UPEI Mourns the Passing of Dr. John Croteau
The University of Prince Edward Island is saddened to learn of the passing of Dr. John Tougas Croteau of South Bend, Indiana. Dr. Croteau was a former professor at Prince of Wales College and St. Dunstan's, and one of the fathers of Prince Edward Island's credit union and co-op movement. In recognition of his distinguished service in the credit union and cooperative movements, he received an honorary degree from UPEI in 1976. He died July 17 at the age of 97 after an extended illness.
Born March 10, 1910, in Holbrook, MA, Dr. Croteau was educated in Worcester, MA, earning his BA (1931) at Holy Cross College and his Master's (1932) and Doctorate (1935) in Economics from Clark University. He began his career in 1933 at Prince of Wales College and St. Dunstan's courtesy of the philanthropic Carnegie Corporation of New York who gave funding to set up a regional library and endow the Carnegie Chair of Economics and Sociology to be shared between the two institutions. Over the next 12 years he also served as Director of Adult Education Programs, Manager of the Credit Union League and the PEI Cooperative Union, and Executive Secretary of the Adult Education League. For his tireless labor on behalf of working families, he became known in Canada as "The Apostle of the Co-operative Movement."
Says his niece, well-known heritage activist Catherine Hennessey, "John left me a wonderful personal legacy. He was always encouraging people to write down what they knew, so we wouldn't lose our heritage. He'd always say to me, and#145;Publish it! Publish it! Publish it!' His words haunt me to this day!"
While in PEI, he and fellow co-operative organizer Bram Chandler were the main proponents of the Antigonish Movement, a co-operative movement founded by Father Moses Coady St. F X's Extension Department. For years, Croteau and Chandler spent much of their time travelling the Island's clay roads, organizing kitchen meetings, distributing library and co-operative materials, and promoting credit unions and co-operatives. According to author Marian Bruce in her history of Prince of Wales College, A Century of Excellence, by 1937 there were 338 study groups across the province, with 4,300 members. "Credit unions and co-operatives sprang up like dandelions in the spring. In a dark time, they gave people hope."
Dr. Croteau left Prince Edward Island around 1946 to take up teaching positions at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Catholic University in Washington, DC, before settling at Notre Dame in 1953, Professor Croteau. At various times he was a consultant to the US Bureau of Federal Credit Unions, the Social Security Administration, Director of the Canadian Political Science Association as well as Director of the Credit Union National Association. In addition to these national positions, between 1960 and 1969 he was President of the Board of Directors of the Notre Dame Federal Credit Union.
In 1955 he testified before the powerful Ways and Means Committee of the U.S. Congress to advocate retention of the federal income tax-exempt status of credit unions, a concession they still enjoy today. This moment he called ". . . probably the highlight of my career."
Professor Croteau was a prodigious scholar. He wrote four major books: A Regional Library and its Readers (1940) with Henry Chandler; Cradled in the Waves: The Story of a People's Cooperative Achievement in Economic Betterment on Prince Edward Island (1951); The Federal Credit Union: Policy and Practice (1956); and The Economics of the Credit Union (1963), which was translated into Spanish (1965), Korean (1966) and Portuguese (1968) and became a classic in its field. Cradled in the Waves is still a major Prince Edward Island reference book, as well as two booklets he wrote: The Farmers' Bank of Rustico: An Early People's Bank (published in the mid-1950s) and The Acadian Grain Banks of Prince Edward Island (1955).
In addition, he produced over 20 monographs on credit union topics, 30 articles in professional journals as well as numerous book reviews. His active publishing and scholarly conference presentations continued for over a decade after his retirement from Notre Dame (1975) and a one-year appointment during 1975and#150;76 as Chair of the Department of Business Administration and Economics at Saint Mary's College, Notre Dame. During the 1990s he served as consultant on Working Together: Two Centuries of Co-operation in Prince Edward Island by Marian Bruce and Elizabeth Cran (Island Studies Press, 2004).
Respected by colleagues and students alike, he was awarded two other honorary doctorates besides UPEI's: from St. Joseph's University (1956) and the University of Moncton (1976).
Says Wade MacLauchlan, President of UPEI, who visited Dr. Croteau in South Bend in March 2002, "Dr. Croteau was proud of his Prince Edward Island associations and achievements. When I visited he recounted PEI stories from seventy years ago. He was very good at keeping his mind sharp, including writing regular, witty letters, and learning to play the banjo in his nineties."
Always the professor and economist, his last words were a repetition of the final words of the eighteenth century philosopher, Adam Smith, the father of modern Economics, who is reputed to have said: "This meeting is adjourned. It seems as if we must continue this conversation in another place." His life will be celebrated in a memorial Mass Wednesday, July 25, 2007 at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in South Bend where he was a long-time parishioner. He will be buried in Summerside, alongside his beloved first wife, Gertrude D. Gallant, who died in 1961.