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Empowering Workers: The Story of Cape Fear Employees Credit Union


“Twenty-two hundred people all of a sudden joined our credit union, and there was only one person managing it, and that was me.” This is Judy Tharp speaking, a recently retired executive who took on the job of starting a credit union when she was only twenty-two years old.

In the late 1960s, the Cape Fear DuPont Plant opened in Leland, North Carolina, near Wilmington. About a decade later, when company leaders became concerned about potential unionization, they agreed to offer an on-site credit union for DuPont workers.

The job of launching the credit union went to Judy Tharp, a recent college graduate. Within six months, she was single-handedly operating the credit union for more than two thousand DuPont employees. Judy went on to have a distinguished career, retiring as the CEO of Piedmont Advantage Credit Union in 2019.

When DuPont sold the plant in 2001, Cape Fear Employees Credit Union didn’t end its service. Under Judy’s leadership, the credit union received authorization from credit union regulators to expand its membership beyond DuPont employees—the first state-chartered credit union in North Carolina to get that authority. With its new mandate to serve the wider community, the credit union shortened its name to Cape Fear Credit Union and moved to Wilmington.

In this six-minute video, we hear from former DuPont workers who remain loyal to the credit union today. We also hear from two women who began working with Cape Fear Credit Union who are now part of the Self-Help Credit Union staff. This video highlights the vital role that women played in building a strong credit union culture in North Carolina, serving to help many more families receive access to fair and affordable credit.

Cape Fear Employees CU
at a Glance

Original Name: 
Cape Fear Employees Credit Union (changed to Cape Fear CU in 2002)

Founders: 
DuPont Plant employees

Year Founded: 1978

Year of Merger with Self-Help:  2006

Original Founding Location: 
Leland, NC (near Wilmington)