Meet the member banks celebrating big birthdays in 2021

Illustration by Randall Nelson

ICBA is once again honoring community banks celebrating their 100th, 125th, 150th and 175th anniversaries. Community bankers at these long-standing institutions have embraced the latest innovations of the industry along the way, but they say the core of what they do—helping customers and sustaining communities—has never wavered.

By Elizabeth Judd


Many community banks trumpet their anniversaries online and in their branches. Others plan to celebrate the bank’s milestone birthday with their customers at gatherings.

For many community bankers, a major anniversary is a chance to reflect on their bank’s history and consider the future.

Del Norte Bank, which is celebrating its centennial anniversary this year, will host an old-fashioned carnival as part of its town’s annual Covered Wagon Days festival. The $112 million-asset community bank in Del Norte, Colo., has also teamed up with the local museum to compile a book about the history of the town to create awareness and make connections to the past.

“We do know our bank occupied the back room of someone’s real estate or insurance office, or even the local hotel, for a while,” says Michael Hurst, the bank’s president. “We were very small and our only mission was to make home loans. Period.”

Located at the base of Colorado’s Wolf Creek Pass, Del Norte is a town of hay farmers and cattle ranchers today. “Many thrifts in this area were formed because housing was still scarce at the turn of the century,” Hurst says. “In the late 1800s, these towns were brand new. Banks like ours helped build out the housing needs of these new towns.”

While researching Del Norte’s early history, Hurst was struck by parallels between the early 20th century and today. “In the 1920s,” he says, “we were just finishing the Spanish flu. The debate around masks and social distancing, those were raging back then the same way they are raging today. It is so interesting to see those same kinds of feelings almost 100 years ago.”


The original railroad station in Del Norte, Colo., in 1883. | Courtesy of the Monte Vista Historical Society

A look at Wolf Creek Pass, a high mountain pass created shortly before Del Norte Bank opened in 1921

Bank employees volunteer at a vaccination clinic

The bank’s float in Del Norte’s parade.


Earning long-term loyalty

The institutions celebrating milestone anniversaries this year share similar attitudes about what it means to be a community bank.

“It all comes down to service,” says Michael Olson, president and CEO of $247 million-asset Bank of Brodhead in Brodhead, Wis., which is turning 125 years old. “If you don’t give the customers what they ask for and good face-to-face service, you’re not going to succeed.”

In Frankfort, Kan., First National Bank is celebrating its centennial anniversary this year. After the $60 million-asset community bank received acknowledgement for sponsoring a recent event, a customer told president and CEO Jay Kennedy that the thanks should actually go to First National Bank and its customers, “because we’re who paid for that,” Kennedy says.

“He was joking, but it made the point that not only have we been here for four generations, but we have customers who have been with us for four generations, as well,” he says. “Without them, we wouldn’t exist.”

Customer loyalty is the key to a community bank’s success, agrees Mike Jeffers, CEO of $106 million-asset First National Bank in Fredonia, Kan., a town of 2,300 people in a county with roughly 9,000 residents. “Being in a small town, we have customers who are still here who started with us in the ’40s and ’50s,” he says.

 

Keeping up with the times

Mike Jeffers has been with First National Bank in Fredonia for nearly 50 years. Over that time, he has seen the community bank implement a variety of new technology, including an IBM System/32 computer in the late 1970s that allowed it to begin doing its own processing.

Today, the bank has embraced online and mobile banking. “Regulations and the computer age have changed the way banks do business quite a bit,” he says. “Computerization and mechanization of the business have changed us a lot, but it’s also brought with it some challenges.” These include the ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline that rocked the East Coast earlier this year.

Although cybersecurity grows in importance as more business is done online, Olson says he’s had “a change of heart” when it comes to technology. “At first, I looked at technology as an expense, but that was the wrong way to look at it,” he adds. “You have to look at it as an investment. Technology is an investment in efficiency, but also in giving your customers what they want.”


First National Bank’s family legacy

“I never dreamed I would come work here,” says Jay Kennedy, who has been president and CEO of $60 million-asset First National Bank in Frankfort, Kan., since 2009. His great-grandfather helped found the community bank in 1921 and was its first president. Over the course of his career, his grandfather, William Francis Kennedy, known to his customers as W. F., bought out minority shareholders and turned the bank into a family-owned business.

First National Bank employees, including several second- and third-generation community bankers and current president Jay Kennedy’s family members, attend the community bank’s 50th anniversary open house.

Jay Kennedy, who grew up thinking he’d become a history teacher and an athletic coach, married a farm girl from Frankfort and had two daughters. He began working as a loan officer at a different bank in Emporia, Kan., where he went to college, but soon moved back to his hometown and began learning the banking business in earnest.

Although times have changed, the fundamentals of how to treat customers have not. “We don’t need to have a fancy marketing plan, because if Joe comes in here and needs something extra on his checking account, we’ll do it,” Kennedy says. “I’m going to say ‘yes’ to a customer and then follow the rules, not the other way around, because it’s the relationship that matters.”

Kennedy hasn’t yet identified a successor to lead the community bank down the line. Like he did, his children may have other dreams.

“My daughters understand the bank’s history and they respect it, but I didn’t come to work here to force a legacy on them,” he says. “They [don’t have] the bug, and they haven’t said, ‘Hey, I want to go into banking.’ And that’s fine with me.”

A half-century later, First National Bank’s current employees pose for a photo around the bank’s 100th birthday while its office is remodeled.


 

Investing in employees

Bank longevity can’t happen without the hard work of passionate employees. Many times, these employees stay with their community banks for decades, steadily climbing the ladder.

Bob Gillis, president of $850 million-asset Cape Ann Savings Bank in Gloucester, Mass., plans to retire this summer and hand the reins to Marianne Smith, who began working at the community bank as a teller in the late 1980s. She will be the community bank’s 15th president and its first woman president.

“It would be an honor to be the next president of this bank,” she says, “but to be the first woman, it takes it to a whole other level.”

Recruiting talented employees is a must-do for community banks hoping to stay the course. Marty Connors, president and CEO at Rollstone Bank & Trust in Fitchburg, Mass., which is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year, says he’s hoping that more young people join the community banking industry so that community banks can better maintain their workforces.

Despite the stagnant or shrinking populations of smaller communities like Frankfort, some businesses struggle to hire appropriate levels of staff. However, Kennedy says he sees signs of hopeful change emerging: The pandemic and its lingering effects on remote work have caused many Americans to consider a move to more rural communities with a cheaper cost of living.

“With technology, people are working from home, raising their kids where they want to raise them, and still working for a Fortune 500 company,” he says.

Hurst agrees, pointing to the attractive natural amenities of a rural community like the one home to Del Norte Bank.

“There’s a brand-new wave of people moving out of metropolitan areas and looking for smaller communities,” he says. “If you have a mountain, a river, or trails—and we have all three—the future looks pretty bright for young people to live in an area that they recreate in.”


President Bob Gillis, chief financial officer Marianne Smith and trustee Harold “Bucky” Rogers pose for a photo in front of the original entrance of Cape Ann Savings Bank. | Photo by Paul Bilodeau, Gloucester Daily Times

The $175,000 donation

The staying power of community banks is often linked to their relationships to local nonprofits and other organizations.

In Gloucester, Mass., Cape Ann Savings Bank is celebrating its 175th anniversary by giving approximately 100 local charitable organizations checks for $1,750 apiece, says president Bob Gillis.

“We’ve heard from several of the charitable organizations that getting the check has been emotional,” he says. “These organizations have suffered over the past 15 months, and it gave us an opportunity to say how important they are to us for all the great things they do.”

The bank is giving these special anniversary gifts beyond its normal giving.


“One of the philosophies we have is that banking is simply a way to solve people’s problems … As long as we can hang onto that core of solving problems for people‚ everything else will fall into place.”
—Michael Hurst, Del Norte Bank

 

Unwavering problem-solving

Many community banks in business for 100 years or longer find their core formulas of relationship banking are working, so they’re sticking to what they do best. But that doesn’t mean there’s no room for positive change.

Bank of Brodhead, for example, purchased another bank in October 2019, and now has two branches. When asked about the community bank’s further expansion, Olson says: “The plans are always for growth. If you’re not growing, you’re dying in this industry.”

“I remind myself not to overcomplicate the message, because it’s really simple: You take care of people‚ and they’ll take care of you.”
—Michael Olson, Bank of Brodhead

Some community banks that have not expanded in terms of assets or branches have dramatically increased their product lines. In 1999, Del Norte Bank offered only home and car loans, passbook savings accounts and CDs. “Now, you can’t tell the difference between us and a commercial bank,” Hurst says. “We have commercial lending, ag lending and digital products.”

Even with more robust product lines, Hurst sees himself as “holding the course,” because his principles have remained consistent. “One of the philosophies we have is that banking is simply a way to solve people’s problems, and we do that through money and lending and deposit products,” he says. “As long as we can hang onto that core of solving problems for people, everything else will fall into place.”

Olson relies on a similar sentiment. “I remind myself not to overcomplicate the message, because it’s really simple,” he says. “You take care of people, and they’ll take care of you.”


Rock-solid community banking for 175 years

The bank’s Heather Sarasin (left) poses with Carolyn Read of Habitat for Humanity North Central MA at the groundbreaking ceremony of a build in Ashburnham, Mass.

At 175 years old, Rollstone Bank & Trust in Fitchburg, Mass., is proud to be one of the oldest community banks celebrating a milestone anniversary this year. But bank leadership is perfectly comfortable growing and changing, too.

“We started on day one with $100 and a $200 deposit,” says president and CEO Marty Connors. “Today, we have $849 million in assets.”

A willingness to transform the organization included a name change in 2008, when what was once Fitchburg Savings Bank became Rollstone Bank & Trust. “We thought having the name of Fitchburg was somewhat limiting to us, because, of our seven branches, only two are in Fitchburg,” Connors says.

Taking the name Rollstone was not a radical departure; the new brand honors the community’s history. “Rollstone is a type of granite,” Connors says. “During the ice age, a large boulder made its way from New Hampshire to Fitchburg, and it’s now a monument in downtown Fitchburg called the Rollstone Boulder.”

As a mutual savings bank, Rollstone Bank & Trust is dedicated to the local community and its customers. “We all live right in this area,” Connors says. “For us, it’s all about our customers and community service.”

Connors, who has been the community bank’s 13th CEO for the past 17 years, is betting on Rollstone Bank & Trust’s longevity. “I won’t be here for the 200th anniversary,” he says, “but I’m sure this bank will be around.”

President and CEO Marty Connors (center-right) presents the Fitchburg Fire Department with $1,000 for an upgrade to a fallen firefighter monument.

The bank presents the Ayer Community School with $1,000 to support child care.

Rollstone Bank & Trust employees participated in the United Way of North Central MA Day of Caring


Community banks: there for the big moments

Established in parallel with wars, life-changing inventions and landmark legislation, these community banks have persevered for more than a century.

1844

The first telegraph is sent

1845

Texas becomes the 28th state

1846

These community banks were established:

  • Rollstone Bank & Trust
  • Cape Ann Savings Bank

1853

The U.S. buys a strip of land that would become New Mexico and Arizona

1857

The Panic of 1857 is the first financial crisis to spread across the U.S. due to the availability of the telegraph

1860

The first Pony Express leaves St. Joseph, Mo

Pony Express stamp

Pony Express Stamp, 1860. Wells Fargo & Co.

Abraham Lincoln is elected president

The inauguration of Abraham Lincoln on March 4, 1861. Courtesy Library of Congress

 

1861

Civil War begins

1863

National Banking Act passed

$1,000 National Bank note. Courtesy of Bureau of Engraving and Printing / National Museum of American History

 

1871

These community banks were established:

  • Bank of Charles Town
  • Cornerstone Bank
  • Community First Bank
  • Greenfield Banking Company
  • Bank of Yates City
  • First National Bank in Fredonia
  • The Geo. D. Warthen Bank

 

1876

Alexander Graham Bell makes the first telephone call

Courtesy Library of Congress

 

1879

Thomas Edison invents the light bulb

Quagga Media / Alamy Stock Photo

 

1886

The company now known as Mercedes-Benz makes the first production automobile

An 1885 patent shows an early Benz Patent Motor Car, the first automobile. Classic Image / Alamy Stock Photo

 

1896

These community banks were established:

  • Bay Port State Bank
  • The Pleasants County Bank
  • Liberty Bank
  • St. Clair County State Bank
  • First National Bank of Bosque County
  • BNA Bank
  • Horicon Bank
  • First National Bank & Trust Company of McAlester
  • The Elk State Bank
  • Bank of Brodhead

 

1900

Congress passes the Gold Standard Act

A 1900 poster shows William McKinley standing atop the gold standard. | Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

 

1913

The Federal Reserve Act creates a central banking system

Sen. Carter Glass (D-Va.) was a major figure behind the creation of the Federal Reserve and FDIC. | Everett Collection Historical / Alamy Stock Photo

 

1914

World War I begins

Private Collection / AF Eisenbahn Archiv / Alamy Stock Photo

 

1918

The influenza pandemic begins in the U.S.

Back in 1918, Red Cross workers wore face masks to protect themselves against the Spanish flu. | RBM Vintage Images / Alamy Stock Photo

 

1921

These community banks were established:

  • BankIowa of Cedar Rapids
  • TrustTexas Bank, SSB
  • Del Norte Bank, A Savings and Loan Association
  • The Citizens State Bank and Trust Company
  • Tri-County Trust Company
  • Citizens Trust Bank
  • The Hamler State Bank
  • Sidney State Bank
  • McClave State Bank
  • Farmers State Bank
  • The Idabel National Bank
  • Fannin Bank
  • Bank of Frankewing
  • Farmers National Bank
  • First State Bank of Campbell Hill
  • First National Bank in Frankfort
  • Nebraska State Bank

 

1929

Stock market crash

Crowds gather at New York’s American Union Bank during a Great Depression-era bank run. | Courtesy Social Security Administration

 

1930

A group of 28 community bankers form the Independent Community Bankers of America in rural Minnesota.

Courtesy ICBA


Elizabeth Judd is a writer in Maryland.

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