Interviewee: Janice Miller
Interviewer: Deborah Hendrix
Date: April 23, 2004
Janice Miller was born in Montgomery, Alabama. After attending Troy State
College towards a degree in Music and Education she moved to Atlanta, Georgia where
she met her future first husband, a surveyor. They both moved to St. Simons Island,
There she met Billy Gibson, personnel director of Sea Island Company, who was
a member of her church and through that contact she was hired as a "floater" to work for
Sea Island Company. She was twenty-two when she was first hired in 1973.
She worked in various capacities within the company; as a secretary in the garage, as a
manager's helper in the cottage rental cleaning group, and finally as Billy Gibson's
secretary. The infant Sea Island Credit Union was also in place within the personnel
office where she worked, and when the only person handling the then tiny credit union
left, she took over that position.
As the Company grew so did the credit union. One of the purposes of the
creation of the Sea Island Credit Union was to assist its African American employees in
purchasing their homes and other personal loans, an unlikely event in the 1970s in that
region of the South. Also, African Americans were targets of "loan sharks" charging
usurious rates and the credit union provided an avenue for reasonable management of
Miller remembers how the credit union grew and some of the progressive
characteristics of the Sea Island Credit Union, such as its database system. She
remarks that the credit union reflects the character of its members, who in turn reflected
the attitude of the Sea Island Company. She values the idea of a culture of family that
the Company portrays in taking care of Sea Island Credit Union's members, but
stresses that Sea Island Company and Sea Island Credit Union are two separate
Miller concludes the interview by summarizing her feelings of her own accomplishments
over her thirty plus years of working for Sea Island and the credit union and her feelings
of its place in the community.
H: I'm here at the Sea Island Credit Union in Brunswick, Georgia. This is SIG 4.
We're going to interview, today, Janice Miller. By the way, this is very informal.
If you want to get up, that's fine. For the record, can you tell us your name?
M: My name is Janice Miller.
H: That's your full name?
H: Is Miller your maiden name?
M: No, it's my married name.
H: What was your maiden name?
H: Where were you born?
M: I was born in Montgomery, Alabama.
H: Montgomery, Alabama. That seems to be a popular place.
M: Does it?
H: I think you're the third one [from Montgomery that has been interviewed].
M: Is that right? Well, Montgomery is the capital of Alabama, and a lot of people
leave. I left there. I went to Atlanta. I went to school at Troy State and went to
Troy State University, which is a stone's throw from Montgomery. Are you
familiar with Troy State?
M: It used to be Troy State College. It's about forty-five minutes from Montgomery.
It's on the eastern coast of Alabama. It used to be Troy State College and then it
became Troy State University, actually, in 1968. I went to school there. It was
called a suitcase college because on the weekends everybody packed up their
suitcases of dirty clothes and went home to wash them. Back when it was a
college there wasn't a lot going on. When it became a university, the football
team [came along]. Now it's an A football team. Back then, it wasn't very
much. I always remember the funny thing when it became a university, they got
us all in the gymnasium and they were telling everyone that it became a
university. Everybody was hooping and hollering and what they actually did was
they told us that we'd have a week off because it had become a university.
Everybody was happy. The annual said, "Troy State Becomes a University."
The reason they were laughing was because they were getting time off. When I
graduated I went to Atlanta and met my first husband. He had been in the Coast
Guard on St. Simons, and he wanted to move back to St. Simon's Island. I lived
in Atlanta for a couple of years and then we moved back down to St. Simons.
H: So, that's how you got in this area, through your husband.
M: My first husband.
H: I always like to ask, where were your parents from? Were they from Alabama,
M: They were from Alabama, too. Actually, my father, I think he was born near
Stone Mountain, Georgia. Mother was born in Atmore, Alabama. I'm not really
sure, I think his relatives migrated to Alabama and then they met.
H: What did your father do?
M: He was an automobile mechanic.
H: [What about] your mom?
M: She was a housewife for a long time. Then she worked for, it would be the
equivalent of Gayfers now. It was called Montgomery Fair then, and has
subsequently been purchased by many things. Now, it has been purchased by
Dillard's Department Store. Mother was the department head for the baby
department for a long, long time.
H: Do you think they influenced your going to school?
M: Sure, they did.
H: Was education a big emphasis for them?
M: I have an older sister, and they wanted both of us to go on to higher
education, which neither of them did. It was something that they helped me
with, but I would imagine that if they had formal higher education, it would have
been more of an emphasis for them. They wanted to help. If that's what Gayle
and I wanted to do, they wanted to help us do it.
H: You got your degree at Troy State. What was your degree?
M: I didn't finish at Troy State. I went there for two years and then I moved to
Atlanta. It was in music and education. If I had finished it would have been in
H: There are different ways to get an education, that's true. How did you finish
your degree? What would it have been in? Or you hadn't gotten that far?
M: I hadn't gotten to that point.
H: You came to St. Simons with your husband.
M: He was a land surveyor. That's what he did for a living.
H: How did you start working for Sea Island?
M: It was kind of odd. How you end up places is very strange a lot of times. I
didn't have a job. I had left Atlanta. He, of course, did [have a job]. I was just
looking for something. Bryan had a friend who went to church with Billy Gibson,
and Mr. Gibson needed a secretary. I thought, well, I could do that for a while till
I find what I want to do. Actually, he didn't need a secretary. They needed a
floating-type person, someone just to fill in when someone was out of work, if
someone was sick or whatever. I went and interviewed with him. I was very
young. I was twenty-two years old. I went and talked to him and he said, oh
yes, yes, yes, this would be good. We can hire you for this job. I said, okay. I
worked in the engineering department at Sea Island for a while when one of the
ladies there was ill. I worked at the garage for a while. That was interesting.
Back then, you had the garage manager, and then I was in charge of the
transportation part of Sea Island. Now, it's massive. It's just a massive
department. Then it was very, very small. Then I ended up in human
resources. Mr. Gibson needed a secretary. I was a terrible secretary.
Anyway, bless his heart, he put up with me. I would also help with the domestic
help for, down the drive, in the cottages. They had a lady who was in charge of
getting domestic help for the cottage owners. I would find the ladies to go down
there for them. Mr. Gibson started the credit union for the employees of Sea
Island. It was very small. It was a one-lady office. We did the books by hand.
There was a lady in there and she was going to leave and go to another credit
union, so she needed someone to help her at that time. She taught me how to
do the books. I had some accounting in college, so I had a basic knowledge of
accounting. She taught me how to do the books. Then, when she left, I took
over the very, tiny, little credit union.
H: Was the credit union in the Sea Island complex?
M: Originally, the human resources was in the Cloister. Behind the Cloister, there
was the food purchasing department and there was a little area, it was only three
offices and a bathroom. It had a reception area. It was kind of a 'U' shape.
Human Resources was in that part of the 'U' and then food purchasing was here.
We were in with the Human Resource department and had a little bitty office.
We had a waiting room that seated--it was so funny-the bathroom was here, it
was terrible, and we had a waiting room that sat two people and then, my office.
When anybody went into the bathroom you had to make sure there was nobody
waiting for the credit union because it was just right there. It was so funny. It
was a very small area. I was the only employee. We had quite a few
members. When we moved from there, we moved across the parking lot and
had a larger space. My office was upstairs and we had another person to help
me. We had a very small area. Credit unions, when they began, of course,
now this was thirty years ago .. I've watched our credit union go from nothing to
now, we're about $40,000,000 in assets. We have about 3200 members. I
think our assets are actually about $37,000,000. We've gone from one person
and now we have twelve employees. We have two branches. It's grown.
Actually, Billy Gibson, I guess the best word for him is he's a futurist. He really
is. He's an outside-the-box thinker, kind of person, which is wonderful. If I've
learned anything, that's a very good thing, especially in this business to be.
M: What I was going to tell you, is I told you they did the books by hand. He [Billy
Gibson] thought, well, this is antiquated. What he did, is he went to Sun Trust
bank. They [Sun Trust Bank] had an in-house computer system then. Sun
Trust was the bank of first-deposit for Sea Island Company. They put a lot of
money through Sun Trust as a corporation. He said, our little credit union for
Sea Island Company needs a data processing system. He said, what we need
to do is, it is called batch processing, we would take all of our data in the
evening, take it over to them, and they would input it. We would end up with a
trial balance on that kind of format, which was really unusual for a credit union as
small as ours. What it allowed us to do, was [to] grow. You didn't have to sit
there and write everything by hand. Many, many years ago, credit unions would
do their books by ledger cards. You would come in and make a deposit to your
credit union account and they'd write $50. Balance, $50. Dividends, whatever.
This allowed us the flexibility to grow. Everybody said, oh, I can't believe this
credit union this size is going with a data processing system, but we did.
Actually, one of the reasons he formed the credit union, because Gibson is the
founder of this credit union, he was with a trucking company in Jacksonville. I
think, he was a director of HR there and he came to Sea Island and saw a need
for a credit union for the employees. He can tell you this better than I, but I think if
they needed extra money they'd probably go to the company and say, I need
some extra money. The credit union was a good vehicle. That was one of the
reasons credit unions were formed. They are cooperatives. It's a group of
people who get together and help themselves, if you will, a cooperative. In any
event, he wanted to make sure that Sea Island Company employees could be
home owners. Our main focus over all of the years that this credit union has
been in existence has been home buying. That's our main focus. A lot of credit
unions will do [loans]. We do car loans; we do all kinds of loans. We're very
diverse, like I said. Our main focus is homes, still, to this day. It allowed Sea
Island employees to purchase homes.
H: That was one of the questions I was going to ask. Of course, the credit union
was here before you. But not long.
M: Yes, but not that long. The Sea Island Credit Union was founded in 1966.
H: Because you were the only employee.
M: Yes. I was the fifth or sixth manager. There were several people before me. I
think I was the fifth manager, and I've been the only one since then.
H: This [Credit Union all grew] from your little closet.
M: Yes. It was literally a room about half this size [a size that would equal
approximately fifteen feet by fifteen feet]. There, would be a little hall that sat
two people and there was a little bathroom out by the waiting room. That was
the beginning of it, in the little room.
H: In the Human Resources area?
M: In the Human Resources area.
H: That is handy.
M: It was.
H: When you started with the credit union, was that in the first year you were here?
M: I had been there over a year, I think. The lady needed help. The credit union
was growing and she needed help. I started helping her part-time. I was still
working in Human Resources, but I would help her part-time so I could learn
what to do and relieve her. The poor thing couldn't even go on vacations. I
H: When you first started, of course, you were a temporary [in each position within
the company], you could say.
M: Well, I was full-time, but I was a floater. They still have floaters now, at the
hotel. I was a full-time employee, but I floated from department to department
as needed. I would float back to HR and help them.
H: That seems to be one of the characteristics of Sea Island, is that people do
M: Do they still?
H: At least, in the beginning [of their employment]. I don't know about today,
presently, but it's probably not like that anymore because [Sea Island company]
was [a lot] smaller [then]. It seems to be a characteristic [in earlier times] that
people could multi-task.
M: Well, probably because it was small, like you said. As we have grown in the
credit union, I did everything. I don't know, maybe that's because it's a woman
thing, but I did everything. It's hard, even now, after all this time, and of course
you have to do it and it gets easier, also, to let go of things. I did everything.
As we grew, I had somebody that helped me and then she became the teller, but
I was still the teller. That's true in the industry of the credit unions. I can think
of the Interstate Credit Union in Jesup. They started with the wife and husband.
It was the Interstate Pulp Mill, in Jesup, Georgia. They started with the
husband and wife in their dining room; they ran the credit union. It was very
small. It was for those employees. They grew, so they did everything. He
would go to the mill and they would want a loan application and he'd bring it
home to 'mother,' is what he called Imogene, Boatright. He would bring it home
to mother and they would approve the loan and then he'd take the money, back
to the mill. That's the nature of credit unions. Like I said, it's the cooperative
thing. I did everything. Now, even in the past five to six years, we have
become to the point where we're starting to departmentalize. I have an
accounting lady who does all of our back office and accounting functions. I'm
not a teller anymore, unless it's an emergency, and then they really don't want
me to be, but we have our loan department. I have two loan ladies. I have an
assistant, who I could not operate without, who does my secretarial things. Over
the years, because of our growth, we've had to do that. It just gets more than
one person can handle.
H: In [earlier] times, such as in the 1970s, African Americans were unable to get
loans from the banks. [Some Sea Island employees] from previous interviews
say one of the functions of the credit union was to be able to loan [African
Americans] money. Did you get a lot of African-Americans in during the early
times? Did they borrow money for houses?
M: Oh, sure, certainly. I think one of the first loans we made, and I think it's on the
St. Simons office, we framed. You know how Burger King, for example, will put
their first dollar up? Well, we framed our first loan. It was on one small piece of
paper. It was for $250, I think. It was the very first loan, we made. That was to
an African-American. I don't remember what the purpose [for the loan] was.
H: I just thought that was a great thing at that time because they couldn't go to
M: That's why Mr. Gibson did that. That's, literally, why he formed the credit union.
It was so they would have a place to come and because so many employees and
so many people when they needed money would go to finance companies.
They still do it today. They [the finance company] would charge them
astronomical rates of interest. They would come in to me and I would look at
their credit. Back then, it was really wonderful, and I hate that I can't have as
much direct member contact today because we're a lot larger. We still, today,
know our members. That's the difference, I think, between a credit union and a
bank. Banks have realized that and now they've started marketing that they're
the bank with the heart and all this stuff. We've always been that way. These
guys would come in, and they would have these loans with these finance
companies and we would pay them off or they would come in and they wouldn't
be able to buy a house, and we'd loan them the money for the house. We've
got members that we loaned them the money for their very first house and
they're still members. We know them. We know their families. We know
everything about them. It makes it easier, too, because you do know the
people. You know where their skeletons are. It makes it easier. It's nice.
They trust us because we care what happens to them.
H: That goes along with the Sea Island culture of family that they talk about so
much. It is like a family. Of course, the people that are members of the credit
union, they exclusively work for Sea Island.
M: Yes, in the beginning it was that. Now, our field of membership is a little bit
more diverse. It's still the core Sea Island Company employees and their family
members. My aunt, who lives in California, can be a member now if you're
related by blood. It doesn't have to be in the household. My family members
can be members.
H: That's how you have 3200 members.
M: Yes. Well, if you've ever been an employee of Sea Island you can be a
member. You don't have to be a current employee, too.
H: All the retired employees still have accounts here.
M: Certainly. Once you've been a member, you can always be a member.
H: You were trained on the job. You were just put there.
M: [I was just put there] and trained by the current person.
H: It's like an apprenticeship.
M: Sort of, if you will. Of course, over the years I've had other educational [things].
Things are constantly changing and you have constant education. We have an
organization called the Georgia Credit Union Affiliates. It's all of the credit
unions in the state of Georgia. Most of them belong to it, of course. You pay
quite handsomely to do that, but they have all kinds of educational things.
There's also the credit union executive program, which is a program at Athens,
the University of Georgia system. It's a three-year program that you go through
for two weeks at a time. It's very intense and you do projections for your credit
union. There's all kinds of on-going education [options].
H: You started at the very beginning, so you grew into the job and the job grew
around you. Overall, do you think the Sea Island Company encouraged you to
take initiatives? Did they allow you that freedom?
M: The credit union is a separate entity [to the Sea Island Company] altogether.
Sea Island Company never has had an input into the operation of the credit
union. It's a separate entity, altogether. It's owned by the members, like any
credit union. We have our own board of directors. I'm on the board, and Mr.
Gibson is on the board and we have seven other board members. There are
nine individuals on our board of directors. They come from employees of Sea
Island Company. Right now, we have an ex-employee who is a CPA, then Mr.
Julian Cason is the chairman of the credit union, and he was in charge of
reservations for years. He's retired now. We have Mike Warren on the board.
He currently works in accounting and Matt Hodgdon works in accounting. We
had one lady, and she's passed away now, and she worked in advertising.
Gerald Atkinson, he's retired, but I think he was a golf starter. Our supervisory
committee is composed of those board members. In any event, we've done our
own direction via the board of directors. Sea Island has always been our
sponsor, meaning most of our members came from there. Yes, they have
always been very supportive of the credit union. At times, and this has been an
ongoing thing for thirty years, if an employee would go to their department head
with a financial problem they would direct them to me. That happens, today.
"Perhaps Janice in the credit union can help you." I'm constantly having
employees funneled through them to come to us. Yes, they've always been
very supportive of the credit union.
H: Is the credit union self-sustaining?
M: Absolutely. We always have been. Well, I can't say that we always have been.
We've always paid our employees [and] reimbursed the company for our
employees. When it was that one little room, they didn't charge us rent. That's
very important for a financial institution. We're sitting there with no rent and no
power to pay for. That allows us more dividends back to the members. We
didn't pay rent until about twelve years ago when we moved the property. This
is an unusual thing, too. We're kind of an out-of-the-mold credit union. Sea
Island Company owned some land. Sun Trust bank wanted to build a bank
building. They said, sure, we'll lease you the land and you build the building.
Our credit union needs a place, so you've got to take our credit union. They did.
On St. Simons, we have a Sun Trust bank building and the credit union is in one
half, and the bank is in the other half. We share a common area in the middle.
We share bathrooms. We share the break room. They have a conference
room that we share. It's sort of like a 'U.' Sun Trust is here, and the credit
union is here. The middle is the common area, which is the conference room
and the bathrooms and the break room, which is very unique. It's worked
beautifully for many years. Two years ago we bought this building because we
saw a need as people left Sea Island for different reasons. Convenience is the
name of the game. We bought this building two years ago so it would be more
convenient for folks. It's worked out well.
H: The credit union has just evolved into this totally separate entity from Sea Island.
M: It was always a separate entity.
H: It was, but the beginning you were joined at the hip [sharing office space]. The
credit union, along with Sea Island, has just grown and grown. This atmosphere
of family, do you think that's still a characteristic?
M: It is for us. I think it is with Sea Island. It seems to be. There are a lot of
families that work. That's the thing about Sea Island, for so many years, they
had whole groups of families that would work there. The Hobbs family, I think
they had six or seven people that worked for Sea Island at the same time.
There still is a good bit of that.
H: I was going to ask you about the loans. You said that you started right away with
doing home loans.
M: I wasn't there, initially. That's what they did. It's still our main focus, our
main portfolio. Our loan portfolio is seventy-eight percent in
mortgages, which is a very high percentage. We do all kinds of mortgages,
firsts and seconds and HELOC [home equity line of credit] and all kinds of things.
That has grown. But then, if you really think about it, the financial industry has
grown. The financial industry has changed and has grown. In that thirty-year
period, it is an entirely different focus. Think about thirty years ago, when you
banked. You probably had a pass-book savings account, I'd venture to say, and
you may have had a checking account, probably a real basic one. You wrote
checks. You got the checks back in the mail, and that's it. You took your little
pass-book into your bank, and you said, I want to make a $200 deposit, they took
it, recorded it, and handed it back to you. You may have had certificates, you
maybe didn't. You probably just had that little pass-book account. Today, you
can walk into this credit union, you can walk into a bank, and you've got ....
You don't even have to walk into the credit union or the bank. You can sit at
home at your computer and pull up a check image of a check you had written a
day ago. Now, we're moving to, it's called check-twenty-one. Well, you
probably do it now. When you go into Wal-Mart, let's say, you write them a
check. They put it in their little machine. They encode it right then and there.
What they're doing is clearing that check, so there's no more float. It's gone
from very simple and very slow to rapid city. It's also convenience, and that
probably is because of the mindset that people have. It's got to be convenient.
It's got to be now. Maybe, that's our society as a whole. Nobody wants to slow
down. I remember the funniest thing, and I'll never forget this. We had a
lawyer. His name was Marvin Pipkin, a wonderful man. This was before all
these fancy computers, [the days of] fax machines, [or when] computers were not
really widely used. I called him one day and I said, Marvin, when are you going
to get a fax machine? This is ridiculous! I have to mail you things! He said,"I
don't know. I'll probably get one at some point in time, but I'm going to hold out
until the bitter end. I said, why is that? He said, well, if you think about it,
you've got to sit down. You've got to write me a letter. You've got to get it in
the mail. Then, it takes a couple of days to get to me. Then I get the letter. I
can chew on it for a while, think about it. Then, I have to write you back. Then
you get the letter back. We've had some time to deal with it. He said, if you fax
me the thing, I have to answer and you want a fax back in five minutes. He was
right. Of course, he got a fax machine. He was so funny when he said that. I
thought, you know, this is the truth. That's good and bad. That's just the way
H: The times change.
H: [Does] the Sea Island tradition, have a home here in the credit union? The Sea
Island tradition, as I've been reading about it, is how they [specially] treat the
M: Oh, heavens, yes.
H: It extends to the [members of the credit union].
M: I never really thought about it that way, but I guess it does. The guest is the
most important thing. Without the guest, you don't have a hotel. Without the
employees, and without our members, we don't have a credit union. That's what
I was saying, the banks have come to realize that's the way it is, and that's an
important part of the whole picture. What we do here, is the member is the most
important process. They own this credit union, basically. Without really
realizing it, it did kind of flow over.
H: They [Sea Island company] are very emphatic about maintaining the high quality
of their service.
M: Well, look at this credit union. Look at this facility. We're sitting in a room that
had a wall between it and they used it for storage. We came in and redid this
building. The landscaping looks like Sea Island. I know when we took this
building over, a lot of the buildings around were really thankful and glad because
they knew that it would look like Sea Island's things look. It's so funny. If you
would go onto Sea Island now, of course, they're preparing for the G-8, and the
hotel is gone. You can't ever tell it was there. The trees are there. They look
like they've been there for 100 years. That's just the way they do it. Everything
they do is first-class. You can see it in their buildings. You can see it in the
lodge. Have you been in the lodge? Holy moly.
H: I haven't done that.
M: It's just beautiful. It's a five-star, five-diamond facility. It's just beautiful.
Everybody caters to their needs. I'm sure the new hotel will be similar. I'm
positive of it. It'll be beautiful.
H: A lot of the employees at the credit union worked at the Cloister, and the
building's gone now.
M: You mean our members worked there?
M: Well, they moved a lot of them. This, now, I'm not that informed about. I know
that some of our members went to different places. They went to the lodge, they
went to the beach clubs, the beach houses, and that sort of thing. I know that
they did do a transition, [though] I don't know how many.
H: I was just curious if they missed the old building there.
M: I can't speak for them. I did. You know, the thing was falling down around their
ears. They had to do something. I think it's a shame when any structure [is
torn down]. What they did, or what I have been told they're doing, and I'm sure
it's fact, is that the pecky cyprus wood, those fabulous windows in the solarium,
they kept those. They're going to incorporate the old with the new. Have you
seen any renditions of them? I may have one here.
H: I haven't, but I did hear that they were going to make it look like it was old to
begin with and not a new building.
M: It's just going to be beautiful. They're incorporating some of those old things
that were part of history with the new, which is going to be really nice.
H: That leads me to another question that I think is important. Since the company
is old and has been around for seventy-five years, did you feel like you were part
of a tradition?
M: Absolutely. Hang on a minute. Stop your recording. I'm going to go get
something I want to show you.
M: [This is] fabulous. This is a great book. I'm glad they saved those.
H: I would have bought this book, but I think it's $50.
M: It is. It's quite pricy.
H: I'll look at it in the bookstore.
M: It's a really wonderful book. It talks about all the wonderful things and all the
people that were here so long ago. It's so neat. It's the sort of thing you'd see
during the depression. I could go, and I could stand in the spot that little kid is
standing in. Maybe because I'm fifty-three years old, but it's quite amazing. I
went and took pictures of this area prior to the demolition. It's just beautiful. A
lot of weddings have been going on there.
H: You think of the memories that are made right there that last [for] families for
forever and ever.
M: There's a picture of the Jones family here. It's so funny to me, because one of
the daughters looks exactly, and it's not her mother, but she looks just like her
aunt. There's the old dining room. It's really neat. Look at the bathing
H: I love to look at the things like that. That's why I guess I'm attracted to history.
M: I suppose.
H: Do you think the employees that worked for so long, not only Sea Island, but
here, do you think that they probably feel that sense of tradition as well and take
pride in where they work?
M: I know I do. Well, most of the employees in the credit union stay for a while.
We've only recently, only because we've grown, have added new staff. We
have people that have worked for us for fifteen years. I'm probably the longest,
but Patricia's worked with us for quite some time. I think she said fifteen, almost
twenty years. She started when we were over in Human Resources, not the
initial little small office, but the second office. She started over there. We've
got quite a few.
H: Let's shift gears a little bit here. Since you do have a broad span of time here, I
wanted to ask you from a woman's perspective, when you first started, were
there any women in positions of authority that you can remember?
M: Yes. Ethel Camp, she's retired now; she's living in a nursing home. She
actually worked in the credit union. She was before me. She left the credit
union and she was the head of cottage rentals. Now, that job [belongs to]
Nancy Adcock--I gave you her name. She has that job. Of course, the job has
changed, tremendously. Back then, what Mrs. Camp did is she made sure that
the homeowners had [domestic help]. She would get the domestic help for
them. Also, they would come down here in the winter and then they would go
back in the summer; they would rent these houses. They would have other
homes. Now, of course, the majority of them, I guess, are primary dwellings.
Back then, you had two homes. She was in charge of taking all the linens that
they used themselves and putting them away and bringing out the rental linens.
She was in charge of the maintenance of their houses when they were away. I
was trying to think of other people. Now, of course, they have lots of lady
H: But in the executive branch, were there [any women]?
M: She was a department head. She was head of the cottage rentals.
H: All those things didn't really start changing until the mid 1970s.
M: Well, probably because it was housekeeping, don't you think? That was kind of
a woman thing? Now, I guess men are head of housekeeping departments.
H: Things have changed. The company sounds like they're progressive. Still, it's
like a family. Once you're inside, it's just like your brother or your sister. ..
M: They definitely promote within. They always have. Like I said, I'm kind of like
an outsider looking in to that kind of thing. I know everybody.
H: It's an interesting situation because here, you know all the employees, but you're
actually not a part of the hospitality end of it, which I guess would be the main
M: You sort of are, though, because when we were on property, you were aware of
what they wanted. You were aware, and I always have been, ever since a [I
was a] very young person, that if I was walking on the property, and even though
I didn't work for housekeeping, if I saw a need, even back then, if a guest needed
something, I knew enough about the company that I might not be able to help
them directly, but I would go get somebody that could. That kind of thing, you
just knew. You just knew that ultimately, if the guests were happy, my
employees were happy; they had jobs, and we had a credit union. It all kind of
H: Do you think the attitude came from the closeness of the people working
together? Maybe it's a Southern thing?
M: It could be that. It could be my personality [laughing]. I think all of my
employees felt that way, too. Like I said, we would walk on property a lot and
see a need. Many times, guests would be misdirected, and then I would stop
what I was doing, if I was walking around the grounds, and take them to where
they needed to go. I couldn't do things like go get them a bar of soap, but you
could help them in some minor way. I never thought about that, either, but we
do that, routinely.
H: When you were actually on the property there, did they instruct you [on proper
guest etiquette]? You say you just took your own initiative to help the guests,
but did they instruct you to maybe stay out of sight?
M: As far as celebrities, you knew not to bother them. Nobody ever came up to me
and said, don't talk to that guest, or that type of thing, but you knew they were
there. That's one of the wonderful things about the Cloister, was that they knew
that if they came to the hotel that they wouldn't be bothered. They could exist,
do their own thing. Nobody was going to run up to them and get an autograph.
That was absolutely unheard of. You didn't do that. You let them do their own
thing. That was one of the reasons they came.
M: If you can't find it, call me back and I've got a copy at home [Who Moved my
Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life I
Spencer Johnson, 1998]. Gibson bought everybody in the credit union a copy
of it. It's a great book because people are resistant to change. In my industry,
if you don't get with the program, you are just behind times, because you have to
change, almost daily. The changes over the past thirty years, like I was telling
you, have been phenomenal. I remember reading Popular Mechanics. My
husband gets Popular Mechanics, and this was twenty years ago, and I
remember reading this book about the super-highway, the information-highway.
I remember thinking, information-highway, what in the world are they talking
about? I thought, this will never affect me. That was many, many years ago,
when they were talking about how it would change everybody's lives. And
hasn't it, though?
H: Do you think that Sea Island Company has played a big role in the way Glynn
County has developed?
M: Oh, my Lord, yes. They really have. Even from my little perspective, they've
done so much. They do things that a lot of people don't even know about.
They make donations to all of these causes and all of these places to better the
community, and people don't even realize the depth of what they have done.
They really have. You've seen it grow from a little bitty hotel to what it is now,
and all of the things that they've owned, and to the betterment, I would venture to
say, [of] St. Simons. Even in Southern Living, Sea Island has . what year was
it voted by the people from Southern Living as one of the best vacation spots? I
really think the hospitality, their attitude has a lot to do with it.
H: They're in the hospitality industry, and of course, it would be to their benefit to
have the area grow.
M: Oh, certainly. It's a win-win. It's a win for the community [and] a win for Sea
Island. It's a win-win. Any way you look at it. [It's a] win for the employees
[and] a win for the people.
H: I know Mr. Talley [see SIG 2] was telling me about the accounting
M: Mr. Benefield [see SIG 3] was probably able to tell you about all the things that
Sea Island has done.
H: I wonder if you remember this incident that Mr. Talley was telling me. When Sea
Island company first got their computer system, he said he faced a lot of
resistance to get that put in by Mr. Brown [J. Elliott Brown, former treasurer of
Sea Island company].
M: Oh yes. I remember him. I don't remember him very well, because he was
there before me, but he was probably, and this is all assumptions on my part, but
I would imagine that he was the pen-and-ink guy. Mr. Brown, he did everything
from the beginning, a pen-and-ink kind of person. When they wanted to
computerize, I would imagine he would have been very resistant to change. I
can imagine. Is that what Pat said?
H: He said he had to basically lobby for this computer. He worked for IBM, so he
was familiar with computers. This was in the early part of the 1970s. The first
thing [he saw] when he walked in was Mr. Brown on the floor, sorting city
ledgers, by hand.
M: That's what I mean, a pen-and-ink [kind of man].
H: He said that their accounting machines were hand-cranked, and he thought it
was a museum he [had] walked into. This is his first day on the job.
M: When I was at Troy State, I was in education, business, and music. I definitely
didn't have a focus on life at that point. One of the classes I took was business
machines. Oh, Lord, am I dating myself. I walked into this business machine
class and it was these gigantic key punch machines. Do you remember key
punch machines? Oh, my Lord. They had key punch operators at Sea Island,
back then. They sat there all day long. [You] Talk about carpal tunnel [An
inflammatory condition of a joint from repetitive motion]. They sat there all day
long key punching in these cards. [It was] loud. These data cards would go
through and they'd punch those little things, the chads. They'd punch the chads
out, and that's what made the computer read the things. They did that. There
were these huge machines, and these adding machines that had twenty-five
columns on them. It's just amazing. Now, you've got a computer this big that
will do anything.
H: [Pat Talley, SIG 2] was saying that they conducted a class to teach how to work
the computer, which is not anything like a computer we think of, today. He said
that Mr. Brown had delayed getting the computer for about two years. It took
him that long. His strategy, therefore, became to take the people who were
afraid of it to lunch and he would explain to them that they were not going to be
without a job.
M: Everybody thought that computers were going to replace bodies. Little did they
know that it took a body to run the thing. Data in, data out. It's got to get in
there, somehow. One of the first young girls that he ever hired, her name was
Katie Hibbler. This morning, I got out of my car, and Katie was on her
motorcycle. She is a very progressive lady. She goes to my church. She was
on her motorcycle and she drove around the building and used our ATM
[automatic teller machine] this morning. I got out of my car and went and spoke
to her. She still is a member of the credit union. She works at the hospital now.
H: He [Pat Talley] said the same computer that Sea Island eventually got, [though] it
took a while because of the resistance from Mr. Brown, is the same computer
that was used by the hospital and King Shrimp and Dixie O'Brien Paint. They
would come to Sea Island and take the classes [to learn to train on the
computer]. Do you remember that?
M: No, I wasn't a part of that.
H: Did the computer [transition] affect you at all?
M: Not their computer. Not at all. We were separate entities all together. If you
can look at the other side of it, I was telling you that we did hand things; well, I
was the only employee. When Billy Gibson came in there and said, Janice, we
need to modernize this credit union. I've talked to Sun Trust, and what do you
think? I thought, oh my gosh, this is going to be awful. I can remember
thinking that. But I was young, so I didn't have a problem with it. As it turned
out, it was wonderful. I just had to learn something new. I already had that
down, and I didn't want to have to learn something new, but it was very easy.
One thing my daddy always said, anything's easy if you know what you're doing.
It's very true. We had a separate computer system from Sea Island, obviously.
H: I wish I had interviewed you first before I talked to Mr. Talley. He didn't think to
M: Yes, we've always had a separate [computer system]. We did ours, by batch. I
would sit at this little terminal called a porter-verter. Oh, for heaven's sakes!
We were one of the first credit unions, when we went from Sun Trust. They did
the work for us. Then, we started with a company called Electronic Data
Systems, EDS. It was owned by Ross Perot [Dallas computer billionaire] then.
I remember going to Dallas, that's where it was based, and all of the guys there,
it was mostly guys, there were very few women, [the men] all had on wing-tips,
the black suits, white shirts, and the black ties. They looked like the IBM guy of
old. They did that specifically because people didn't trust computers. That was
Ross Perot's thinking, and it was very true, so they had to project a professional
image in order to instill trust in people that used their computers. We were the
smallest credit union, and one of the very first ones to start using this
porter-verter, which I'm sure they have in their archive now. You would take
your work and you would input it on this little machine, then via a phone line, you
would transmit your data to Dallas, and then about a week later, you would get a
trial balance, which had everybody's current savings balance, and loan balance,
and all that information.
H: You covered a lot of interesting information.
M: I'm basically telling you about the credit union, but then, that's what my
knowledge base is.
H: You can see that this is not a step child, but a favorite child of Sea Island.
M: That's a good way to put it.
H: Looking back, though you're still working, what do you think is your biggest
accomplishment, so far?
M: This credit union. I truly feel like I have, hopefully, contributed to it's growth.
This credit union is my life. It's all I've known since I was very young lady.
What we've accomplished here is pretty amazing.
H: We're sitting in a very plush room with leather chairs, which are giving off a
M: It's a good credit union. This is one of the best credit unions, that I know of.
Our numbers are wonderful. We have very low delinquency. Our delinquency
and our write-offs are some of the lowest, certainly, in the state. Right now, our
delinquency is so low, as far as written-off loans and this sort of thing, that it's
less than a half a percent. It's very, very low. We have wonderful capital. It's
a very solid, wonderful, good credit union.
H: Conversely, I ask this. Over the years, what do you think was your biggest
M: The credit union. At the same time. Because of the change. I remember
when we wanted to get into the ATM business. I remember we didn't have one.
People would issue cards to their members and then they would go to other
ATM's. We wanted to have an ATM on Sea Island. Still, to this day, our ATM is
the only one. It's in the employee cafeteria. For convenience, now. It was
downstairs in Human Resources for years and years, and then when they moved
that, it was outside the security office, which was great. Now it's in the
employee cafeteria, because of course, our location went away. I remember
when I set the program up, since it was a one-person office, I've been in charge
of the majority of the new implementation of products. That was our very first
thing. Even before checking accounts, we did our little ATM. I remember
thinking, this is the hardest thing I've ever done in my life because it was new,
and because there were so many different pieces to the puzzle and all these
different programs. You just do it. Anything you want to do, you can do. That
has been a challenge. From a woman's perspective, just doing your life at home
and having to work a lot of hours here and then go home and take care of your
house and your husband. I don't have any children myself. My husband has a
child, so she's my step daughter, and I was around her since she was two. It
makes a different if you had a house full of children you have to go home and
take care of.
H: Did you have to put in a lot of overtime?
M: Yes, at first, just to get things done. I'm sure you do. You're sitting here right
now doing this. That's just part of it. I've always worked hard.
H: Mr. Talley, when I asked him about his hours, his were just office hours,
eight-thirty to five, Monday through Friday.
M: That was nice.
H: But you put in a lot more hours?
M: I did. Also, going to seminars on weekends and during the week. I have been
very fortunate. There are a lot of small credit unions that their employees
couldn't go away to the seminars, but we always did, which was a good thing for
a multitude of reasons.
H: You felt like you could expand on your knowledge base by taking these seminars.
M: Certainly. I think they helped the credit union. Now, you need it from a
regulatory standpoint also, but it helped me know what was out there.
H: Was the credit union modeled on anything? Or do you think it just evolved
M: It didn't evolve itself. You have a business plan. It wouldn't have evolved itself.
You have a purpose and a direction and a plan, which we did.
H: You said, you don't have any children. I was going to ask you if you would
encourage your children to work for Sea Island.
M: If I had any.
H: That says something about your relationship with the company. Is there anything
you would like to add that I didn't cover that you feel should be noted about your
M: No, I think we've pretty well covered everything. I hope your report goes well. I
hope I was able to give you a little bit of information that you might be able to
H: Well, I think that's it. Thank you very much.
M: You're quite welcome. I'm glad I could help.
[End of the interview.]