A lot can happen in 90 years – and so much has. For a little perspective, this brings us back to 1931. A new home cost less than $7,000, and the average American took home about $1,850 a year in wages (crazy!). Construction was just wrapping up on the famed Empire State Building. Two classic horror movies, Dracula and Frankenstein, made their debuts on the big screen, offering people a little respite from a difficult economy.1 Two years after the stock market crash of 1929, we were suffering through the height of the Great Depression. It was into these economic circumstances that Hiway Credit Union was formed, driven by the mission of people helping people.

Police officer and women gathered around a baby carriage

(Photo circa 1931)

The Beginnings: MnDOT and a Cash Box

It was a modest beginning to be sure: employees from the Minnesota Highway Department (now MnDOT) first conducted business out of a simple metal cash box. From a handful of members to now over 80,000 and growing strong, Hiway Credit Union is extremely proud to be marking our 90th anniversary – a significant milestone that few companies achieve.

Photo of Hiway's first cash box from 1931

(Hiway's first cash box 1931)

The past year has been difficult for many of our members and for the communities that we serve. At times, it still feels difficult to celebrate. Yet we know that as we look back at our history, we have persevered through good times and bad, and it is during those tough times that we come to appreciate, and lean on, each other just a little more.

Branches and Beyond

For almost 50 years, Hiway’s office was in the MnDOT Statewide Headquarters building. In 1986, having outgrown the space, the Hiway team broke ground for a new location at the corner of Empire Drive and Pennsylvania Ave in St. Paul.

Hiway Board with shovels at the Empire ground breaking

In 1985 and 1986 we were given the Best Credit Union in the United States award by the National Credit Union Management Association, said long-time President/CEO Jim Seifert. “Hiway operated out of one office until 1987. We were very efficient.”

Then, in 1999, former long-time CEO Jim Seifert oversaw the construction of a third story to the building, adding more associates to better serve Hiway’s growing membership in east St. Paul and throughout the Twin Cities metro.

“Breaking ground on the Empire site was so exciting, especially after having been housed in the basement of the transportation building for so many years with no windows,” said Cyndi Pilney, long-time Hiway associate and current Executive Assistant. “I'm proud to be a part of Hiway's history, to have seen first-hand how far we've come. It’s fun to think back to when I was planning our 60th anniversary celebration in 1991 and now we are celebrating 90 years - wow!”

Construction during the 1999 remodel of the Empire Branch

By 2005, even the larger office on Empire Drive could no longer accommodate Hiway’s needs. In partnership with the St. Paul Port Authority, our leadership selected a site along the newly redeveloped Phalen Corridor to serve as an Administration building. The structure, affectionately known as “Westminster” in honor of the street upon which it resides, would house more associates, offer additional meeting rooms for member events and community use, and provide plenty of parking. Following completion of the Administration building, one-third of Hiway’s associates moved into the new office, freeing up space and additional parking at the branch on Empire Drive for better member access.

“It was my honor to lead Hiway from half a billion in assets to almost one billion,” said former CEO/President and current Board Chair, Jeff Schwalen, who began work in a different role at Hiway in 1991. “We were growing so fast that we needed to find more space, so we built the Westminster building in 2005.”

In April of 2009, Fort Snelling Federal Credit Union merged with Hiway. Fort Snelling served government employees and their families, military and nonmilitary personnel, perfectly augmenting Hiway’s core membership of federal, state and local government agencies, as well as our long-term support of military and law enforcement. Hiway also gained another branch location in Minneapolis.

Front view of the Fort Snelling Branch

But the story of Hiway isn’t so much about bricks and mortar. It’s a remarkable and unlikely tale of how a small group of Minnesota workers, who just wanted to make sure they and their co-workers could succeed financially, would start and grow a financial institution into one of Minnesota’s largest credit unions with over $1.6B in assets, while not losing sight of their original purpose – to help each other achieve their dreams and ensure financial peace-of-mind.

Schwalen added, “I believe that a good manager makes the company you work for a place you want to stay at and provides the opportunities to grow within the company. I am pleased with the long-term senior management that have been with us and helped Hiway grow to over one and a half billion in assets.”

Hiway’s is a story of service – through a depression, war, peace, natural disasters, national celebrations, civil unrest and now, even a pandemic. This spirit runs through everything we do here at Hiway. It’s inspired us to find new ways to give back to the communities that built us – from providing financial services and education to students in the St. Paul school district, to supporting military families through Beyond the Yellow ribbon, to donating to myriad causes that support diversity, equity, inclusion and justice.

Hiway ribbon cutting for the new Govenors Student Branch

It is a story of innovation – from a small cash box to multiple branches and intuitive, convenient digital services – including our latest in Roseville – and technologies that allow you to conduct your financial business 24/7 with your preferred device from the comforts of your home or anywhere – even while waiting for your child at the hockey rink.

Front view of the Roseville Branch

But most of all, it is a story shared by all Hiway members and our associates: a story about people helping people and an organization growing and thriving along with the community it serves. Never more so than in the past year have I as CEO been so proud of Hiway, our mission and our commitment to our communities and to you, our members.

“Members and member service were always our highest priority,” added Jim Seifert. “If a member requested a loan, we tried our best to make it happen. If a member wasn’t nearby, we would send a check with the loan papers to them and they would get both the next day. I do not remember ever having a loss. We trusted the members and they trusted us.”

Like every business, the pandemic and civil unrest forced many of us to look at things differently, and to operate a little differently. For Hiway, we had to adjust how we served our members and be part of the community. Our members and partners still needed many of the same things we’ve always provided, but they also needed additional support. Even though our lobbies were briefly closed to member traffic, we were able to serve you with added digital services, 24/7 phone assistance, Hiway Live video banking, and extended hours at our drive-ups. We were able to lift up our communities with additional monetary donations and volunteer time. Thus, I want to thank you, our members, for your continued support of us and for your faith in us during this past year as well as the past 90 years.

Members of the Community Action Team handing out water

Despite challenges, Hiway has continued to grow and to evolve. As you all know, we went through a charter change, moving from a federal charter back to a state charter. Now, with the added flexibility a state charter provides, Hiway can continue to expand our field of membership and, potentially, add additional branches. The charter change allowed us to build a technology-forward (and beautiful!) new branch in Roseville which we celebrated with a Grand Opening on June 12. It also allowed us to break ground for a new branch in Woodbury, which we plan to open in early 2022.

Hiway associates with shovels at the Woodbury Branch ground breaking

As we look to our future, we’re mindful that the financial industry continues to grow and change and that technology continues to evolve as well. We see more of our members taking advantage of digital services and conducting their financial business on their own schedules, from wherever they are. Yet Hiway still holds to our promise to be there for our members with 24 hour, 7-day-a-week phone support, and even Hiway Live video banking. Our newest branch is part of what the future in financial services looks like with ITMs (like interactive ATMs; with the option of live teller assistance) and opportunities for our members to take care of most of their financial needs on a schedule that works for them — whether or not that falls into “normal” business hours.

As I reflect on the history of Hiway, I am so proud that Hiway has stood the test of time – and continues to evolve to serve our members and communities. We’ve been honored with lots of recognition over the years, including:

Community Support:

  • East Side Area Business Association Member of the Year
  • Dora Maxwell Social Responsibility Award
  • Louise Herring Philosophy-In-Action Award

Work Environment and Culture:

  • Star Tribune Top Workplace, 8 years running
  • Diversityjobs.com Top Employer

General Excellence

  • Kiplinger’s Best Credit Union
  • Twin Cities Business (numerous categories)

More importantly than the shiny trophies, though, Hiway has stood true to the original mission — to serve our members and our communities, and to be there for you on your road of life, wherever that road might lead.

There are so many people whose contributions have made us who we are today, and who have supported us for, well, maybe not all of the past 90 years, but for many of them. To our loyal members, our hardworking management team, our dedicated Board and Supervisory Committee, and all our associates, past and present – thank you. We look forward to being a part of your road of life for many more years.

Hiway associates and mascots under a balloon arch at the Roseville Branch grand opening

1. The People's History - https://www.thepeoplehistory.com/1931.html

Dave Boden

Dave Boden
President/CEO Hiway Credit Union