By Bruce Edwards
Ron Hance, who transformed a one-office credit union with $2 million in assets into one with nine branches and nearly $400 million in assets, was remembered by friends and colleagues as a dedicated and tireless supporter of the Heritage Family Credit Union and of credit unions worldwide.
Hance died recently after a brief illness. He was 71.
“Ron was the credit union,” said Matt Lewandowski, who succeeded Hance as president and CEO. “He built this from the ground up.”
If not for Hance’s guidance and unending enthusiasm, Lewandowski said, “we would not be here.”
“There were times when he had to go to GE in the beginning and ask GE employees for money so he could lend it out to other employees,” he said.
Hance didn’t start out to run a credit union. In the 1960s, he was working for GE Aircraft Engines when he started doing volunteer work for the Ludlow-Rutland General Electric Employees Credit Union. His work impressed his fellow board members enough that by 1978, they hired Hance as manager.
Today, the credit union has nine branches, including one in Hooksett, New Hampshire (where GE Aviation also has a plant,) 168 employees and 40,000 members.
Joseph Bergeron, president of the Vermont Association of Credit Unions, said even without a background in banking or finance, Hance “ran a very good credit union.”
“We’ll miss him greatly,” Bergeron said. “He was quite a big persona in credit union land in Vermont and nationally.”
Bergeron said Hance, who retired last year, was well liked and highly respected by his peers, was very much a leader, and a strong negotiator.
Under Hance’s leadership, the credit union expanded its branches, membership and services, and made the credit union “very valued by its members in the communities in which it operates,” he said.
Bergeron said Hance’s contributions went beyond Heritage Family.
“Beside his credit union, Ron made contributions at the state level in my organization, at the national level … and internationally after that in the World Council of Credit Unions,” he said.
Representing the World Council of Credit Unions, Hance helped build and support credit unions in developing countries, including Kenya and the Philippines.
John Russell II and Hance were friends and classmates at Rutland High School, where Hance was the 1962 class president.
After graduation, both stuck around Rutland — Russell working for his dad’s construction company and Hance building the credit union from scratch.
“He started from nothing,” Russell recalled. “I had a bit of a start.”
He said what Hance was able to accomplish with hard work should be an inspiration to anyone.
“The nice thing about Ron, and I told him more than once … was that his story is a great story,” Russell said. “I feel what he did should be an inspiration to a lot of kids and all young people in any place but particularly Rutland.”
In a videotaped interview (youtube.com/watch?v=1jucCfYLKTE) with Bergeron last year, Hance reflected on his 36-year career and what he left behind.
“I’m proud of the culture that we’ve created,” Hance said in the March 2014 interview. “I’m extremely proud of the image we have in our community, and my toughest challenge as a CEO has been to hire the right people for the right job and then get out of their way and let them do their job.”
Tom Donahue, executive vice president of the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce, said Hance was “a man who really got things done and was very involved in the community.”
Hance’s résumé included serving on the boards of Rutland Regional Medical Center and College of St. Joseph.
For his business success and community efforts, the chamber named him as its 2012 Business Person of the Year.
Professionally, Hance was inducted in 2011 into the Credit Union Executive Society Hall of Fame.
Hance wasn’t all business. He enjoyed golf and travel, and spending time with his wife, Marsha.
Russell compared Hance’s career to his friend’s days playing high school football.
“Great football player,” Russell recalled. “He was short, he was strong and his legs never stopped churning. That’s sort of like his life. He never stopped grinding.”