Rapid Response

After a destructive tornado, The New Washington State Bank mobilized to get help and funding flowing quickly to Indiana residents and communities

By Beth Mattson-Teig

It has been just over a year since a devastating, multivortex tornado struck several rural Indiana towns. But The New Washington State Bank President Pat Glotzbach remembers March 2, 2012, like it was yesterday.

The tornadoes cut a path on the ground about a half-mile wide for 49 miles. Based in New Washington, The New Washington State Bank had a front-row seat to the destruction that affected its customers and neighbors, as well as its own staff and buildings. The $242 million-asset community bank operates branches in seven communities, including Borden, Henryville and Marysville—those hardest hit by the EF4 tornadoes.

In the aftermath of the storm, The New Washington State Bank immediately mobilized to help individuals and the communities in need. Glotzbach and a team of employees along with the bank’s contractor were on the move 20 minutes after the storms had passed. From the beginning, it was evident that several communities were going to need significant assistance to rebuild.

The New Washington State Bank didn’t waste any time. The bank and its employees immediately began organizing practical ways to help its communities—hosting cookouts to help feed victims and volunteers, and volunteering their time to sort clothes, distribute food and goods, and also counsel people who needed help. “There were a lot of good employees that gave their time and continue to do so,” says Glotzbach.

To get rebuilding money flowing, on March 3, Glotzbach contacted Joe Dehaven, president of the Indiana Bankers Association, with the idea of creating a relief fund for those affected. Dehaven quickly jumped in his car and traveled down to view the destruction firsthand, announcing on site to the local, state and national press the creation of a new fund. A week later, Camden Fine, president and CEO of ICBA, visited all the areas destroyed by the tornadoes and offered his association’s support. He attended a meeting of Southern Indiana bankers and lifted their spirits with his words of encouragement.

The New Hope Services/Indiana Bankers Association Disaster Relief Fund became a quick collaboration between The New Washington State Bank, the Indiana Bankers Association and New Hope Services Inc., a nonprofit association serving Southern Indiana. The relief fund was up and running just seven days after the storms hit.

The success of the disaster relief fund, measured both in the amount of capital raised and the number of people it helped, shows how effective a group of community bankers can be when they focus their talents and energies on a task, Glotzbach says. The fund ultimately raised $380,000 that was fully distributed to 146 families, businesses and nonprofit groups. It also attracted the attention of the country music group Lady Antebellum, which donated proceeds from a local benefit concert.

“What made it work is that we knew the right people,” Glotzbach says. “Once they came down and saw the area, they believed in our vision that we needed to do something.

“We had a lot of help. We had everybody pulling together as a team, and we accomplished what we needed to accomplish.”

Extending a helping hand

Simply put, the damage from the tornado was overwhelming. The most significant destruction occurred in Henryville, a community of nearly 1,900 residents. Early on, the fund chose to help people with their immediate needs, such as repairing their roofs or putting clothes on their backs. It also helped to fill the gap in paying for expenses that insurance or other sources did not cover.

In the months that have followed, the disaster relief fund has paid for medical bills, communitywide cleanups, shortfalls in property insurance coverage and the replacement of damaged vehicles.

The fund also helped replace library books and band instruments at Henryville High School. The band lost a truck it used to transport its equipment to performances and competitions. The school received $4,000 from its insurance company—far short of the nearly $40,000 it would cost to purchase a used replacement vehicle.

On its own, the high school successfully raised 75 percent of the cost to replace the truck, but the disaster relief fund provided the additional funds to bridge that gap. “That really helped us,” recalls Bill Maloney, head of the Henryville High School Band Boosters. The town has always showed tremendous support for the high school band and its more than 50 members.

“We did not initially ask the town’s people to fund this project, because their homes were hit by the tornado and [they] had a ton of expenses for themselves,” Maloney says.

Many students lost a lot personally to the storm, including their homes in some cases. When their new band truck rolled up painted in the school’s black and gold colors, it did a lot to boost their morale, Maloney says.

Organizational success

From the start, Glotzbach and The New Washington State Bank wanted to make sure that all donations to the disaster relief fund were tax-deductible and that 100 percent of the donations would go directly to people affected by the storm. But what was most critical to getting the relief fund’s disaster recovery money moving quickly was the decision to partner with New Hope Services, Glotzbach says. “That was the final piece of the puzzle to create the relief fund,” he says.

New Hope Services provides services to children, adults and seniors with special needs throughout Southern Indiana. So, the partnership enabled the bank to quickly get state approval for nonprofit status.

One thing The New Washington State Bank learned early on was to develop an application and decide what kind of information was needed from people, says Jessica Carroll, the bank’s risk officer. “In the beginning, the information that we received from applicants was very broad, and then as we went on and made contact with these people, it became more specific,” she recalls.

The disaster relief fund also emphasized the importance of working with a team, being organized and having good systems in place. For example, The New Washington State Bank quickly developed an organizational process for documenting funds that were received and disbursed. The bank also was diligent about making sure that the money got into the hands of those who really needed it.

Carroll and Executive Secretary Kerriann Barger worked on screening applications daily, talking to applicants and going out to their homes or businesses to make sure that the money was being spent appropriately. A six-person committee, including four people from the bank and two from New Hope Services, also met weekly to review the 175 applications.

Other important momentum was provided at the state and national levels from both the Indiana Bankers Association and ICBA. Both associations promoted the fund, which drew donations from 23 community banks and bank vendors across Indiana. Donations came from businesses, individuals, churches and schools in the region.

“I believed that if the bankers really knew what had happened, they would help,” Glotzbach says.

Ultimately, everyone at The New Washington State Bank pulled together to make this effort a priority. “There were some tough days. I truly believe we were chosen to do this, and I truly believe that all of us are better people today because we had to go through it,” says Glotzbach. “It brought us together as a community, and I also think it brought us together as a bank.” 

Beth Mattson-Teig is a writer in Minneapolis, Minn.