I grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where the smell of yeast permeated my childhood. Our annual elementary school field trip was a tour of the Miller Brewery, so when I moved to Olympia the smell of beer brewing and the 5:00 p.m. whistle signaling the close of business made me feel right at home. Today the Olympia Brewing Company no longer brews beer at the Tumwater brewery, but the history of brewing is alive and well. New microbreweries have popped up all over town and Thurston County residents are enjoying a revival of the deep connection our area has had with beer since Leopold Schmidt purchased an old tannery on the banks of the Deschutes River.
Fortunately, much remains of the legacy of the Olympia Brewing Company, including the credit union that was started in “Bottlehouse A” by brewery worker Ted McGill in the 1950s. It was a way for employees to save money and acquire loans to purchase homes and cars. Initially, the credit union was named The Olympia Brewing Company Employees and Families Credit Union but was eventually shortened to O Bee Credit Union — and the name stuck. For many years O Bee was open only to brewery workers and their families but in 2002, much to the delight of the community, they expanded their charter to include anyone who lives or works in Washington State.
Today O Bee Credit Union has grown to 6 locations and over 80 employees, but they’ve never forgotten their roots. They are celebrating their storied history by introducing Pub Style banking to the Pacific Northwest. If you think beer and banking don’t mix you might change your mind upon entering one of their newly designed locations in Tenino or at Point Ruston in Tacoma. The warm wood of the barrels and historical brewery images are cornerstones of the newly designed branches. A beautiful brick wall completes the feeling that you have entered the original tasting room at the Olympia Brewery where employees often met to socialize and unwind after their shifts.
“If you think about it, many important conversations of our forefathers took place in pubs,” shares Lee Wojnar, vice president of marketing. “We want our members to enjoy visiting their local branch,” Wojnar adds. Pub Style banking is unique in the marketplace and the feedback has been fantastic. O Bee has incorporated not only the insignias and images of the original brands of beers brewed at Olympia but also those of local craft breweries as well. Members love coming into the branch and seeing taps of local breweries installed along the teller line. While those taps don’t dispense beer, you can “pull” yourself a cool cup of water from a fountain that’s adorned with an Original Olympia Beer tap in the Point Ruston branch. “The neon signs have even drawn people off the street who think they’ve found a local pub,” laughs Martha Guilfoyle, Director of Member Experience. They may not have found a true pub but they have found a place where banking is a fun and enjoyable experience.
Members of O Bee Credit Union can choose from one of several brewery-inspired debit or credit cards. As a proud member of the Washington Brewers Guild, the cards are just another way O Bee honors its history with brewing. Joining the Olympia and Rainier debit cards is their latest addition featuring Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer. O Bee Credit Union is the only institution that’s allowed to feature these great beer brands on their cards. Pabst Blue Ribbon is an iconic beer brand and is North America’s largest privately held brewing company. “We know people feel a real kinship with the Pabst Blue Ribbon brand,” James Collins, CEO of O Bee Credit Unions says, “for many it represents a connection and community.”
Community is a big part of O Bee Credit Union. All employees are encouraged to volunteer and serve their communities. Each year employees are given two paid days off for community service at the non-profit organization of their choice. That commitment alone equates to over 1,200 hours of service in our community. O Bee Credit Union participates in many of our local events including The Tumwater Artesian Brewfest, which is hosted by the City of Tumwater and features over 50 Pacific Northwest breweries.
“We’ve followed in the footsteps of the Schmidt family who gave generously to the community,” explains Wojnar. O Bee Credit Union employs Morningside employees at every branch and funds an annual scholarship at South Puget Sound Community College for the schools newest program in Craft Brewing and Distilling. O Bee also offers popular “Brewhouse” T-shirts featuring iconic brands like Rainier and Pabst. Proceeds from these shirts benefit local non-profits. “When you become a member of O Bee Credit Union you are investing in your community,” shares Wojnar.
Recently Forbes ranked O Bee Credit Union as one of the Best Credit Unions in Washington State on its “America’s Best-In-State Credit Unions” list. Over 25,000 customers in the US were surveyed on their banking relationships. Credit Unions were rated on satisfaction, trust, branch services and financial advice. “It is an honor being on the Forbes America’s Best-In-State Credit Unions list,” said Collins. “It proves that you don’t have to be a billion-dollar credit union to do great things for your members.” To learn more about how to become an O Bee Credit Union Member visit their website.