When Darlene Merckle came to work for the Bremen Bank, she was a student at Fairfield Union High School who landed a part time job at the bank. On June 15, she will celebrate her well-earned retirement after a fifty year career with the bank.
Darlene’s name isn’t one that most customers know. However, scores of loan customers over the years have benefited from her expertise, hard work and dedicated approach to her job. That’s because she is an Indirect Loan Processor. That means she’s part of a select team of employees who are responsible for processing the loans that customers receive after applying at the dealership where they buy their automobile, RV, boat, motorcycle or other type of vehicle. While the loan documents can be signed at the dealership, there remains much work on the back end to insure that the loan is processed properly and the dealership paid.
But Darlene hasn’t always worked behind the scenes making dreams come true for customers.
She actually started at the bank at a time when employees had to be trained to do a lot of different jobs. “Back then, you did everything. Teller work, bookkeeping, you name it. We had to be able to do it all,” she said.
In those days, bookkeeping was a manual affair where posted checks were checked against hand written ledgers. She recalls the bank using lots of large machines such as a proof machine which was used to process checks at banks prior to the advent of computers.
Since then, she has moved around some within the bank and has seen more changes in the banking industry than she can count.
At the Bremen Bank on Main Street in Bremen, she recalls several remodeling projects, town floods, the addition of new branches and the many shifting responsibilities of staff. She even recalls a time when a stray cat had a litter of kittens in the crawl space underneath the bank. “Lots of good memories,” she said with a chuckle and a twinkle in her eye.
While Darlene started as a teller, she also worked in new accounts for a period before finding her niche in loan processing. At that time, a customer’s loan documents were kept all together in large paper files. As the bank grew, it became necessary to begin breaking out files by loan type and to change the filing system. Later, computers made it easy to scan and file documents, altogether eliminating the need for paper records.
She also recalls the many regulation changes that impact how a customer applies for a loan and the kind of information needed from the customer. “There was a time when there were no disclosures given, no application. There was just a note you signed promising to pay it back,” she said. “And I remember when we first started having customers fill out an application. It was a hard thing for some of our customers because they had never had to apply.”
Today, buyers can apply for a VCNB loan from the dealership. It’s a quick process that provides the customer with a convenient way to borrow money from VCNB when and where they need it and without making a trip to the bank.
Once the borrower is approved and they sign the documents at the dealership, Indirect Loan Processors like Darlene take over. They build the loan into the bank’s system and pay the dealership from their office in Lancaster. “I like doing the behind the scenes work and I’ve always been fascinated by numbers,” she said. “It’s been a good fit.”
With just a few days left on the job, Darlene says she is looking forward to retirement. “It’s time to retire. Sometimes you just know. There’s not a reason I want to go now but I don’t want to wait too long either. I don’t want to wait until it isn’t fun anymore,” she explained. “Fifty years is enough time.”
The Fairfield County native looks forward to spending time with family including her two grown children and her five grandchildren as well as Mark, her husband of 45 years. “I’ll miss the people. Yes, I will miss my coworkers. A lot of them are like family,” she said wistfully.
And Darlene’s coworkers will miss her too.
Vice President of Indirect Lending Trisha Kyer is visibly saddened when speaking of Darlene’s upcoming retirement. The two have worked together for 25 years, forming a bond that extends beyond work. “She’s a good person and once you’re friends with her, she’s there for you for life,” Trisha said. “I think she knows everyone in the bank and they all lover her. I know this is best for Darlene but we’ll miss her.”
The bank will celebrate Darlene’s fifty year career with a reception at our West Fair branch in Lancaster on Friday, June 15 from noon to 3 p.m. The public is invited to stop by for cake and to wish Darlene well as she starts a new chapter in her life’s book.
“Who would’ve thought that little seventeen year old girl would still be here all these years later?” Darlene asked. “It’s hard to believe!”