Crews tear down Family Trust building in downtown Rock Hill

dworthington@heraldonline.comMay 27, 2014 

It took Jule Rogers of Rogers Grading slightly more than an hour Tuesday morning to reduce the Family Trust Federal Credit Union branch at the corner of White and Laurel streets to rubble.

A handful of people on site – construction workers, credit union management and members of media – watched as Rogers dug his clamshell bucket into the building, bringing down brick, concrete, steel and other construction materials while creating a cloud of fine dust.

The small gathering was a far cry from the credit union’s heyday when members would line the streets waiting to make transactions on Thursdays – pay day for the Rock Hill Printing & Finishing Co.

The credit union got its start in 1957 as the Rock Hill Printing & Finishing Co. Employers Federal Credit Union. The credit union moved into its headquarters on White Street in 1967.

Third-shift Bleachery workers would cross the street early in the morning – the credit union opened at 7 a.m. – while first-shift workers made the trek about 3 p.m. after work. The lines would be even longer when the credit union issued its annual dividend checks.

Regardless of the financial transaction, the members left with checks, the credit union didn’t handle cash until early 1980s.

Tuesday’s demolition of the former headquarters was bittersweet for members such as Wayne Garrison, Beverly Ellis and Brenda Pettus.

Ellis and Pettus worked in the building. Garrison was one of the hundreds of Bleachery workers who turned to the credit union to help them with the major life purchases, from cars to cows and everything in between. Home mortgages came later.

The trio said they are sad to see the building come down, but excited about what’s to come.

In a year’s time, Family Trust is expected to move its headquarters into a brand new building on White and Laurel streets, bringing the credit union back to its roots.

The construction will be among the first projects for the city’s Knowledge Park, a two-pronged strategy to redevelop the former textile site and bring high-tech jobs to downtown Rock Hill.

Construction of a new 36,000-square-foot building is expected to start within weeks, said Sula Pettibon, director of marketing for the credit union. The estimated cost of construction is $7 million.

The design of the new headquarters takes some of its architectural cues from mill buildings of old. One rendering shows big windows and brick construction – just like the Bleachery’s buildings across the street. The credit union has commissioned art work from Winthrop University students for the inside of the building.

Garrison worked at the Bleachery for 38 years, starting in July 1960. One of the first things he did was to join the company’s credit union. Loans from the credit union helped him buy cars, boats, even horses, he said.

The new building, Garrison said, is a testament to Lee Gardner’s acumen as the credit union’s chief executive officer and president. Garrison was on the credit union’s board when it hired Gardner. “We made a good decision,” Garrison said.

Ellis was among the first seven employees who worked at the headquarters shortly after it opened in 1967. Alexander Wolf was the manager, Norma Sargee was the assistant manager. The remainder did whatever work needed to be done. Ellis was a bookkeeper, but worked as a teller when the lines got long. She worked for the credit union for 33 years, retiring an assistant manager and loan officer. She is a Family Trust board member.

Pettus came in 1971. She had worked in front office at Rock Hill Printing & Finishing Co. for three years and was a member of the credit union. When she left the textile company she closed her account, only to reopen when she started working for the credit union. She retired after 36 years, advancing to a branch manager and trainer.

Pettus’ history with the site, however, predates her time at either the Bleachery or the credit union. It goes back to a white, two-story home owned by the grandparents of her childhood friend.

What Pettus remembers most is that when the credit union’s building expanded, it was the members themselves who did much of the work. When there was a problem, the credit union would call Rock Hill Printing & Finishing to have the person who did the initial work come over and make the repairs, she said.

What makes working at the credit union special, said Ellis and Pettus, was it truly was a family credit union. You knew the members by their first names and knew about their families, they said.

Most of all, they remember, “when someone was in trouble, and needed help, we helped them,” Pettus said. “That’s what really felt good.”

Don Worthington •  803-329-4066

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