Marriage of credit unions brings Cravalho retirement

The recent merger of Kula Community Federal Credit Union with Maui Federal Credit Union not only marks the end for the Kula institution but it also is an end of an era for a “remarkable” and “amazing” man.

As the credit unions officially merged on Jan. 2, with Kula members becoming Maui FCU members, longtime Kula Community FCU Secretary and Treasurer Elmer Cravalho officially retired.

For more than 20 years, Cravalho, a former Maui County mayor, managed the nearly 60-year-old credit union without compensation.

At its end, Kula had nearly 3,000 members. Its collection rate has been 98.6 percent, meaning that only 1.4 percent of its members who took out loans defaulted, Cravalho said.

Modestly, Cravalho called the rate “not bad.”

The Kula institution was founded in 1954 by Cravalho and seven others. They each put in $5 for a total of $40. At the time of the merger, the credit union had multiplied its assets to $40 million, according to a news release.

Cravalho is the only founding member alive today.

He admitted that age was a factor in the merger as well as his retirement.

“I’m not a spring chicken anymore. I’ve just made 88,” he said.

Asked what he would do during retirement, he joked: “Staying out of mischief.”

Cravalho said that he was seeking some type of merger “for a long time.”

“The timing this time was right; everything worked out very well,” he said.

Now, Kula Community FCU members can visit the Maui FCU offices along East Wakea Avenue, just a short walk away from their old credit union near the Kahului Safeway. Members in Hana can still visit their same office on Uakea Road that will remain open on the regularly scheduled Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; and Upcountry members can still visit the old Kula branch on Lower Kula Road on Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., the same times it has been open under Kula Community FCU hours.

Clayton Fuchigami, president and chief executive officer of Maui FCU, said Maui credit union members are excited and honored to have the Kula members join their family.

He added that the new members will have a number of new services to choose from, including online banking, debit cards, share draft accounts and the ability to to wire money to friends and loved ones without leaving the credit union.

Fuchigami praised Cravalho and his institution.

“Mr. Cravalho is an amazing man and found his niche with being able to conduct his business with just the basic savings account and loans,” Fuchigami said.

In a news release, Fuchigami added: “Through his dedication, hard work and leadership, Cravalho successfully met the financial needs of the community, starting with farmers and laborers in Maui’s pineapple fields.”

Longtime Kula Community FCU members also praised Cravalho.

“I think he’s remarkable. You have to respect the man,” said former longtime Kula Community FCU board member Harriet Santos.

Santos, who has been a member since the 1950s, said she felt secure placing her money with the credit union, and one reason was that Cravalho was at the helm.

“The reason why I stayed . . . I felt it was a good credit union. With Elmer, I respected the man. He is smart, and he is honest,” she said, adding that anyone dealing with money has to be honest.

“He had a heart of gold. He was always thinking about the person, the underprivileged,” she added. “As far as you were honest, you needed a loan, he would be right there to help you.”

Cravalho acknowledged that years ago loans could be given out “informally” and basically on a handshake and promise to pay the credit union back.

“We always kept personal contact. I think that has been one of the keys to our success. Maui has been small. We knew people. When they had some real emergency, we made sure we gave them the help. It has been reciprocated,” Cravalho said.

He acknowledged that in today’s world with stringent rules and regulations, the credit unions cannot be as “informal” as before.

But he added, “We have always been informal as much as we could.”

When the Kula Community FCU board discussed the merger, members also looked at the Maui FCU’s members who mirrored theirs. There are old-time farmers, ranchers and former Maui Land & Pineapple Co. employees, Cravalho said.

The Maui and Kula Community FCU boards and Kula members voted in favor of the merger.

In early February, the National Credit Union Administration gave its final approval of the merger, indicating it was complete on Jan. 2.

Now, Maui FCU has nearly $100 million in assets and its membership is more than 7,900, up from 5,266 members.

Maui FCU celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2013. It originally opened as Maui Pine Federal Credit Union on Jan. 28, 1938. Its primary members had been employees of Maui Pineapple Co. In 2003, the credit union changed its name to Maui Federal Credit Union to represent the “broad, diverse, unlimited marketplace of members and potential members” on Maui.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at