Jane Nickels is certain that no one will miss her at the bank after she retires on January 31. But it will be a sad day for the scores of customers she serves as well as coworkers she has mentored along the way. That’s because Jane has been a fixture at the bank’s first office in McArthur for most of the last 45 years.
Jane first came to work at the bank as a teller in 1974. At the time, the bank had just the one location at 112 West Main Street in McArthur and was about to open its first branch in nearby Wilkesville. With an approximate asset size of seventeen million, the bank employed a fraction of the people it does today.
Since then she has worked in a variety of roles including Head Teller, Loan Clerk, Customer Service Representative, Installment Lender, New Accounts Officer and Customer Service Supervisor. She left in the late eighties but was gone just five years before resuming her career with the bank. Most McArthur customers know her well and many customers from across the bank nation have benefited from her years of experience and problem solving skills.
Jane has been the McArthur Branch Manager for fifteen years and, through that leadership position, has taken on another role that is not listed on her business card – that of mentor.
Jane has mentored countless bankers throughout her career. Men and women of all ages have learned from her extensive institutional knowledge, customer service experience and proven abilities when it comes to getting the job done. Anyone who benefited from being taken under Jane’s wing will say that she taught them that what is good for the bank and what is good for the customer are not necessarily two different things.
Women in particular have benefited from seeing Jane in action as the working mom balanced the bank and home while still making time to be active in the community and to hold a sincere interest in the lives of her customers.
But Jane would be embarrassed to have such things said about her. Instead she prefers to focus on the progress of the bank and the people who helped her along the way.
With no computers, direct deposit, debit cards or ATMs, customers came into the bank to do all their business. “There was no direct deposit so all lanes would be backed up on Friday afternoon, people bringing their paychecks to the drive-thru to be cashed. I got to see and meet a lot of people and I established relationships with a lot of those customers. Over the years they become more like friends than just customers and that’s the best part,” she said.
She remembers especially fondly the opening of The Depot Drive-Thru, a building that resembles a train depot, where she and Doris Adelmann served customers on the go under the supervision of VCNB President Bob Will. “I remember that Bob moved his office down there for the first three months. It was a bit nerve racking having the Bank President there all day but I learned more about what was expected of me, what Bob wanted for the bank than I did at any other time,” she recalled.
She spoke fondly of Bob as she discussed the many people who mentored her over the years. “Oh, I learned so much from Bob. He didn’t miss anything. I also learned from many other mentors. There have been too many to name but the earliest people to help me, besides Bob, were Jerry Griffith and Belle Jenkins. They were wonderful role models for how to conduct oneself in the workplace and for how to treat a customer. But really, I have been fortunate to have so many people who took the time to help me,” she said.
She always laughs when talking about Jerry Griffith and how discouraging it could be to work alongside him. “He was a genuinely kind man who knew his customers and took an interest in them all. Working next to him was humbling because people would line up out the door to see Jerry and when you asked if you could help them they would say they would wait for him. I learned the phrase ‘May I help you?” because I repeated it so much!” she said. “Maybe it was from Jerry most of all I learned the importance of kindness and truly caring for the customer before you.”
Another person whose name popped up more than once in conversation was Belle Jenkins, the bank’s first female employee. “Belle ran a tight ship. She set the standard and was a role model for how to treat customers, how a lady should behave and how we should act professionally both inside and outside the bank,” Jane said. “What a good role model she was. I was lucky to have many good role models to learn from. It’s so important to have that person to share how VCNB wants things run and how the customer should be treated.”
She speaks fondly of some of the more unusual projects the bank took on over the years. For example, when the bank expanded to Wilkesville with the opening of a new coal mine, Jane and other bankers would go to the mine to open accounts and help the miners with their business. They would visit between shifts and set up a table just outside the showers.
“The idea of a community bank is that you’re a part of the community, providing services and getting out into the community whenever possible. It’s not just about banking services. It’s about supporting Christmas in Downtown and helping with the concessions stand at ball games. It’s about helping out with coat drives or volunteering in the community,” she explained.
She pointed out that the one constant in the world of banking is that nothing ever stays the same. Regulatory changes and changing customer demands dictate constant change each year. When asked about some of the better changes over the years, she recalled several. She remembers the bank’s first ATM, a large machine placed in the front of the building facing Main Street in McArthur. “Earl Cecil and I went outside and showed people how to use it. Bob’s idea was that people would use the ATM if we helped them feel comfortable with it,” she said.
Another improvement was the addition of the South Lobby and parking lot. “This was a big improvement for the customer, having a place to park next to the door. Parking along Main Street isn’t always easy to do and this made banking so much more convenient. “
When asked if she has advice for the young bankers she won’t be here to guide, her answers were very customer focused. “There’s nothing more important to a customer than their finances and they trust us to take care of things for them. Bob always advised three things. First, you always listen to the customer. You always express empathy for them. And then you try to resolve their problem. You can’t always resolve a situation in a way that makes the customer happy but you should do what you can,” she said. “I also think it’s important to remember that the customer is why we’re here and that the bank is only as good as the quality of the information you share. There is nothing wrong with telling a customer that you don’t know the answer as long as you’re willing to find that answer for them.”
While Jane is excited to retire, she says she will miss the people. “This office has always been a family. Here coworkers are your second family and your customers are your third,” she smiled.
She plans to volunteer some and spend more time with her two granddaughters. She also wants to take some small trips and soak in the sun at the beach for a while. But first, she looks forward to simply staying inside this winter.
“I hope that individuals know that I truly care about them. I have enjoyed my customers and getting to know them and their families. They have made my career here rewarding and I will miss them,” she said.
Customers are invited to join Jane for an informal reception in the bank lobby on January 29. This day we will also celebrate the retirements of Brenda Brooks and Barb Clemons who all will retire from McArthur on January 31.