When GE employed some 10,000 people, the lines for the credit union were long.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Catherine Maloney's co-worker was frantically trying to ask her something.
She had just gotten into work at the credit union and didn't understand him at first and then realized that he had forgotten the alarm code.
Time ran out. Police were on the way. He put his hands on his head and walked out front of the branch to confront the police arriving with guns drawn. He wasn't happy with her then.
It's funny now.
Or how about the time when it was busy and the systems were acting up? The computer system was being overloaded and needed to be shut down but Maloney was on the teller line trying to convince the credit union's vice president over an intercom to hold off just a bit longer until the customer line went down. He forgot to shut the intercom off and a series of expletives was broadcast into the lobby. Ooops.
It's funny now.
Whether it was co-workers pranking each other, or a ceiling light randomly crashing down during a renovation project, or even just a one-liner a co-worker said that got everyone laughing so hard they could barely breathe, Maloney has so many stories that bring a smile to her face about her time at the credit union.
"Some of the older people didn't appreciate our sense of humor back then," Maloney said on Wednesday with a chuckle as the stories of the original Kellogg Street branch whirled around in her head, stories that always come out when the "older timers" get together, and some stories that aren't fit for publication.
"There are just so many stupid, little things," she said.
This week, Maloney celebrated her 40th year at Greylock Federal Credit Union. The Cheshire native had taken the job in 1979 and was just the 16th employee at what was then Pittsfield GE Employees Credit Union. She oversaw a dozen tellers in the Kellogg Street branch that saw thousands of General Electric workers a day.
"We've been through a lot. It's been a great place to work. It hasn't felt like a job. It hasn't felt like 40 years," Maloney said.
Maloney got her start in banking at Union Federal Savings on North Street. She worked her way to become a senior teller after five years but that was where her career stalled because others were ahead of her in seniority. She started looking around and found an advertisement for Pittsfield GE Credit Union and applied.
Bill Connors was taking over as president and Chris Beshara was hired as vice president. Maloney showed up to an interview with them apologizing profusely because she was still wearing her Union Federal uniform. But they liked her well enough and soon after she reported to work on Kellogg Street.
Banking then was much different than it is now. The branch didn't even have cash when she started.
"At 11, when the lunch hour started at GE, everybody had to drop what we were doing and we all went to the counter. The guys would come in to get their checks. They weren't big checks. They were between $5, $10, $15, $20. It was money they had snuck out of their pay and put into payroll deduction to come to the credit union that their wives didn't know about," Maloney said.
"It was their secret stash. We would all wait on them. At that point, there was no cash at the credit union. It was just checks. We would process the checks, give them the checks, and they would leave and go to the First Aggie Bank to cash them."
General Electric had employed some 10,000 workers and the credit union served only them and immediate family. But, there was only one branch. There was a teller line with 12 stations, a loan department, accounting, mortgage, and member services all under the same roof. And at the time it was only half the size because the GE employee store occupied the other half.
"I can remember the lines at Kellogg Street being out the door. The girls would barely get a half an hour, 15 minutes for lunch because we just couldn't," Maloney said.
It was a tight space and a close group of employees. Everything was done by hand. GE would send over a tape listing all of the workers pay and they'd have to assign numbers and account to each. The customers had books reflecting balances. Statements and mailing were all done by the clerks. The teller work was done on massive, bulky computers, but nothing was online.
The men from the tank shop would come in with their clothes covered in waste, waste that only later to be found to be toxic, to pay off loans and mortgages. They only had savings accounts and loans at the time. Many of the men couldn't read and write and she'd help them fill out various applications.
Maloney was in her 20s years old when she started. She worked with a group of other young tellers. She was married at the time but both she and her then-husband were "married to their job." He worked at a hospital in New York and she had her career aspirations in banking, even though she still doesn't know what attracted her to banking in the first place.
"This was my career path to be in banking. I was terrible at math in school but I just enjoy banking and I like to learn," Maloney said.
"I don't learn the conventional way. I'm not a book learner. I like to just go in and do something. You can show me until the cows come home but until I do it myself, I'm not going to get it. It's not going to click with me."
On the weekends, she was a skiing instructor at Jiminy Peak. The couple didn't have children and didn't plan to have children. Maloney felt she was in a good position to make a career out of the job.
Changes came to the credit union. It opened up to aunts and uncles of GE employees. Eventually, it incorporated cash and checking accounts. The cash aspect was "comical," she said because there weren't any currency counters at the time. Everything had to be hand counted and divvied up into the drawers.
Work on the teller line was much different than it is today. The credit union started with no cash and all the paperwork was done by hand.
She said three people would squeeze into the vault together to get it all done. She remembers alternating new and old bills in a certain delineation and paper clipping it together so tellers could quickly verify the amount they received.
When currency counters did come to the branch, it was like a weight lifted off the tellers' shoulders.
"They finally started teaching me a bunch of different things and they put me in charge of the teller line and of training people," Maloney said.
She looked forward to "the shutdown." It was two weeks in July when General Electric completely shut down and everybody took a vacation.
"We always shut down during shutdown in July. The second and third week of July was GE shutdown and the credit union shut down, too. All the woman who worked there, their husbands worked for GE. So that's when they took their vacation," Maloney said.
"The credit union was closed and I think we used to open up from like 11 to 1 so we were there for the members. Then we would close, do our lunch, and work until 4 and leave. We used to love that. You could get so much done because you didn't have interruptions. Even the phones didn't ring much because they were all on vacation."
Her first marriage eventually came to an end and she kept at her job as always. Later she would remarry to Paul Maloney, whom she met at Jiminy.
At age 36, the couple had her first daughter, Shannon. And that changed her perspective. She was still working at the Kellogg Street branch but for the first time considered giving it up and becoming a stay-at-home mom.
"I never really lost my vision for banking but it wasn't so much a career anymore when I had kids. It was my job that I loved, I helped people and I came to work. We had our children late in life. I was 36 when I had my first one and that was a big thing for me but I still worked," Maloney said.
She took three months off. But, she had also been the person the rest of her co-workers could count on. She would always get calls from the branch asking her about different things and asking when she'd return.
She couldn't walk away from the job. She couldn't walk away from her co-workers and the members.
"I didn't seek out promotions. The front line is my thing. I enjoy it, some people don't. I knew every member's name, I knew half of their account numbers, I knew their families. I was the supervisor of the line and I also was the trainer, so I trained everybody who came in. I knew all of the ins and outs of everything and I thrived on stuff like that. I just liked it," Maloney said.
She had her second daughter Bridget 17 months later.
After about 15 years at the Kellogg Street branch, she moved to the branch known as "OP1" in the former Ordinance Building. That property was occupied by GE. And then it was Lockheed Martin, then Martin Marietta, and now it is General Dynamics.
The customers were not happy when the Pittsfield GE Employee's Credit Union expanded its reach and became Greylock Credit Union.
She was there for all of the transitions. As the industry changed, she was the familiar face the customers could rely on. When debit cards and ATM cards rolled out, the customers didn't want anything to do with it. But she was there to reassure them and help with issues. The same thing with direct deposits and automated clearinghouse deposits.
"I'm kind of like their bartender at Cheers. I know them. A lot of my older members are all gone now because they retired but they still come in and call me kid," Maloney said.
"I enjoy being there and they know they can count on me."
That was also about the time Pittsfield GE Employees Credit Union became Greylock Credit Union and later Greylock Federal Credit Union.
Over the years the credit union had kept expanding and incorporating more and more people -- a change her regular customers didn't like. It went from being strictly a credit union for G.E. employees to open to all.
"Now we are more into the community. But that was tough when we started to open up to the community. A lot of the members didn't like it. They didn't like it when we changed our name. They liked it as Pittsfield GE Employees Credit Union," Maloney said.
She still lives in Cheshire. She moved into the house her father had built when he worked at Arnold's Lumber Yard, the one she grew up in, and the one that was home to her siblings and grandparents. He had built it from plans ordered in 1952 from Better Homes and Garden and he was proud of it.
"It is not my husband's and my style of home at all but it has a lot of sentimental value," Maloney said. "We're local people. We enjoy where we live and love the Berkshires."
When she first went to GE Ordnance, she worked with a smaller staff. There were two part-timer tellers, a full-time teller, a member service representative, and herself. It was a drop in staff level but it also meant she would have to take on additional duties. If somebody was sick, she'd fill in.
Just like it was when she was in school, the conventional classes weren't going to teach her those additional duties.
"I was considered the manager and I really didn't know a whole lot of member service because I was always front line. I knew a little bit but not a lot. I just kind of learned member service and loans on my own," Maloney said.
She had come from the ground floor and has confidence in what she does. She'll make her own "executive decisions" as the branch now might as well be her second home.
"Very few times have I been reprimanded so I guess I'm doing OK," Maloney said.
Maloney said there have been few problems at her branch. But when there are, she has no problem addressing them head-on and she knows she has the support of security and other staff in the building who have known her for years.
She remembered only two problems she had there. About 10 years ago she had a customer who "was just nasty" to staff. He was always giving the staff a hard time and Maloney wasn't going to take it anymore.
The branch is currently being renovated for the second time since it was first built.
"He was just nasty. And he just kept going and going and going. I leaned over and said 'I don't know what your problem is but I'm telling you right now I don't want to hear it anymore. Every time you come in here you are nasty to my staff and you are nasty to me. Guess what, we're done. You're not allowed in my branch anymore'" Maloney said.
The man was irate but she told his manager about his behavior. She told security about his behavior. And they all took her side. The man never returned. She has a similar story from last summer.
But that's it for problems, she said, and she boasts of the branch doing more than a million worth of loans.
Over the years the need for staffing at that branch has dropped. Maloney staffs it now on her own. She doesn't bother with calling headquarters for things like bringing a cleaner in or ordering supplies. She'll do it.
The branch serves about 30 people a day. She said many of the younger employees there do most of their banking on their phone but there are always things she can help with.
"It is just something I do. It is my little world over there," Maloney said.
That passion for the front line hasn't changed. This is also the week she'll be calling one customer to tell him that he's been approved for a credit card. It was a man who had a lot of student loans that he struggled to pay earlier in his life. It has followed him and hurt his credit.
Maloney had known him and his situation and connected him with the in-house financial coaches who worked with him to get a budget and build credit to get to the point where an institution would lend to him again.
He's going to be elated, Maloney said, and she can't wait to tell him.
"There is always a way we can help them. It's nice that I can think that way. We've helped a lot of people," Maloney said.
As technology changed, as the credit union grew from $36 million to more than $1 billion, as companies came and left, as Maloney's personal life changed, that part of the job hasn't changed.
She now has a grandson. She recently purchased a condominium in New Hampshire. She is approaching age 66, an age she always told herself was when she would retire. Everything is all in place for her to finally leave banking.
"I'm not ready yet. I might be in two months. I might be in six months. I might be in eight months. I don't know yet," Maloney said.
On Tuesday, the day of her anniversary, co-workers brought her out to lunch and she was given flowers to recognize the occasions. For Maloney, those 40 years flew by because she enjoyed what she was doing.
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