RICHARD WITHERSPOON, LONGTIME LEADER OF A HILL DISTRICT JEWEL, THE HILL DISTRICT FEDERAL CREDIT UNION. (PHOTO BY J.L MARTELLO)
The revitalization of the Hill District continues
The Hill District Federal Credit Union is expanding, not only in its physical size, but in its financial offerings for its customers.
Wednesday, March 15, marked the public announcement that the credit union had acquired the storefront space to the left of its space at 2021 Centre Ave., and in about 10 months, there will not only be a new classroom in that space specifically for financial literacy classes, but four two-bedroom apartments will be housed above the credit union.
And the New Pittsburgh Courier has learned exclusively that the Hill District Federal Credit Union will start a mortgage department, giving its customers a chance to purchase a home through their hometown credit union.
“We’ve never done mortgages before,” said longtime CEO of the Hill District Federal Credit Union, Richard Witherspoon. “I’m building a mortgage program from the ground up. Our mortgage program is going to be geared towards us, for us.”
Witherspoon said he built the credit union’s small business lines of credit specifically for African Americans, and it’s worked out handily. There are 82 small businesses with lines of credit through the HDFCU.
RICHARD WITHERSPOON SPEAKS AT A NEWS CONFERENCE ANNOUNCING THE EXPANSION, MARCH 15. PICTURED AT LEFT ARE EMPLOYEES INSIDE THE CREDIT UNION. (PHOTOS BY J.L. MARTELLO)
“It’s always a win when longtime community institutions participate in the revitalization of their community,” voiced Marimba Milliones, President and CEO of the Hill Community Development Corporation. “When we have longstanding institutions participating, owning expanding, fulfilling commitments to the master plan, those are wins.”
MAYOR ED GAINEY
Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey was on hand for the celebration, held on a sunny day in the Hill District. “I always say that as development happens it should be diverse, and it should be reflective of the neighborhood in which the people come from, and you’ve accomplished that by expanding the Hill District Federal Cred it Union,” Mayor Gainey said, directed at Witherspoon. “I just want to say ‘thank you’ for your long and hard work, years of dedication and service to this community.”
Witherspoon, former board member Carol Sims, retired Pittsburgh Police detective Brenda Tate and others couldn’t leave the podium without paying tribute to the woman who started it all, Dame Mary Walker. She founded the Hill District Federal Credit Union 53 years ago.
“She went door to door to start this company, collecting 25 cents,” said Sims, who knew Walker very well. “She would even go up to our school, at the time was St. Richards, now St. Benedict The Moor, to get the kids to start their deposits. We’ve always welcomed children coming into the credit union to start small deposits, because that’s what has helped us build today. She has helped so many people…people even coming to get a loan to help pay their light bill. You can’t go down to the big banks and say, ‘I can’t pay my light and gas bill.’ They’re not willing to give out small loans like that. But we do.”
Walker passed away in 2011 at age 93.
“I want you to know Mary Walker, with her smile, would be very appreciative of this day,” Sims said.
THE WOMAN WHO STARTED IT ALL—MARY WALKER, FOUNDER OF THE HILL DISTRICT FEDERAL CREDIT UNION
Tate said that the impact of the Hill District Federal Credit Union “goes far and beyond the walls of that building.” She’s had an account at the credit union since 1976. She told the story of how Witherspoon once demanded that Tate fix her credit. She was used to coming in and getting loans around the holidays, and she would pay the loans back, but still, Witherspoon wanted her to go the extra mile. Tate said his conversation with her gave her the impetus to finally repair her credit. “Because of the character of Dame Mary Walker that is now in Richard Witherspoon’s hands and his staff, I was able to retire with dignity,” she said.
Witherspoon thanked the Hillman Foundation, McAuley Ministries, McCune Foundation, Heinz Endowments and the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh for the funding for the expansion and apartments. But for Witherspoon, the physical expansion gives him more space to continue what he’s always done—help others. Financial literacy is a huge deal, and he wants more African Americans in Pittsburgh to conquer it. Hence, the classroom.
“So many people have temptations, and they want to improve their standard of living by way of credit,” he told the Courier. “That’s why so many people chase credit scores. They think that in order to live and be substantial, they have to have a hot credit score, not paying attention to how they manage their money. Our job in financial literacy is to teach people how to manage their money, but also understand the pitfalls of getting in too deep. That’s what financial literacy is.”