A Closer Look
Blackhawk Community Credit Union
Preserving a Century of Janesville GM History
Story and interviews by Teresa Nguyen
"General Motors was where we started. Since then, we’ve really grown and evolved. It’s cyclical, because now it’s our turn to give back to the community, to those GM families."
~ Dona Dutcher, Legacy Center Curator
The historical building and future site of the
BHCCU Legacy Center
Photo by Pat Sparling Photography
Reflections of an Era
On a chilly February evening, I made my way around the parking lot snowbanks to Domenicos restaurant in downtown Beloit. There was a crispness to the air, which also brought some clarity in thought, as I eagerly entered the packed, dimly lit room. I was excited to see the highly anticipated, Beloit International Film Festival (BIFF) screening of “Shift Change”, a 35-minute documentary directed by 14-time Emmy award-winner, Bill Roach.
The film gives a thoughtful look at what General Motors meant to our community and how its closing, as painful as it was, did not close Janesville down. It bravely delves into the fragile, still painful wounds of GM shutting its doors, but doesn’t leave us there. Roach takes us on a community journey, showcasing the resilience of our people, leading us up and onward, to where we are today. It was a nostalgic, sobering look back as well as a refreshing look forward, all beautifully presented in 35 minutes of masterful cinema.
It is my intention that you will find yourself similarly rejuvenated with renewed hope in reading this intriguing and encouraging story. What is hope, anyway? It is defined as an expectation or a desire for a certain thing to happen. It is anticipation for what we want to happen. It is ambition, longing, yearning and dreaming. Hope is a kind of bridge that leads us away from the darker past into the light of the future…to an open window beyond. It breathes new life into our souls!
The Blackhawk Community Credit Union Legacy Center is destined to become a place of hope for this GM community. It will become the keeper of stories and memories, the tales of generations of workers, whose very identity was entwined with the GM logo. It will tell the stories of men and women who worked the line, stories of GM pride inside a 4.8 million square foot plant, of a job that seemed like a surefire path to the American Dream. It will hold the stories of fathers, grandfathers and great grandfathers, who made a living producing the vehicles that built America.
It will tell of long hours, sore muscles and sweat, of accidents and the formation of the unions, which helped workers negotiate a safer environment and livable wages. It will tell the struggles of women who worked to make it in a man’s world, who paved the path for other women to follow. It will hold the memories of Janesville pride, an unparalleled sense of community, a great work ethic and the Chevrolet Suburban. It will show how the workers had a purpose in life, following what dad did and what his dad did before him. The center will share stories of a long-standing philosophy that said if you work hard and long enough, you will not only make a quality product, but you’ll make a quality life for your family.
The Legacy Center will also tell the stories of the signs, those rumors of closure, the unbelievable announcement and the last day, which, when it arrived, left people dumbfounded, just standing at their stations, not knowing what to do. It will reflect on the questions, “Who would we be without GM? What will we do? How will we go on?” It will tell the stories of 1,500 who lost their jobs, stories of those who transferred to other states, families who sacrificed, families whose lives were forever changed and torn apart.
The stories told here will even reveal the many, new and positive opportunities explored that would have otherwise never been attempted. It will share the narratives of hanging on to hope for an entire decade and of the disbelief when that final announcement came of the sale and demolition.
Those visions of a ghost plant, of half-painted vehicle shells gathering dust on a quiet line, of a lonely smoke stack standing tall in a giant lot of mangled metal and dust clouds are not so far behind.
Yet the BHCCU Legacy Center will bring us hope, just like the sun’s rays shining through those gorgeous arched windows. It will tell of a strong community of people who were determined to bounce back, a city that said, “This will not take us down.”
The center will also tell the story of Blackhawk Community Credit Union.
The credit union formed in 1965 through the Fisher Body side so, naturally, the thoughtful decision was made to actually do something to preserve this important legacy and rich history of our General Motors work force.
Take a tour of hope through the interviews of Mary Frederick, Dona Dutcher, Glenn Lea and Pat McGuire as they share their stories of GM, the credit union, their involvement in the formation of the BHCCU Legacy Center and what it will mean to our community.
BHCCU Legacy Center Board Vice President
BHCCU Board Chairperson
Initial Ties to the General Motors Plant
My initial ties to General Motors started in 1973. I graduated in 1972 from the University of Wisconsin - Madison. I spent about a year and a half in AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) teaching school at the Wind River Indian Reservation out in Wyoming.
When I came out of that I was broke and needed a job. I had good friends down here, but I’m originally from northern Wisconsin. They encouraged me to come here and work. My plan was to work at Milton schools. But I heard that the workers at GM were making at least double what teachers were making, which was, at that time, only around 5,000 a year. This was long before serious teacher contract negotiations.
I wanted to return to school for a master’s degree. It was a time of massive layoffs, giving me an opportunity to earn my master’s from UW - Whitewater in Vocational Guidance and Counseling. During those years, I never worked a 40-hour schedule at GM. It took 5 years to get a full 40-hour week in.
My degree led me to working in Training and Adult Education at General Motors. We had a complete Education Center there. We did all sorts of training from diversity training to robotics training, etc. I represented the UAW, one of the few females who was involved with UAW.
Involvement in the Union
They were filling Equal Opportunity Quotas and I had been hired under that EEO quota. At that time, they would place two women on the production line and then a whole lot of men, then two women and, again, a whole line of men. Coming out of higher education and seeing that, I felt like we’d gone backward in women’s rights!
I saw my role in the union as an opportunity to help advance women. I knew it would be a hard struggle. A few gentlemen, who were like dads to me, helped to ‘open the door’ and said, “Well, if you want to get involved, there’s this committee…”. They really encouraged me.
Doris Thom had already opened doors for women down at the plant. She was one of the founders of BHCCU and the first woman out on the line, in the pit. Eventually, I became the only female Executive Board member, since Doris. A group of people put together a book in the early 80’s about the union, and I was the only female contributor.
There were several things that led me to my involvement in the union. One, was that I had to share a bathroom with men when I worked on the north side! They couldn’t understand why we wanted our own bathrooms. There were three women in this large section. We had to be escorted every time we needed to use the bathroom. A guy would go in and make sure all was clear, then wait outside until we were done, then escort us back.
We felt it was only fair to request a women’s bathroom. We were called all kinds of names like “The Sh**house Girls” and other derogatory names. We wrote a grievance and, although it took several months, it was the UAW that finally got us a bathroom for women.
A 1980's published book about the Janesville UAW Local 95
GM Family Pride
It was very family like. Depending on where you worked, it was not unusual to see at least two or three generations working there. Sometimes there would be several brothers working at GM. It was amazing to watch this whole family atmosphere. In the early years, when they put the truck line on there, they would hire specifically from the western side of Wisconsin, mostly farming families.
Then, in 1986, when they opened up a new line, there was a lot more hiring in the community, though it was still very family oriented. GM always came together as a family and helped the community. That spirit was very much alive at the plant.
That was why, when the plant closed, it wasn’t just a plant closing…it was like closing the family.
Aerial view of the Janesville GM Plant
The Final Announcement
The news in 2008 was bad enough. We had been through layoffs before, through shutdowns. To some people, it was going to be just another layoff. After the closing, it sat for 10 years.
During that decade, there was still a lot of hope. People would say, “Maybe someday they’ll open it back up.” There was a group that worked toward that goal, they went to Detroit and pitched the case for us. In late 2017, when the final announcement came to close our plant permanently and sell, it felt like a death. It was even worse than the initial closing.
Blackhawk Community Credit Union
I’ve been on the board for 14 years, but have been with the credit union since 1973, which was when I came to the community. One of the board members asked me if I’d be interested in joining their board. I saw BHCCU as a way to make a difference in the community.
Blackhawk Community Credit Union had done so many things for our community. Not only did they form the credit union from within the General Motors Fisher Body side back in 1965, but through the years of layoffs and downturns, BHCCU was there in the forefront to help members.
GM Plant - Photo by Pat Sparling Photograhy
Back in the 70’s and 80’s, the credit union was very innovative with their programs. They would rewrite loans and you could actually pay ahead, so that if there were layoffs or a strike, your loan would not go into arrears. People who transferred into this community could receive signature loans for a couple thousand dollars. It made me want to be a part of this organization and be a part of that ‘giving back’ to the community.
The Idea of a BHCCU Legacy Center
Upon the final announcement, social media was alive with the feelings and emotions of the reality setting in. We saw that there wouldn’t be an open door. The thought of tearing it down was like a cathartic release of emotions. In the board room, we started throwing out the ideas, “It would be nice if we could do something.”
It was not an easy discussion. We didn’t just come in, talk about it, decide and leave with the idea just like that. It was a very thought out process. We had debates, “What about this?” and “What about that?” There are some board members who are not with us today. They have moved on, but wanted to make sure that we were doing it right. It was a big undertaking! We wanted to be able to honor that legacy, but we also wanted to be able to help with the emotions of the members and the community, to bridge that angst.
A lone door still standing during demolition of the Janesville GM Plant
Photo by Pat Sparling Photography
It was a very honorable legacy; nearly 100 years! We had a century of an industry that not only produced a vehicle, but built a community, built a family.
Ideas circulated about what we could do. We wanted to leave something that was not just showcasing the decades, but that honored the legacy and continued on. We didn’t want it to be just a museum. It’s a lot more than that. It will be a place to carry on the legacy.
Remember, we are a financial institution. We were tipping our toes into something we had never done before. We’re used to opening branches and building a headquarters. It was going to be a huge gift back to the community, but more than that…it was connected to the meaning of it all. This was something totally different, out of the box.
What It Means to the GM Community
They’re excited and waiting in anticipation, so patiently. It’s going to be very special to them. It’s important that we honor the work that was done there and the establishment. There are a lot of industries out there that have a lot of workers, but the GM plant of Janesville was different.
There was a whole attitude that the workers had down there. It was about coming together to build a quality product with the best efforts, and to carry that pride with them. They were very proud of their work. We were honored many times with awards through the years. But it was the workforce that made it happen.
I love the name, the Legacy Center, because it is about leaving a legacy. The board is looking to the future to determine how we carry that legacy onward.
So many of the people who were there are older now or they are gone! A part of our work is collecting the stories now so that we can tell it right. Dona Dutcher is doing a fantastic job of helping create the story from a collection of many stories for the Legacy Center.
Engaging the Next Generation
There’s a whole new generation who have no idea what it all means. In this age of social media, I find that there’s actually more disconnect. We’re hoping that this Legacy Center will help connect them to the legacy of GM and to the community even more.
We are very adamant that we want it to be interactive so that it’s not just a matter of seeing the displays. We want visitors to be a part of that community, to know and feel what it was like.
We want to connect the generations. To have a young man say, “I remember the stories of my grandfather and I want to see what it’s all about.”
Of all the organizations to give back, we’re glad to do so, since BHCCU originally started there!
Exciting Turning Points
The decision to do it and incorporate it into BHCCU was the first big turning point.
Originally, the plan was for the Legacy Center to be on the riverfront as part of a massive new building. It would have been beautiful. I do believe in fate and think that this has been a spectacular turn around for us, to end up in this beautiful bank with a history and legacy of its own that will honor this hundred-year-old work force. It’s amazing! That was one of our biggest turning points.
We will also want to be able to share this with another organization. We have been in talks with Beloit College who is interested in sending us interns to help manage the center.
We have to give JP Cullen a lot of credit. When we were looking at it, JP Cullen had all the pictures of the original building because they had built it and did the wrap. We saw those photos and knew right away that we wanted to restore it to its beautiful, original glory. There was no doubt.
JP Cullen was very careful when they put that outer layer on to preserve what was underneath, so kudos to them! They made sure they could bring it back if the opportunity came up.
We are hearing a lot from the former employees. They have been sharing a lot of memorabilia, so that’s been helpful.
The restored facade of First National Bank and future BHCCU Legacy Center
Photo by Pat Sparling Photography
A big way to support the Legacy Center would be to come out when it opens, to share it with your family, to talk it up and spread the word. After the first six months, when the honeymoon is over, we’ll need to keep it viable and to keep it going. We plan to rotate the exhibits and all, but the community can bring in family, friends and direct visitors to us. Word of mouth will be the biggest thing for us.
My hopes are for this to not only be seen as a place of beautiful displays, but to also be a center of learning, to see students coming in from all over this community, the country and from all over the world. My dream is to be able to see it go forth, to see school children, older people and folks from the community learn from their experiences at the Legacy Center.
I’m very honored to be involved with this. It’s a huge testament to giving back the community. Being a part of this touches my heart because I really do believe ‘I am my brother’s keeper’. Being able to give this back to the community, to the world, really, to be a conduit for this is a gift.
This is just the beginning!
Mood of the Board
They’re very upbeat. We were a little down for a while when we found out we weren’t going to build at the riverfront. We had to step back and regroup because we’re building a headquarters, but what we’re going to be doing with the Legacy Center is so important. Having the bank is very exciting to us. If it hadn’t been the bank, where would we be? The board is wanting to see this continue. We’re in the development stage, but we’re excited!
It’s a big responsibility. We don’t take this lightly and it wasn’t a flippant decision. Some people ask, “You’re a credit union, what are you doing?”
But, it’s important to understand that our mission is “to give back”. That’s why it’s called Blackhawk Community Credit Union. We want to help those in the community, whether it’s in better rates or in other areas.
The BHCCU Legacy Center Board of Directors
John "Mac" McGinniss, Pete Skelly, Matt Wohlers, John Jenks, Gary Mawhinney
Dona Dutcher, Sherri Stumpf (President), Mary Frederick
Mike Reuter - Advisor (not pictured)
This project means a lot to the whole board. We have people on the board who are constantly watching it, watching the money and asking the questions. We are regulating this. We ask ourselves the important questions, “How do we go forward? How can we maintain it, and with whom do we partner?” It’s not an easy undertaking. We lose sleep over it.
Luckily, we have a great senior team who are out there working with the community and making sure that we can keep the momentum going to make this happen for Janesville and for everyone.
And that’s what our credit union is all about. It’s about giving back.
BHCCU Legacy Center Curator
BHCCU Milton Branch Manager
A General Motors Family
My husband, Brad Dutcher, is an “Eighty-Sixer”, one of the GM workers that was hired in 1986. They had received another truck line, so they needed to hire more workers, because they couldn’t bring back those who were already transferred. His father worked there, starting in the mid 1960’s.
We thought we were second generation GM. But we found an article in the Janesville Gazette listing the names of the men who created the GM assembly line for the World’s Fair in Chicago. And there was my husband’s great uncle! That was interesting. I find it’s a common theme in Janesville, multiple generations of General Motors workers.
About two weeks prior to GM closing, Brad had just been elected president of the local union. There’s a picture of him in the Gazette and I remember how ashy his skin tone was, and that look in his eyes. It was a difficult, devastating time for everyone.
Governor Doyle met with my husband and Senator Tim Cullen appointing them co-chairs of the task force to try to lure GM back to the Janesville plant. The package they put together was very enticing, like a gift, involving the city, local businesses and the state. It would not have been a surprise if they would have decided to come back because of that.
GM Assembly Line at the World's Fair Display
It was a year in our lives when the world turned upside-down. It was crazy. But, after that trip to Detroit, when they came out of GM Headquarters, Brad called me. It was the most excited and hopeful he had been in a long time. He wasn’t unrealistic, but he was pretty proud of what they had offered. He knew, though, that if it wasn’t in the cards, it wouldn’t happen. They were criticized for their efforts, but you have to try, at least to do anything you can. At the end of the day, you know you put your best foot forward.
The Final Word
GM wasn’t officially ‘closed’. We were idled. There were three plants set on “idle status”. For years during that idle decade, we would get calls, “Hey Dutch, we saw trucks going into the plant. What’s going on? Any chance?” There was always some sort of rumor starting and Brad’s phone would ring with all of these hopeful questions. We stopped being as social around here, because the questions kept coming and it was painful to see the hope in their eyes.
In the few years leading up to 2017, it was pretty evident that things weren’t going to change there.
Birth of the Idea
After the final announcement, we all started thinking about what we could do to preserve the legacy.
I had already transferred back to the Milwaukee Street branch and we were needing to remodel. I had former GM people coming in, bringing me things. They would tell me stories of their time at GM. I was thinking of trying to design something to honor this legacy. On a small scale, I was imagining story boards, black and white pictures, small item displays, etc.
The whole idea sort of built itself. Combining those early ideas with what the board was thinking, the idea of the Legacy Center evolved into what it is today.
We’ve had critics saying, “You’re crazy for doing this.” or “Who cares?” But, really, the positives outweigh the negatives.
There are so many people who say, “I love this.”, “This means so much to my dad.”, “This means so much to my family.” We get a lot of positive feedback!
It doesn’t matter if people think we’re crazy for doing this. I say you're crazy if you don’t think it’s important. If you saw it from where I sit, you would understand it matters. It’s important.
Becoming the BHCCU Legacy Center Curator
There is a saying that if you do what you love for a living, you never work a day in your life. I used to think that person was a liar…until now. I’m living it! I love what I’m doing and it doesn’t feel like work. It feels like I’m cheating, because it’s such a special project.
The toppling of the Janesville GM Plant sign
Photo by Abb's Tracks Photography
You know when you are a child, there are things that form us, that lead us into what we pursue later in life. When I was younger, I was always very sympathetic and empathetic. I saw things a little differently than others throughout my childhood. My mom had gone through six major brain operations, and we lost a little more of her every time. We were watching her die before our very eyes. We lost her when I was in my 20’s.
We didn’t have the kind of convenient record keeping we do now, and it wasn’t on our minds. But there are so many times we wished we had asked questions or knew stories about our family history.
GM UAW Jacket
When you go through a high level of suffering, you treasure things in a different way. In our community, our GM and UAW families were always there for us through those hard times, through our own personal tragedies.
People know that I understand their pain in all of this, so they are comfortable and willing to share their stories with me. I have “repeaters” who will come back to me, bringing more things and then sharing more bits and pieces of their stories…stories of their family, of GM and what it all meant to them.
That’s why this BHCCU Legacy Center is so important.
The Brick Distribution Project
On May 4th, 2019, people flocked by the thousands to BHCCU headquarters in Janesville, traveling from far and wide, from across Wisconsin and other states for their General Motors memento. Drivers waited in a long line from the credit union, up Crosby Avenue, around the corner on Mineral Point, even past Parker High School! They slowly inched toward the distribution site, patient for their GM brick from the demolished plant, complete with a certificate of authenticity. Some waited for hours, and some, near the end of the line, did not get their brick because of the high demand. So, those folks had to come back again.
The last of the Janesville General Motors plant came down on May 31st, 2019.
A second distribution of bricks was held in August of 2019. Bricks are still being distributed to people across the United States. These small pieces of history represented more than a building. They represented a way of life, a symbol of the GM legacy.
Brick Distribution Gallery
(Click on photo to see full picture)
We distributed over 9000 bricks at two distributions. At one point they named me the “Brick Chick” because I was always taking bricks out of my truck or moving bricks around. There’s an attachment to them. People waited for over five hours at the first distribution. That, in itself, tells you what it meant to people.
At the first distribution, we had people lined up 3-4 hours ahead of the start time! We had a lot of us there helping keep people in order. We were supposed to go until 4 pm, but we continued beyond that time. At that point, the city wanted us to have it shut down so they could get the traffic back to normal. The line was still long, and we were already running low on bricks. So, I ended up walking up the line, handing out my cards to people to let them know we would have another distribution. I walked from BHCCU on Court Street, all the way past Parker High School!
The difficulty in doing that was that everyone wanted to tell you their story, why they were waiting in line, what it meant to them. It was a challenge because couldn’t wait and listen to each individual story and yet, you don’t want to walk away when people are feeling emotional. Sometimes there were tears. I had to continue to give my cards out…until I ran out of cards!
In August we had the second distributioin. We had learned our lessons from the first time and set things up in a more organized way. We had just bought the land for our new administrative building and had nine stations set up there, in the front of the parking lot. We distributed more than 700 bricks in the first 45 minutes. It just flew by!
Many people were afraid there would be a long line like the first time. I put out a social media post saying, “It’s smooth like butter!”. And it was!
Curt Lenz, Photojournalist for WMTV NBC15, Steve Knox, Dona Dutcher and Amelia Jones, Morning News Reporter WMTV NBC15
One man said that it took him less time to get his brick than it did to get his coffee at McDonald’s! At the second distribution, we handed out around 5000 bricks.
Someone had skeptically asked me before this all started, “What are you going to do with all those extra bricks?” Well, they had to eat crow, because they had no idea how many people would come out for them!
Today we’re still sending bricks, because not everyone could make it. Some had medical issues, etc. We worked it out so that we could get bricks to those who really wanted one.
The demand wasn’t just here in Janesville. We got calls from all over the United States and have shipped them to a variety of locations. I just got a call the other day, so we’re sending bricks out to Oklahoma, and we recently sent bricks to New York. Even people living elsewhere, who had vehicles made in Janesville, feel an attachment to our plant.
It’s neat, because people have been taking the bricks and creating unique displays from them. They feel compelled. It’s really sweet, because they really don’t need to bring us anything. But they often make something from their heart, and that’s pretty cool.
When you talk about community, this brick distribution project is what it’s all about.
We took a foundational piece from the original building. I had seen thousands of blueprints they were going to throw out. I asked if I could have them and they said I could. So, I took them and saw that, on the inside, they were still in good condition. Using those prints, and with JP Cullen’s help, we were able to get that slab from that original foundation. That’s special. It reflects the foundation of this community.
For me, personally, the history of the UAW, the struggle to form the union, and what people went through to get there is meaningful to me. Today, in the workplace, you have weekends. You can go to the bathroom when you need to. There are all these things we take for granted now that, if you look back in the history of labor, were not a given.
We have a medallion from one of the “Sit Down” strikers. Those guys put themselves at risk and the stakes were high. They put it on the line, creating the wages that created the middle class. That’s my view of it. I love those things from those early times and those sacrifices they made.
But Janesville was always unique. If you had transfers, they were always surprised that union and management would have lunch together. That didn’t happen in other plants, but it happened here. Three and four generations created that environment, the groundwork for that amazing workforce.
I love going into the Legacy Center building and watching the progress. There’s a lot of excitement for it.
And there’s an urgency to not let some of the stories fade away with the older generation.
Blackhawk Community Credit Union
56 years ago, General Motors was where we started. Since then, we’ve really grown and evolved. It’s cyclical, because now it’s our turn to give back to the community, to those GM families.
Rennovations in progress at the BHCCU Legacy Center
Photo by Pat Sparling Photography
BHCCU First President
BHCCU Emeritus Board Member
Involvement with GM
When I came to Janesville, just about everybody you talked to had either a son or a daughter or a relative who worked for General Motors. We still have so many people with GM connections. It was very family oriented.
I came here in 1955 and landed a job at GM. It was one of the better places in the city to work. I enjoyed the work and held several different positions, including a utility man.
Representing the Union
It was about a year or two later that I got involved with the union. I’d had an issue, and complained to the union at a meeting. The very next day, they came and offered me a committee position!
I asked, “What do I have to do?”
And I was told, “You’ll learn.”
I was given a packet of books with a big rubber band around them. The following day, the foreman came and took me off the line. He said, “You have to go in the office, you got a discipline case.”
I asked, “What the hell is a discipline case?” That’s how I got started.
Formation of the Credit Union
My employee told me that he heard if you don’t have a credit union, you should get one. I contacted the union president, he made the contacts, and we had our first meeting. When it all started, I was very involved with the credit union. I really didn’t understand interest rates, simple interest and add-on interest, but I learned.
One day, our lead representative came in and was talking to me. He said we needed a full-time manager and asked me if I’d be interested in the job. I told him we couldn’t afford that. He said they had been given a $10,000 grant to do it.
What is your role today?
I serve as a BHCCU Emeritus Board Member. I don’t vote on decisions, but can voice my opinion. I’m proud of what they do and how they’re carrying on the tradition.
Original Board of Directors in 1965
Back row: Robert Nelson, Glenn Lea (President), L. Patrick McGuire, David Else
Front row: Marion Steinke, Cleo Keele, and Doris Thom
The credit union is in excellent shape. We’re so much different than other places. We really work together with the people and get things taken care of.
The BHCCU Legacy Center - What it Means
We’re so proud of where we came from, how we got started. Even when we were union reps, we were very proud to be there. Since 1955, I’d seen a lot of changes at the plant. I think it’s going to mean a lot. There are a lot of families connected to GM. This was their life.
I think it’s going to be great for the city of Janesville!
The BHCCU Legacy Center building
BHCCU Second President
Formation of the Credit Union
I started at General Motors in 1958. As one of the UAW members, I remember they told us we needed a credit union, so I helped start that up.
First, in order to form the credit union, we filed the papers. Then we sent a notice out to all of the potential members to let them know there was going to be a meeting to elect the board of directors. We scheduled the meeting where Glenn Lea and I, plus three others, were voted onto the board.
On June 18, 1965, Blackhawk Credit Union was formed with the Fisher Body Division of General Motors - Janesville and office employees of UAW Local 95.
Then we signed up members.
In November 1965, Blackhawk Credit Union received its first payroll deduction, which was $1700.00 per week. There were 242 people on payroll deduction employed by Fisher Body. They would sign a payroll deduction card and we turned it in to General Motors. They would then take a certain amount out of their paycheck.
We only charged 25 cents to join. That covered pencils and papers. We opened a bank account and would take the money, putting it in the bank.
Our early members were only from the Fisher Body side. Later, we picked up all of the Chevrolet employees.
In 1970 we purchased 164 South Academy Street, which became the office for Blackhawk Credit Union.
Then in 1973, we opened a branch office in Edgerton and the East Milwaukee Street office was purchased in 1978, which then became the main office for the Credit Union.
It was rewarding to work with Glenn Lea, that would be in the top ten. One of the most rewarding things that I can remember was being able to do fixed rate mortgages. We were the first in the state to do that.
Bank vault from the First National Bank
Photo by Pat Sparling Photography
We didn’t know whether we were going to be able to continue or if the examiners were going to shut us down when they came in. But we were able to sell them. And then everybody started doing them.
The BHCCU Legacy Center
I’m pleased about this. I just think that General Motors ought to have a place, this Legacy Center in Janesville, like we have the UAW and the Credit Union.
The plant was a good income for the people of Janesville, for so many who worked at GM. I think the Legacy Center will be a monument to all of us!
It’s pretty cool.
Pat McGuire and Glenn Lea
Photo by Pat Sparling Photography
14-Time Emmy Award Winner
Director of Shift Change: The Regeneration of an American Home Town
It was a pleasure meeting Bill Roach, the 14-Time Emmy award winning director, who won the 2020 BIFFY Best Documentary Short honors for Shift Change: The Regeneration of an American Home Town. The film also won a Remi Award in April of 2020 at the 53rd Annual Worldfest-Houston International Film Festival.
The film examines the closure of the General Motors plant in Janesville in 2008.
In a brief interview after the BIFF showing, Bill, a Janesville native, talked about the impact his film is having on local audiences, “When I was starting the project,
people said, ‘That’s old news’, but I didn’t think so. I believed that GM was still significant, even 8 to 10 years after the closing. What got me was the demolition of the plant, and I knew it would affect a lot of people.”
Bill's Thoughts on the BHCCU Legacy Center
“I think it’s a great idea. It’s all part of the transformation of Janesville. It will be another thing to draw people to the community. It will be like a monument, a nice place for people to come and reflect on and absorb what GM meant to Janesville.”
Build It and They Will Come
On a sunny day in early March of 2020, I enjoyed a very thorough and interesting tour. BHCCU’s Tim Rice guided a handful of us involved in this story through the old First National Bank building, constructed in 1913 at the corner of West Milwaukee and River streets. This glorious, red brick, historical building stood proudly in the golden beams of Janesville's setting sun on the western horizon. One day soon, this Legacy Center will be opening its doors to the public!
I envision the displays, the people, the grandparents with their grandkids, showing them the items on exhibit and teaching them what they each mean. Although I lived here when the plant was in full production, I know that there is an entirely new generation that has yet to learn what we already know.
The beautiful arched windows of the BHCCU Legacy Center
Photo by Pat Sparling Photography
In the echoes of this cathedral-like building, I can almost hear the stories that the visitors will begin to share with a younger demographic. They are a generation of our local youth who never saw the inside of the plant, who would never know the sounds from the line or feel the sweat dripping down their foreheads as Grandpa once did. But here they will begin to understand the significance of the 'family' that was Janesville GM.
Inside the BHCCU Legacy Center Grandpa isn’t sad. He stands up straight, holding his grandchild’s small hand and smiles. He feels that familiar sense of pride and is pleasantly reassured that they now have this amazing place they can visit, filled with General Motors exhibits and archives. Here, his grandchildren will truly learn about his life and, in an inspiring way, they will experience the century-long, impressive legacy of General Motors in Janesville.