Our History

A History Overview of the Ukrainian Selfreliance New England Federal Credit Union 1959-2011

With the influx of Ukrainian immigrants to the United States in the late 1940’s to the early 1950’s there was a phenomenal rebirth of the cultural, educational, political, religious, and social activities within the Ukrainian communities in the United States. New churches were built, Ukrainian schools were started and with that a resurgence of youth, community and political organizations. Selfreliance was one of these organizations, which got its start in New York but quickly spread to other major cities.

Hartford branch of the Selfreliance began at the end of 1955 with the following Board of Directors:

Michael Panashiy President  
Vera Hawryliw Vice President

Michael Kuzma

Jaroslav Trostyanecky Secretary
Michael Kuzma Organizational and Promotional Director
Ivan Velykanovich Director of Financial Affairs
Michael Melnyk Director of Relief Operations
Ivanna Gilevich Educational Committee Representative
Dmytro Blyznuk Member
Ivan Dyda Member  

Supervisory Committee:

Walter Wasylenko, Bohdan Kowalsky, Gregory Sowich

Arbitration Committee:

Michael Zachariasewycz, Gregory Janyshewsky, Theodore Hawryluk

The Selfreliance organization had 2 goals:

  1. Sponsoring Ukrainian families from Germany and Belgium to the United States with a guarantee of jobs and housing.
  2. Establishing a Credit Union which would provide the new immigrants a place to save their money at a higher percentage rate, an opportunity to purchase a home by granting mortgages, and making all transactions easier and more convenient since everything would be taken care of in Ukrainian. This was extremely beneficial since many of the new immigrants did not speak English.

Sponsoring Ukrainian families went well. Organization and promotional Director Michael Kuzma made arrangements with Miller Dairy, to guarantee employment for the new immigrants, which was a requirement of the Immigration Bureau in order to be granted a VISA. This was agreed to by the owner of the dairy, with the condition that all new immigrants and Ukrainian families currently living in the area would purchase their milk from miller’s Dairy. With this arrangement close to 50 families were able to immigrate to the United States.

In a letter to the Ukrainian community, dated January 4, 1956 the Selfreliance Board of Directors announced that they were planning to establish a Ukrainian Credit Union in Hartford. On February 26, 1956 an informational meeting was held in the Ukrainian National Home. Present at this meeting was the representative from the State league of Federal Credit Unions and a representative from the Selfreliance Association of New York. On March 4, 1956 our first organizational meeting was held and began our efforts to receive a charter from the Federal Government and established a Ukrainian Credit Union in Hartford. At that time the Selfreliance Association and the New York Credit Union, which was the first Ukrainian Credit Union established in the United States in 1951, helped us with their knowledge based on their experiences and hardships in establishing a credit union. We also need to acknowledge John Seleman, a US citizen by birth, who took an active interest in the credit union movement and gladly helped in matters with government officials. This was the very beneficial, since most of our organizers did not speak English very well.


Our first attempt to receive a charter from the Federal Government was denied on March 1, 1957. The reason was that 7 credit unions prior to our application were granted charters and the Federal Government decided not to grant any more charters to credit unions whose field of membership was based on Nationality.

The promotional committee again turned to the New York Selfreliance Association for advice, and was advised to apply for a state charter. This was done, however, in a letter dated March 3, 1958 the State of Connecticut Banking Department denied our request stating charters were only granted to credit unions whose field of membership consisted of employees.

The credit Unions organizers were not discouraged by these setbacks, and decided to try again for the federal charter. In this matter they turned their efforts to Congressman Bernard Grabowski, who was a member of the Federal Government Banking Committee, and also sought out the services of Attorney Roman Olesnycky from New York. Finally, on March 17, 1959 the first official meeting was held, at which Attorney Roman Olesnycky was present and on July 7, 1959 the Federal Government granted us permission to establish the Ukrainian Selfreliance Federal Credit Union in Hartford, Conn. The following individuals signed the official document: Michael Kuzma, Michael Chernivski, Steven Boychuk, John Seleman, Vera Hawryliw, Alexander Kudyn, Walter Luchkan, Michael Panashiy and Osyp Bandera.

The Selfreliance Federal Credit Union in Hartford, Conn. opened for business on August 1, 1959. On January 31, 1960 the first Annual Meeting was held. Twenty-five members were present and the following individuals were elected to the Board of Directors and Committees.

Board of Directors:

Board of Directors: Credit Committee: Supervisory Committee:

Alexander Kudyn

John Seleman, President Michael Panashiy, Chairman Osyp Bandera, Chairman
Walter Luchkan, Vice President Jaroslaw Szwez, Secretary Walter Kebuz, Secretary
Steven Boychuk, Vice President Petro Tytor, Member Bohdan Musyj, Member
Vera Hawryliw, Secretary    
Steven Chaikovsky, Secretary    
Michael Kuzma, Treasurer      
Alexsander Kudyn, Assistant Treasurer      

The first Credit Union office was located in the home of the Treasurer, Michael Kuzma. Although the home consisted of 5 rooms in which Mr. Kuzma lived with his wife, Mr. Kuzma’s son, his wife and their 2 children. One room was set aside to take care of Credit Union business. The Credit Union hours for its members were Monday from 7:00 P.M. to 9:00 P.M. and on Saturday from 10:00 A.M. to 12:00 P.M.

So began the job of recruiting new members. The first few members signed up willing, since they consisted mainly of the organizers of the credit union, which believed in the goals and the importance of establishing a credit union. The rest of the community looked at the Credit Union with skepticism as to its longevity and did not rush to become members. At the end of 1959 the membership consisted of 95 individuals with share accounts totaling $10,880. Sending flyers or having informative meetings about joining the Credit Union did not generate members. Then the Treasurer, Michael Kuzma, decided on a different recruiting strategy to increase membership. He decided to visit people at home when they usually received their weekly pay. He would try to recruit at least one family member to join the Credit Union. If at least one family member opened an account for as little as $5.00 he no longer bothered them. However, if a family failed to open an account, stating they were short of funds this week, Mr. Kuzma politely thanked them for their time and hospitality and informed the family that he would return the following Friday when they would have more money. A few individuals did become members, as a result of these visits, however, the majority of these new members joined because they wanted to put an end to Mr. Kuzma’s weekly visits.

In 1961 the Credit Union office relocated to the Ukrainian National Home at 53 Whitmore Street. This was an advantageous move for the Credit Unions as the National Home was the Center for various organizations meetings and for Ukrainian school, where parents socialized while the children attended classes. In 1965 the Credit Union occupied one room in the newly built Ukrainian National Home at 961 Wethersfield Avenue, Hartford, CT.

After Many years membership and asset growth were slow but promising, and in 1973 the Credit Union had 726 members and an asset size greater than 1 million. The biggest growth spurt for the Credit Union came in 1986, when our assets grew 41% from $5,021,173 in 1985 to $7,095,780 in 1986. This started an upward growth trend for the Credit Union, where in 1988 our asset size was greater than 10 million and 5 years later in 1993 it grew to over 20 million. There were a few reasons for this:

  1. Manager, Orest Kuzma, began an active campaign to get new members, by mailing letters and contacting would be members personally to join the Credit Union. His selling point was to tell new members to transfer funds from banks to the Credit Union were we paid higher interest rates.
  2. The Credit Union began to introduce new products for its members. It offered CD’s, IRA Account and Checking Accounts. Our Consumer and Mortgage Loans were offered for larger amounts and longer terms of repayment.
  3. The Ukrainian Community became convinced that having a Credit Union was beneficial not only for its members but for the Ukrainian Community as a whole.
  4. In 1984 with the introduction of a computer system the Credit Union gained greater credibility.

One of the biggest problems for the Credit Union was the lack of adequate space. From the very beginning with our room at the National Home at 53 Whitmore Street and then at the new Nation Home the space was limited. We lacked the look of a professional institution and the privacy needed to conduct financial business with our members. In1976 the National Home provided us a larger area. Our architect, Gregory Seleman and Ivan Zastawsky, the builder, remodeled this area to look like a miniature bank; however, we still lacked the space for private discussions. We also lacked space for new employees, which were now needed with the Credit Union’s growth and the introduction of new services. In 1986, after lengthy discussion with the National Home Board of Directors the Credit Union was given additional space. Again members of the Credit Union came to the rescue, Ivan Zastawsky remodeled the space, Walter Kebalo installed the electrical system and Walter Tomashewsky installed the carpeting.

The Credit Union, Board of Directors assumed the new space would accommodate all of the Credit Unions needs for at least 10-15 years. Unfortunately this assumption was premature. The Credit Union continued to grow and the NCUA enforced stricter rules as to the administration of the Credit Union, which meant we needed more personnel. We also needed more space to house all of the additional documentation associated with these new rules. The Board of Directors again began discussions with the Directors of the National Home, which revealed that space was limited for both the National Home and the Credit Union. In other words, we were both competing for the same space. Other options discussed for expansion were not feasible due to the high cost of construction.

At the time there was a building for sale within close proximity of the National Home, which would satisfy all of the Credit Union’s needs. The Ukrainian Selfreliance Hartford Federal Credit Union purchased this building in September 1997. It was renovated and remodeled under the management of Ken Perun, and Architect Christopher Baxer, both credit union members. The new facility was occupied in December 1997.

The fact that the Ukrainian Selfreliance Hartford Federal Credit Union exists and prospers can be credited to the original group of visionary people who dedicated their time and energy for about the first 4 years, to overcome all the obstacles placed before them and successfully established the Credit Union. Many of these organizers later became members of the Board, Committees and even managers of the Credit Union. Above all one individual needs to be singled out for his dedication in establishing the Credit Union, namely Michael Kuzma. He started the movement by organizing the Selfreliance Association, which became the sponsor of the Credit Union. Mr. Kuzma’s efforts also included helping sponsor refugee families to the United States of which many became early members of the Credit Union. He devoted much energy and time to fulfill his ideal of people helping one another for a better future. He was the Credit Union’s first Treasurer, and was paid a yearly salary of $80 in 1960, $375 in 1961, and $470 in 1962. Many of the original Credit Union staff, volunteered their time and worked for nothing or minimal salary, just to get the Credit Union up and running.

The board of Directors are responsible for the actions of the Credit Union. They oversee that the Credit Union administration adheres to the rules and regulations set by the Federal Government, sets guidelines for the management of the Credit Union and monitors the outcomes, sets rates for shares and loans, approves investments and is responsible for hiring management and staff. The President of the Board of Directors is the driving force, which motivates the work of the Board. In the past 50 years 10 members have been President of the Credit Union:

John Seleman 1959-60; 1983-84
Stephen Chaikovsky 1960-63; 1970-76
Bohdan Stelmach 1963-70
Bohdan Chiropaylovych 1976-83
Orest Kuzma 1984-86; 1990-92; 1995-96
Zinowij Balaban 1986-90; 1993-95
George Oprysko 1992-1993
Ihor B. Rudko 1996-2004
John Dytiuk 2005-2006
Askold Jacuch 2007-Present

An important position in the administration of the Credit Union is held by the Treasurer. His duties include efficiently serving the members, keeping an accurate account of the finances, prepare statistical analyses for the Board of Directors and adhering to Federal and State Banking Laws, as well as conduct other administrative functions. The first Treasurer was Michael Kuzma from 1959-1963. The next six years were filled by Alexander Kudyn, followed in 1969 by Sophia Turkalo who in previous years assisted the Treasurer. She assumed this position when the Credit Union was still in the early stages of growth and left the Credit Union when it was one of the most prosperous institutions not only among other Ukrainian Credit Unions, but among American Credit Unions as well. Sophia Turkalo had a phenomenal memory; she not only knew the members by name but also knew their account numbers. She earned the trust of all the Credit Union members. In all her years of employment she never took a vacation or a sick day. It’s no wonder that many of the younger members of the Credit Union referred to her as “Mrs. Credit Union”, not out of disrespect, but because they admired her for her dedication.

In 1975, the Board of Directors turned to Stephen Chaikovsky to manage the Credit Union. Over the next five years he helped in the daily operations of the Credit Union, especially in matters that needed someone who had a grasp of the English language. He encouraged members to borrow money from the Credit Union and buy 2-4 family homes for rental income or to start up new businesses. He also advised our elderly members in matters of insurance, taxes and any other issues thus cementing their relationship with the Credit Union.

In 1984 the Board of Directors came to the conclusion that in order to run the Credit Union in an efficient manner a new position would need to be created, that being Manager of the Credit Union and they turned to John Seleman, a Board Member, to fill the position. They felt Mr. Seleman was the most likely candidate since he served on the Board of Directors from its inception. He knew the policies, the responsibilities and problems in running a Credit Union and immediately took the bull by the horns. His first action was to organize the office and install a computer system to assist in tellering and documenting all transactions. He hired two new tellers and wrote the policy outlining the responsibilities of the Credit Union employees.

In 1986 Mr. Seleman retired after 27 years of loyal and dedicated work for the Credit Union. His position was filled be Mr. Orest Kuzma. As it was stated before, the new manager immediately undertook the task of recruiting new members and increasing assets of the Credit Union. In 1986, the Ukrainian National Home agreed to increase the rental area to the Credit Union, which it greatly needed. Mr. Orest Kuzma undertook the task of re-organizing the Credit Union into the larger area and managing the renovation. He also created a new pay scale for all employees.

After Ms. Turkalo’s death and Orest Kuzma’s retirement as manager, Mr. Myron Kolinsky was hired as Manager and Treasurer. During his term as manager from 1989-1993 checking accounts were introduced and the Credit Union’s assets rose to $20,439,866. In 1993, Mr. Kolinsky resigned and was replaced by Mr. George Stachiw.

The early 1990’s were very difficult for financial institutions. Due to a recession and a decline in real estate values, banks suffered big losses, which in most cases had to be covered by Federal Agencies. Overall, Credit Unions did not experience the same losses as banks, none the less the Federal Government, which regulates Credit Unions and insures member’s funds, imposed stringent guidelines as to the granting of loans, preparing budgets, conducting strategic planning and overall daily administration of Credit Unions. In our Credit Union, the job of fulfilling these guidelines fell on the shoulders of the new manager. Although his banking background was limited, he took to his new job with the same disciplinary manner he had when he was a Major in the Armed Forces. He implemented a new computer system, which met the requirements of the Federal Government in running a Credit Union efficiently. For approximately one year, the Manager, Mr. Stachiw met with the Board of Directors and the Credit Union’s attorney, Mr. Walter Clebowicz, on a weekly basis to review, revise and prepare policies.

Over the years, management introduced credit cards, debit cards, money market accounts, Home Equity Loans, online banking, a surcharge free ATM Network, Bill Pay and Audio Response. In 2002, the Credit Union opened a branch in Westfield Massachusetts to serve the newly arrived Ukrainians to the area. In 2005, our Credit Union purchased the building which houses our Westfield Branch. In 2006 the Credit Union opened a branch in New Britain, Connecticut, to serve our new immigrants in the area.

Their accomplishments are a result of all the hard and time put into the Credit Union by all past and present Board of Directors and Committee personnel. Their unwavering dedication and volunteerism paved the way to today’s success. There are a few individuals who were not mentioned earlier but deserve special recognition for their dedication and work. They are: Mr. Walter Wasylenko, a longtime  Board Member, Mr. Wolodymyr Levsky, longtime Chairman of the Credit Committee and Board Member; Mr. Wolodymyr Stasyshyyn, former Chairman of the Supervisory Committee and Board member, who personally conducted financial audits of the Credit Union, and was also the assistant treasurer for a time afterwards; Mrs. Anna Kramar, longtime Secretary and member of the Board of Directors; Mr. Joseph Hladun and Mr. Ivan Dytiuk, who have volunteered over thirty years of service as Board of Directors and have held the position of  Chairman (Mr. Dytiuk) and Vice-Chairman (Mr.Dytiuk and Mr.Hladun) on several occasions.

Our Credit Union is also a member of the Ukrainian National Credit Union Association of America headquartered in Chicago. Members of our Board take an active part in the semi-annual organizational meetings, where they can exchange information and ideas as well as receive training from industry leaders in critical areas of the Credit Union operations. Since the independence of Ukraine in 1991, the Ukrainian National Credit Union Association (UNCUA) played a major role in re-establishing Credit Unions in Ukraine. The UNCUA’s work continues to assist the growth of Credit Unions in Ukraine and participates in World Conferences of Ukrainian Credit Unions in different cities of Ukraine.    

In 2009 our Credit Union celebrated its 50th year of providing financial services to our Ukrainian-American Community. For over fifty years Credit Union served the Ukrainian Community in a commendable manner. We have provided lower rates on loans and higher rates on dividends than banks, as well as provide free Group Term Insurance on savings. We can proudly say that we have saved our members hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past 50 years. Additionally, the Credit Union has given back funds to the community in the form of promotions to various educational and charitable organizations.  Today our Credit Union is approximately 35 million dollars in assets and has three branches: Wethersfield CT, New Britain CT and Westfield, MA. As of 2010 our Credit Union has approximately 3028 members.

Adhering to the old Credit Union motto: Not for profit, not out of charity, but for providing service to the members, our Board of Directors and management are continuously striving to provide our members the best service and products possible.