‘This Bank Is More Like a Family’ - The Missourian: Feature Stories

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‘This Bank Is More Like a Family’

Farmers & Merchants Bank Celebrates 100 Years of History, Community

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Posted: Wednesday, May 22, 2013 9:05 am

Old photos from scenes around St. Clair hang in the main branch of Farmers & Merchants Bank here. More than just decoration, the black and white images remind customers of the bank’s longevity — 100 years.

What’s more, customers love them.

“People really like to look at them,” said Joyce Janes, vice president.

One of the oldest businesses in St. Clair, F&M Bank dates back to 1913, when a group of farmers and local merchants came together to establish a second bank in town. (The Bank of St. Clair had opened in 1903.)

Postmaster James S. Weldon led the efforts. The group met March 14 that year to talk about making it happen. Then on May 8, 1913, they elected their first directors, a group of young men ages 23 to 35 — Robert J. Horsefield, William E. May, Julius W. Panhorst, Charles Otte, William Casey and James S. Weldon.

Carrick W. “Doub” Thurmond was listed as a director by June 1914.

William Casey was the first president.

Starting capital was $12,500, and Monroe Stahlmann was hired as the first cashier.

F&M Bank opened its doors at 55 S. Main St. on Monday, July 21, 1913, as a community bank owned by stockholders — local farmers and merchants.

That same year, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Federal Reserve Act establishing the U.S. central banking system.

The first days’ receipts for F&M Bank were $125 in time deposits and $3,672 in demand deposits.

During the first year, there were a total of 46 real estate loans made; and by 1918, after just five years, the bank’s assets reached over $145,000.

Today, with assets over $165 million, F&M Bank is still a locally owned financial institution. It is chartered by the state of Missouri and is a member of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

“The consistent support of the citizens and customers of this great community, both then and now, has been the cornerstone of Farmers & Merchants Bank.”

Endures Fire, Robbery, 1933 Moratorium

There are three major events that stand out in the F&M Bank history.

The first is a 1917 fire that destroyed the bank building and several others in the vicinity — Panhorst Brothers General Store, the post office, St. Clair Times office, King’s Barber Shop, John H. Howard’s Meat Market, Masonic Hall, Charlie Neiheiser’s blacksmith shop, a machine warehouse and a home owned by Webb Duckworth.

“Fortunately, the contents of the bank were saved,” according to a history of the bank (from 1913 to 1995) written by Sue Cooley.

The building was rebuilt and reopened by October that same year.

A few years later, on Feb. 8, 1921, the bank was robbed by the Featheredge gang out of St. Louis.

“Under the cover of noise provided by a heavy freight train in the wee hours of the morning, safecrackers, then referred to as yeggmen, used nitroglycerin to open the vault door and steal the safe deposit boxes and their contents,” the bank history reads.

“The safe deposit boxes were believed to have held bonds totaling $12,222.67, $1,000 in postage stamps and some cash.”

The men had entered the bank through a rear window, the F&M history notes. They left the bank and headed toward Moselle in a seven-passenger Stutz, but muddy road conditions forced them to return to St. Clair. Next they took the Union road and headed toward St. Louis, but had to abandon the car three miles east of Union because of a broken front wheel.

The gang continued on foot, throwing the loot into sacks that they carried over their shoulders. That attracted attention though.

“L.W. Brown, who lived near Pacific, was on his way to Union that morning and met three men walking with sacks over their shoulders,” the history book reads. “One of the men was carrying a gun. Further down the road, he met two more men walking, one armed with an automatic shotgun.

“George Katzung, D.L. Smith and another man from the Villa Ridge area saw these men skulking through fields and reported their suspicious behavior to the sheriff.”

A group of St. Clair and Union residents, including Sheriff Louis H. Gehlert and blacksmith Charles F. Neiheiser pursued two of the men until they overtook them and disarmed them.

They caught up with the other three suspects at a place known as Busch’s clubhouse. The three men were taken into custody after one of them accidentally caused an explosion in the house while he was attempting to throw a bottle of nitroglycerin out a window at the sheriff.

Even better, all of the stolen items were recovered for F&M customers. Over a month later, papers found under a scrub oak tree on the Kuentzel farm turned out to be stocks and bonds, bank certificates, thrift stamps, notes, deeds and insurance policies missing from the robbery.

Over 10 years later on March 4, 1933, F&M Bank, like all of the banks in America, was forced to close following proclamations by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Gov. Park, in order to prevent a run on banks by consumers losing confidence in the economy.

“During the uncertain weeks of the bank moratorium, Farmers & Merchants directors met daily,” the bank’s history reads. “Some pledged as much as $25,000 from their personal funds to get the bank reopened.

“Before reopening could take place, each depositor was required to sign a statement that he or she would accept 5 cents on each dollar deposited. In order to hold the confidence of the depositors, the directors went house to house to obtain these signatures.

“Within 90 days after Farmers & Merchants reopened, all of the depositors were paid in full. Many banks, including the Bank of St. Clair, never reopened,” the history notes.

This mirrors the recent economic downturn, when F&M Bank continued to prosper and grow.

Bank Grows

By the 1950s, F&M Bank had outgrown its original bank building and so in 1956 the bank relocated to its current location, 530 S. Main St., just down the street.

An old home, once owned by James N. and Susan (Washam) Cardwell, was torn down to make way for the new, modern banking facility, which was dedicated on July 25, 1958.

A drive-up facility was added in 1983, and over the years, more branches have been opened — a second St. Clair branch in 1988, branches in Lonedell and High Ridge in 1998 and in Eureka in 2006.

The bank also has an operations building across the street from its headquarters branch.

‘A Great Place to Work’

The bank employs 69 people with a combined total of more than 700 years’ banking experience. There’s a lot of longevity among the employees, said Janes, noting that includes the bank’s presidents.

In F&M’s 100-year history, the bank has only had four presidents — William Casey, 1913-1966; John Waller, 1966-1990; Charles Butler, 1990-2010; and current President David Hoffmann.

Jeana Shelton, marketing coordinator, attributes that to F&M being “a great place to work.”

“They treat us as people, not employees,” she said, recalling from personal experience how the bank rallied around her even though she’d been on the job just a few months when she found out she had cancer and had to take off six months for treatment.

“I can tell all kinds of awesome stories about how great the people here were,” said Shelton.

Other employees can tell similar stories, including one of everyone pitching in to collect $700-$800 in a single day for an employee who lost her house and all of her possessions to a fire.

“It was enough that she could go to Wal-Mart and buy the things they needed just to exist,” said Janes.

The F&M staff is a charitable bunch. Last year, they established the F&M Charities Fund that allows empoyees to “dress down” on Fridays and Saturdays for a fee, which is then donated to local causes like the Heart Walk, Relay for Life, United Way, Autism Speaks and the Christian Motorcycle Association, to name a few.

Several years ago F&M Bank was part of the Corporate Partners Program with then-St. John’s Mercy Hospital and pledged $25,000 to the hospital, said Janes.

Employees also give back to the community by volunteering at local events, like the St. Clair Street Fest and the Boo-Bash.

“This bank is more like a family,” Shelton remarked.

The staff get together often for fun events and activities, like a bowling tournament. The bank also offered incentive programs for employees, encouraging them to promote new products or recruit new customers, with prizes like getting to run through a warehouse on a timed shopping spree.

“At our Christmas parties, we’ve played ‘Minute to Win It,’ trivia games, karaoke,” said Janes, noting the purpose is “to rally everyone together.”

Honors, Recognition

In 2011, USDA Rural Development recognized Farmers & Merchants Bank for its participation and sponsorship of the Affordable Housing Program that benefited the Greater St. Clair Homes Senior Housing Development.

The Small Business Administration named F&M Bank one of the top 25 lenders in both 2011 and 2012.

Last month, F&M Bank was presented with the Business of the Year Award at the St. Clair Area Chamber banquet. And next month the Missouri Bankers Association will recognize Farmers & Merchants Bank as an MBA Century Bank at its annual convention.

Community Bank With Big Bank Services

Each year, F&M Bank holds a customer appreciation dinner where customers are treated to a catered meal served by F&M employees. It’s just one way the bank stives to show customers they are No. 1, said Janes.

Other ways are in all of the modern services the bank offers.

“We are proud of the fact that we keep up with technology,” said Shelton. “We offer mobile banking, pop money transfers, online and estatements, all of the things that the big banks offer, but we’re still just a community bank.

“You get a person on the phone when you call here.”

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