Award Spotlight: New York Credit Union Hall of Fame

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Several Recognition Awards will be presented to New York credit union leaders during the New York Credit Union Association’s 2018 Annual Meeting & Convention. Today’s featured award is the New York Credit Union Hall of Fame, which honors individuals who devoted their lives to the philosophy and success of the credit union movement, and who have made a significant impact on credit unions at the local, state or national levels.

This year, three deserving credit union leaders will be inducted into the Hall of Fame: Joy Cousminer, former president/CEO of Bethex FCU; Richard Wagner, former first vice chair of Municipal CU; and Alfred Frosolone, former CEO of Niagara’s Choice FCU and former Association board chairman.

CousminerHeadshotJoy Cousminer was a lifelong resident of New York City and a lifelong advocate for the underserved.

Cousminer graduated from New York University and Columbia University with her license to teach English and citizenship for the foreign-born. In 1970, together with other community activists, Cousminer founded Bethex FCU in the Mount Hope neighborhood of the South Bronx, and became its president/CEO – a position she held until September 2015. She was already working in the South Bronx as an adult education teacher, helping low-income single mothers obtain their general equivalency diplomas.

At the time of the credit union’s founding, the South Bronx was one of the most economically blighted urban communities in the U.S., with extremely limited access to financial services.

In 1989, Cousminer began a successful small- and micro-business lending program at Bethex, long before “microcredit” became the popular concept it is today. These small loans were critical to local businesses, for which bank financing was out of reach. Cousminer also led Bethex to become the first credit union to issue SBA-guaranteed small business loans, and on multiple occasions Crain’s New York Business listed Bethex among the 50 largest SBA lenders in the New York-area. She also forged groundbreaking partnerships with other institutions that were vital in assisting immigrant families.

Cousminer was instrumental in making Bethex a recognized name in community development, leading the credit union to receive the Louise Herring Award from the Association and the Dora Maxwell Social Responsibility Award from CUNA. In 2005, she was the recipient of the National Credit Union Foundation’s Herb Wegner Memorial Award for Individual Achievement.

Cousminer died on Christmas day last year. She is widely remembered as a tireless advocate for the poor and for her commitment to the credit union philosophy.

WagnerHeadshotRichard Wagner dedicated his life to the credit union movement. Wagner served Municipal CU in numerous volunteer capacities and advocated for the credit union movement for 38 years. In that time, he played an important leadership role in introducing and implementing the products, services and practices that transformed MCU from a $90 million institution serving less than 138,000 New Yorkers, to a multi-billion-dollar credit union now serving more than 425,000 members.

Since joining the MCU board, Wagner served as 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th vice chair; secretary; assistant secretary; assistant treasurer; and the Centennial Committee chair. Prior to that, he served on the credit union’s supervisory committee.

Wagner was an integral part of returning MCU to the control of its membership after the State Banking Department took control of the institution in the late 1970’s. At the time, MCU had only two branches, no ATMs, and limited products and services. Recognizing that the credit union was falling short of members’ needs, Wagner was among the directors who worked to establish MCU as a charter-member of the New York Cash Exchange, a network of hundreds of ATM machines that provided members with free transactions.

Additionally, Wagner demonstrated his commitment to MCU and its members as the board led the credit union through the 9/11 terrorist attacks. When widespread panic and power outages forced many financial institutions to suspend their operations and ATM services due to system failures, Wagner was part of the leadership team that made the decision to keep ATMs active and MCU members on an honor system. He was also part of the unanimous MCU board vote that forgave the uninsured loans held by firefighters and first responders who lost their lives during the attacks.

Wagner was also an active advocate for the credit union movement at the local, state and federal levels. He was a frequent attendee of advocacy conferences and meetings with lawmakers in Washington, D.C., Albany and their district offices.

Wagner died March 1 of this year, but his work for the credit union movement will live on for years to come. He is survived by his wife, Carol, two daughters and two grandsons.

FrosoloneHeadshotAlfred Frosolone started his career in the credit union movement in 1990 with Niagara’s Choice FCU, then known as OxyChem FCU. He served for nearly 30 years in a leadership capacity at the Niagara Falls-based credit union, where, as CEO, he grew the credit union from $23 million in assets to more than $180 million in assets.

Frosolone served on the Association’s board of directors for 16 years, including a term as board chairman from 2009-2011. He received the Association’s Professional of the Year award in 1997 and also served on the boards of the New York Credit Union Foundation, OwnersChoice Funding and UsNet, and on many Association committees.

An ardent believer in credit union advocacy, Frosolone has lobbied lawmakers in the state and federal capitals to ensure that the credit union tax status was preserved and the people of New York had access to the benefits of credit unions.

Frosolone retired Dec. 20 of last year, but he continues to serve his community in the same way that he served in the credit union movement. He is involved in a number of community organizations, including the St. Vincent de Paul Parish, the Knights of Columbus, the St. Mary’s Hospital board of associates, and the Lewiston Kiwanis club.

He was a 2018 inductee into the Credit Union House Hall of Leaders, which provides lasting recognition for credit union leaders whose commitment has made a significant impact on the credit union movement at the local, state or national level. Members of the Hall of Leaders have shown commitment that inspires others in the credit union movement.

Frosolone’s three decades of services to the credit union movement was marked by exceptional leadership, guidance and a commitment to the credit union ideals.

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