GREENSBORO, N.C.-The impact of Elizabeth "Sis" Hamilton's extraordinary 70-year career with Summit Credit Union probably is best measured by a wall.

Hamilton said last week that after seven decades on the board of Summit Credit Union, she will not run for re-election when her current term is up. Hamilton is believed to hold the record for longest term of service with a U.S. credit union in history.

Glenn Kirk, EVP of marketing and business development for the $138.8-million, SEG-based CU, told Credit Union Journal an entire wall in its corporate office is dedicated to Hamilton's accolades and awards.

Among her honors are the 2003 Order of Longleaf Pine (a prestigious award in North Carolina) and the 2007 Larry Johnson Order of Merit Lifetime Achievement Award, the highest award presented to North Carolina credit union leaders. In 2012 she was named North Carolina Credit Union Volunteer of the Year.

"The list just goes on and on and on," said Kirk. "Even though she is well past being a senior citizen, she is very sharp and active in several committees. She is totally involved all the time. She is an asset to the credit union."

 

Long And Winding Road

Hamilton was just a teenager in 1943 when she became the secretary of the board of directors of what then was known as Tri-City Telco Credit Union, which served the local telephone company. Kirk said Hamilton was working at the telephone company for someone who was already on the board. The board needed a secretary, so she took the post.

Five years later, the one-employee CU had a bigger need when the manager left. Hamilton was asked to take over, a job she would hold for 55 years until retiring in 2003. During that time she managed as many as five other credit unions while running Summit CU.

Hamilton has also held volunteer leadership roles locally and nationally, spending 12 years on the National Association of State Credit Union Supervisors (NASCUS) Council Board, 21 years on CUNA Board, and 25 years on the North Carolina CU League Board as the first female board member.

When she decided not to pursue re-election for her board seat this year, Kirk said the North Carolina CU League sent out a number of e-mails to credit unions that have been around for 70 or more years.

"The league confirmed Sis is longest-serving volunteer in U.S. credit union history," he said.

Kirk noted that when Hamilton stepped down in 2003 she received a huge sendoff, including a dinner with some of her peers from the telephone company. "This time it will be quieter," he said. "We will have a reception for her following the annual meeting."

For her part, Hamilton told Credit Union Journal that the credit union is no less than a part of her everyday life after seven decades.

"I will miss interactions with the members, the staff, the board members...everybody," she said.

Hamilton said the biggest change she has seen in a career that began during World War II is the move from serving "one group, one industry, to diversifying and serving many. We have a lot of SEGs today."

In all, Summit CU serves 180 SEGs.

 

'Tried To Do The Best'

Hamilton volunteered her age, 88, and said the limitations that have come with getting older and the fact she has had "a few health issues" led to her decision.

"My health issues are nothing really serious, but I do not like driving at night," she said. "I am stepping down because I was up for election this year and decided I would not run. But then I was appointed to the nominating committee."

Asked about the wall covered with plaques, Hamilton said simply, "I did not seek the awards, I just tried to do the best job I could."

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