Credit union’s STAR power

After 50 years, it’s the oldest Chico-based financial institution

Fifty years ago, Clifford “Blackie” Gilbert walked into an office that had only one desk, one chair and a filing cabinet with four drawers to request a loan to buy a home in Paradise. He was the third person to join STAR Community Credit Union.

“The gentleman who signed me up had to get up out of his chair so I could sit down and sign my paperwork,” the 88-year-old Gilbert recalled. The retired Chico High teacher said the credit union seemed to be a place that supported the community more than a typical bank.

Now, STAR Community Credit Union is celebrating 50 years of business and serves more than 3,400 members at its downtown location.

STAR was chartered in 1958 by four Chico State professors—Elvin Shepherd, its first president; Vice President Fred Newman; Treasurer John Hawley; and Secretary Dave Lantis—to provide community-based financial services to faculty and staff at Chico State and other local schools, said current CEO/President Joe Kelly.

“It’s truly the oldest Chico-based financial institution that is still in business,” he continued.

Kelly said STAR still offers “all the latest bells and whistles” that major banks provide customers, along with a warm and inviting feeling they often lack. The credit union has transitioned from a one-room “file cabinet in one of the professor’s offices” to its current Salem Street location, where it’s been located since the early 1980s. But it has never lost its local charm and has outlived a number of other credit unions and banks that have since closed, Kelly continued.

It’s one of at least 20 companies, national banks and credit unions currently doing business in the Chico area, and Kelly hopes to expand to a second location in the future.

“The credit union saved my life by giving me loans when banks wouldn’t consider it,” said Gayle Boyer, a long-time member and former board member. “It’s people helping people.”

Boyer, 72, recalls that she was member No. 92 in the first year STAR organized, when it was known as the University and Butte School Employees Credit Union. In the early days, the acronym STAR was part of the name: Students, Teachers, Alumni and Retirees.

Boyer says the credit union had far less rigid approval guidelines on loans, which Boyer appreciated because she received a paycheck only once a month working for Chico State. She joined the board of directors for more than 10 years and is still a member of the credit union.

However, Kelly stresses that the credit union is not exclusively for teachers—one reason the name was changed to STAR. Membership has grown to include additional educational groups and law enforcement. Also, anyone who has attended a school in Butte County is eligible to join, as well as those who currently work at any school or university or who have retired from a school in Butte County.

Those who have children enrolled in any Butte County educational facility are also eligible to join the credit union. The only requirement for membership is to open a savings account with a minimum $10 balance, Kelly said.

All deposits are generated locally, as well as all loans. Since STAR was chartered as a credit union, its members are the owners. As a result, dividends are not paid to shareholders, checking accounts are free and loan rates are lowered.

“We are here solely to benefit our members, not a shareholders’ group,” Kelly added.

STAR has been offering incentives and rewards to members this year, such as discounted loan rates for hybrid vehicles. Earlier this year the credit union offered a GPS giveaway for new-vehicle and equity loans.

More information about STAR can be found online at