Credit Union Pioneers: Roy Bergengren

Roy Frederick Bergengren was, perhaps, the second-most important pioneer of the credit union movement, second only to Edward Filene.

Roy Frederick Bergengren was born June 14, 1879 in Gloucester, Massachusetts. He trained in law at Dartmouth College and Harvard University and went on to practice law, specializing in helping low-income people.[1]

After serving as Captain in the U.S. ordinance corps during World War I, Roy met Edward A. Filene, a philanthropist looking for an organizer and attorney to help grow the young U.S. credit union movement. Filene initially hired Bergengren in 1920 as Acting Manager of the Massachusetts Credit Union Association, but by 1921 they expanded their operations to the Credit Union National Extension Bureau.[2] Their goal was to take credit unions to the entire country.  

Bergengren’s legal background helped with work on the Federal Credit Union Act of 1934. The Act instituted a national US credit union movement and was the beginning of the U.S.’s parallel federal and state systems that still operate today.

Bergengren and Filene were also responsible for setting up the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) in 1934, today known as America’s Credit Unions.  Bergengren worked at CUNA until 1945, and then directed the Virginia state credit union league until his death in 1955.

“Bergengren is looked upon as the moving spirit of the Credit Union National Association and CUNA Mutual Insurance . . . . He believed that credit unions and all cooperatives contributed importantly to the dignity and integrity”[3] of Americans, and dedicated his whole career and life to building the credit union movement.

In 1929, Bergengren said in an article called, “Every Man His Own Money Lender”:

It has become increasingly apparent that good citizens cannot be made of people harassed with debt and pursued by loan sharks. Our national progress is in a fair measure proportionate to the development of average happiness, average opportunity, and an average square deal. The credit union has demonstrated its usefulness in raising those averages higher and higher.