Upstate banking phenom Founders Federal Credit Union will announce plans formally on Thursday to hoist its name upon the University of South Carolina’s college baseball stadium in Columbia.
But the Lancaster-based financial institution is not known everywhere in the state. One USC trustee admitted he knew little about Founders when the board unanimously approved a 10-year, $7 million naming rights and advertising deal on Friday that will change the name of Carolina Stadium to Founders Park.
Founders is the largest credit union in South Carolina. Over 65 years, it has grown to more than 200,000 members, with 50-plus office and ATM locations across nine Upstate counties and Charlotte, N.C. The credit union opened its first Midlands location in USC’s Russell House student union this summer.
Some in the Upstate who are familiar with the credit union said Wednesday they are not surprised Founders is putting its money in education-related endeavors and playing big in new territory.
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“They’re great supporters of education, not only in this community, but elsewhere,” said Lindsay Pettis, a longtime Lancaster real estate dealer and local historian. “They have a history of leadership in the community here, are generous through their giving to nonprofits here and throughout their service area. That’s one thing – I respect them very much not only as an institution, but their employees individually take a large part in whatever community they live in.”
The credit union was founded in Lancaster County in 1950 to serve disadvantaged textile workers.
Elliot White Springs, who was president of Spring Mills, opened Springs Employee Federal Credit Union in a small room inside the Springs Mills plant in Fort Mill, according to plant history. It had came to Springs’ attention that his employees were falling victim to loan sharks in the plant and high-interest financial predators outside the plant.
Though Springs Mills closed, the credit union has survived, with assets totaling $1.8 billion this year.
Efforts to reach Founders officials were unsuccessful this week.
In the Upstate, Founders is involved in many community activities and business enterprises, according to Walter Collins, USC Lancaster regional campus dean. The institution’s name can be found on youth soccer and Little League baseball jerseys and in sponsorship of middle school and high school athletic and academic events.
“That really stems from their history of supporting the Springs Industries employees of our region,” Collins said. “When the textile mills were open here, they were founded to help their employees financially. So they have that background of service to their employees and now that has just branched out to service to the community.”
In 2009, during the height of the Great Recession, Founders was the signature donor in a capital campaign to build a classroom and office building at USC Lancaster during the two-year college’s 50th anniversary.
Founders gave the school $1 million and inspired donors to give millions more, Collins said. Last year, the $7.5 million classroom building, covering 40,000 square feet, opened at USC Lancaster, which sits across the highway from the Founders headquarters office.
USC Lancaster doubled in size from 2003 to 2013, Collins said, now serving just more than 1,700 students.
“Since textiles have gone from our region, that’s been a wonderful thing that our campus can keep some talent locally and serve our region a little bit better,” Collins said.