN, Ohio — As the Seven Seventeen Credit Union celebrates its 60th anniversary, two of its first members remain members, “amazed” – both used that word – by its growth and success.

Al Shinosky of Howland and George Houtz of Warren have long retired – the former in 2001, the latter in 1985 – but they used Seven Seventeen to save, finance cars and buy houses. It remains their primary financial institution.

The year was 1957 when 15 employees at Packard Electric, all tool-and-die makers who belonged to IUE Local 717, sought a charter after paying $5 each to start a credit union.

Those funds were kept in a cigar box, says Gary Soukenik, CEO of Seven Seventeen, and the members had $5 a week deducted from their paychecks to build the treasury.

The credit union office was an “8-by-8 room on the second floor of the union hall,” Shinosky remembers. “From that small office, I can’t believe where they are now.”

“The room was no bigger than my bathroom,” Houtz says, and it was always busy.

A fellow worker, a woman, approached him about joining the credit union, Houtz remembers. “How much? I asked.”

“Five dollars every week,” she responded.

“I’ve got a wife and four kids, I told her.” He was making only $39 a week, Houtz says.

She warned him of the risk he was taking, Houtz said, of the uncertain future the credit union faced.

“I had the feeling it may go; it may not go,” he recalls. But after four weeks he was confident the credit union “would fly.”

“Back in 1957,” Shinosky remembers, “I just got back from layoff and a guy suggested I join. I didn’t even know what a credit union was.”

The idea that $5 would be deducted from each paycheck before he got it appealed to him and he joined.

Through Seven Seventeen, Houtz financed “a brand-new Edsel,” he says. “I drove it to Pennsylvania and got hit by a semi. That ruined the Edsel.” (Ford Motor Co. built Edsels from 1958 through 1960.)

Houtz, later a director of the credit union, used it to help buy a brand-new house in 1961 on the west side of Warren. He paid $13,000.

Shinosky also used Seven Seventeen to arrange his first mortgage. “I was getting married and building a house,” he says. “I went to the second floor [of the union hall]. I was going to close out my account. I was going to use my savings as the down payment. But I was talked into keeping $5 in it. And I’m glad I did.”

Shinosky and Houtz have welcomed and used the products Seven Seventeen has introduced over its six decades, such as ATMs, credit and debit cards, online banking. “Whatever I went in there for, I got,” Houtz says. “They’re very nice people.”

“They’ve always been there to help me,” Shinosky adds.

They’ve kept their checking and savings accounts.

Seven Seventeen “gave me a lot of security after it got started,” Houtz says, that is, after his first four weeks as a member.

He is proud of his “real low membership account number” – Seven Seventeen has a membership of 76,000 today – that has only two digits.

Pictured at top: Al Shinosky reminisces about the founding of Seven Seventeen Credit Union with Jack Wilster, chairman of its board of directors.

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