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West Maui Community FCU celebrates 75th anniversary in new home

By Staff | Jun 12, 2014

LAHAINA – The tanomoshi program that Japanese immigrant families brought to the United States and Hawaii in the pre-World War II years revolved around the groups organizing a system for their financial security. Designed to provide financial assistance to the immigrant Japanese, tanomoshi consisted of a group of ten to 20 people, with each member required to give a fixed amount of money to the group every month for a set period of time.

The public fund was then used to help one member per month until every member of the group was assisted.

In pre-WWII Southern California, some 51,000 immigrants were independent farmers who received tanomoshi financial aid- sometimes in the neighborhood of $1,000 per family – and purchased land through the system. Others opened small businesses like restaurants, grocery stores, laundromats and beauty salons.

Here in the islands, and especially on the West Side of Maui, the tanomoshi system thrived as the financial foundation of the Japanese, Filipino, Chinese, Portuguese and other immigrant peoples that came to build new lives on the rich, tropical soil.

An institution chartered as the Pioneer Mill Federal Credit Union was established on Jan, 28, 1938 to only serve the financial needs of the employees of Pioneer Mill Company Ltd., Lahaina Ice Company, and their immediate family members.

When the mill closed down in 1999, the credit union opened its membership to include all those who live, work, attend school and worship in the West Maui district and changed its name to West Maui Community Federal Credit Union.

The families of plantation workers such as Sammy Kadotani, Bart Santiago Sr., Faith Corrales, Hans F. Michel, Ron Togashi, Tom Kunishige, Art Tabanao and many, many others were able to stake their financial foundation in the West Maui Community FCU. These families thus entrusted their sweat equity into the new tanomoshi.

In the old Pioneer Building on Lahainaluna Road and later in a transformed concrete residence across the street, the West Maui Community FCU flourished. From $17.9 million in assets and about 1,800 members, the institution has grown to $34.6 million in assets and approximately 2,700 members and offers savings, free checking, debit cards, share certificates and consumer loans.

With the burgeoning business, the credit union decided to expand and improve its service with a brand new venue. The “Four Corners of Lahaina” at Honoapiilani Highway and Lahainaluna Road – unofficially the town center and formerly recognized as the service station locale for Ed’s Union 76 Service of the Kiyonaga family, Lahaina Shell, and a tourism company – is now graced with a sparkling, plantation-style office building, the new home of the West Maui Community FCU.

Taking viewers on a visit to the bygone plantation era, the building was designed by GYA Architects and constructed by general contractor Ocean Paradise Builders.

West Maui Community FCU Manager and CEO Michelle Kawahara said, “We celebrated our 75th anniversary, and we could not be happier with how the building turned out. With the completion of our new building, we can now focus on expanding our products and services we offer to our members.”

With convenient parking behind the building and a spacious and striking interior design, this credit union is now a jewel of the community with a history of service to the working class families of the rural township.

But perhaps the most endearing aspect of entering the building is the smile and greeting you receive from the front-line staff of clerks such as Emi (Sodetani) Cabanilla or Remy (Santiago) Bilog, who represent several generations of the integrity and character of the West Maui Community FCU and the West Side.