Meet Your Banker: Josh Palmer

Our lobbies may be closed but our bankers are still here to help you! Today we kick off our “Meet Your Banker” series by talking with Josh Palmer, the Branch Manager at our Friendly Bremen Banking Center of Pataskala.

Josh Palmer

Pataskala Branch Manager Josh Palmer

Josh came to work for the bank in 2015 when he was hired for the VCNB Management Trainee Program. This program gives college grads an intimate look at the bank and an overview of several important departments. “I met my wife at college and she had taken a job in Wellston so I was looking for work near her. I saw the ad and it talked about this management trainee program where you could do research and learn different jobs. It sounded right up my alley so I applied,” he explained.

The OU grad has a B.A. in History with a minor in Business. He had worked as a teller for another bank so he had some valuable customer service skills as well. As a Management Trainee, he worked in a few departments but mainly in Chillicothe and McArthur. After the two year Management Trainee Program, Josh was assigned to be the first Branch Manager for the Jackson County Banking Center, the bank’s new branch in Jackson. “That was a challenging and fun adventure,” he recalled.

However, he and his wife Jess are central Ohio natives and longed to be closer to family. She accepted a position teaching for Teays Valley Schools and he was able to transfer to a new adventure in Pataskala. “It worked out well that my wife found a job up here and we had an opening in Pataskala,” he said.

Josh has been managing this office for about 16 months and says he has enjoyed getting to know the community. “There are so many wonderful things about this job but one of them is that we are encouraged to be involved in the community and to get out and meet people. In Jackson it was Rotary and Community Action. Here it’s things like A.M. Spirit in Granville. You don’t find a lot companies that really value community,” he said.

In his free time, Josh enjoys the arts and has long been motivated and excited by drawing. He also enjoys running and is excited to again be part of the bank’s Buck Fifty team in Ross County.

One interesting quality about Josh is that he has this creative side but he’s equally at home with spreadsheets. “I love to do research and to track progress. It’s fun for me to help others get the spreadsheets and things they need or to help them learn from the data they have. I know it’s strange to enjoy that” he exclaimed.

While the bank lobbies are currently closed because of COVID-19, Josh reminds customers that they can still do all their banking and accomplish their goals. “We just have to be creative and stay positive right now. You can still accomplish what you need to do – it just may not be the way you normally do it. You may need to learn a new skill set and you may find that the new way is better than the old,” he said. “Regardless, we are still here for you and we are ready to find solutions for whatever you need.”

COVID-19 Update: Working To Serve You

VCNB_V_CMYKPart of being a community bank is being a good neighbor and steward of the communities where we do business. That’s why we have taken steps to protect our employees, customers and neighbors against the spread of COVID-19.

On Thursday, we made the very difficult decision to close lobbies and to direct all customers to our drive-thru. Our customers who require in-lobby assistance can complete their business simply by calling to discuss options or to make an appointment. Call your local branch or our Customer Service Team at 1.800.542.5004.

Much of your business can be completed online or with VCNB Mobile. You can access accounts, transfer funds, open accounts, and apply for a loan online. You can even deposit a check using the mobile app and skip the post office using Online Bill Pay.

Our Customer Service Team is also waiting for your calls at 1.800.542.5004 and prepared to chat online, a service available from the homepage of our website.

We often say that we have seen it all in our 153 year history.  However, none of us can recall a time that we’ve limited lobby access to customers at our branches for a pandemic. Despite the uncertainty you may be feeling, we can assure you that your money is safe in the bank and that we’ll be here for you whenever you need us.

Relief Options
We understand that many of our customers will face financial uncertainty due to the events surrounding this pandemic. VCNB will offer some relief options and will be happy to discuss with you all your individual needs and concerns. If you are experiencing hardship caused by COVID-19, please call our Customer Service Team at 1.800.542.5004. They can direct you to the right person to discuss relief options available regarding your particular situation.

Banking Options
Online Banking – Many of our customers already choose to bank online with us every day. With Online Banking, you can open accounts, apply for loans, transfer funds, pay bills, and do much more. If you haven’t used it before, click here to view a tutorial and to register for Online Banking today.

VCNB Mobile – Carry the bank with you in your pocket!  Download this mobile app from the app store on your mobile device. Here you can pay bills, transfer funds, check balances, open an account and even deposit a check using your camera’s device.

Mobile Deposit – Customers who use VCNB Mobile can deposit a check from anywhere in the world by using the camera on their mobile device.  Want instructions? Click here! It’s a free service!

Telebanc – Our Telebanc telephone service is also available to you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Simply call 1-800-317-5990 and you’ll have access to all of your accounts at your fingertips.

By Appointment – We have closed lobby doors to slow spread of the virus. However, you can still access in-lobby services if you require them. Simply call your local branch or our Customer Service Team at 1.800.542.5004 to discuss your options.  You will still receive the same great service you have come to expect from your neighborhood VCNB branch. We just have to be smart about how we serve you until this threat has passed.

Scams
Sadly, times of crisis and hardship often bring out the worst in people. Be aware of potential scams. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is and always question the motives of someone trying to gain access to your home or who is asking for money.

We know these are uncertain times but please understand we are still open and here for you. Our core values guide us as we attempt to always do the right thing, to honor the relationships we have with our customers, and to be forward thinking in how we offer you the best service possible.

We will continue to monitor the advice given by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, the Ohio Department of Health as well as the CDC. Please continue to look here for the latest news on our bank and how we are working to serve you through the challenges to come.

COVID-19 Update

ATTENTION CUSTOMERS

In order to protect against the spread of Covid-19 and for the health of our employees and loyal customers, effective March 20, 2020, our branches will be available by Drive Thru Only.  If a customer requires in-branch assistance to do their banking, we ask that you contact the branch directly or contact our customer service team at 800.542.5004 so they can discuss with you how our team can best serve your needs.  For our Jackson Branch customers, we will be practicing social distancing by allowing one person in the lobby at a time due to the fact that no drive thru is available.

We realize this may come at an inconvenience for some, but want to assure you that there are many ways to conduct your daily banking business in addition to the drive thru.  Our branch ATMs will be available to do deposits and withdrawals.  In addition, you can withdrawal money surcharge free from any Moneypass ATM Nationwide.  To find an ATM near you, visit moneypass.com.  We encourage you to download the VCNB Mobile App to conduct transfers, pay bills, deposit checks and more. Our Customer service team will be on stand-by to assist you via phone at 800.542.5004 or via online chat through VCNBFamily.com.  Through our website you can also open accounts and apply for loans.

We are guided by our mission to do the right thing for our customers and our employees.  We are closely monitoring the situation and the recommendations by Ohio Governor Mike Dewine and the CDC and will update you as soon as anything changes.  Thank you for your cooperation.

A Message From Our President On COVID-19

At VCNB, our customers are like family. Like you, we’ve been following the news and focusing on ways to keep our employees and customers healthy and safe. We are encouraging our employees to monitor their own health and to practice good hygiene to prevent the spread of germs. We are also taking steps to clean our common areas and restrooms more frequently to keep the bank as safe as possible for everyone.

Mark sitting on deskOur customers are always welcome in our branches. However, we do want to remind customers that many banking activities can be handled online or with VCNB Mobile. You can access accounts, transfer funds, open accounts and apply for a loan online. You can even deposit a check using the mobile app and skip the post office using Online Bill Pay.

Our Customer Service Team is ready for your calls at 1.800.542.5004 and prepared to chat online from the homepage of our website.

Here at VCNB we are guided by our values to serve our communities, to build relationships with our customers and to be forward thinking in how we provide our customers with the best service possible. We will continue to monitor the advice given by the Ohio Governor and Department of Health as well as the CDC. Visit the CDC website for the latest news and recommendations.

Thank you for being a loyal customer,
Mark Erslan

VCNB President

Small Business Spotlight: Robert K. Fox Family YMCA

YMCA - Debt Free - Ron Collins with Board of DirectorsThe Robert K. Fox Family YMCA in Fairfield County was one of the first stories in our Small Business Spotlight series. Many exciting things have happened here since that first spotlight in 2015.

The latest and most exciting piece of news is that theorganization heads into this new decade debt-free!  That’s right – the loan taken out for their nearly twenty year improvement project was paid off at the beginning of this year thanks in large part to the generosity of an anonymous donor who has been contributing to the cause for nearly a decade.  This project officially got under way in 2000, allowing for the expansion and renovation of the main campus. Paying it off has allowed the program – and its personnel – to breathe a little easier.

CFO Kerry Sheets recalled how it came about.  “I remember it was Christmas time in 2013, which is already a stressful time.  And an individual approached our office and said they wanted to help.”  The donor laid out a plan and committed monies on the spot – seven payments over seven years to be exact.

“I cried.  Oh, I cried” Kerry recalled.  Without this donor, the YMCA in 2008 would have faced some hard decisions.  Operating funds were being set aside in order to ensure payment of the huge loan they had undertaken, and expenses were being evaluated.  After the donor’s offer, the situation essentially changed overnight.  “And sure enough, I woke up, came in one morning, and there is a donation check waiting for us.”  This continued six additional times, and was a key factor in the Y’s ability to celebrate their “Debt-Free 2020.”

In addition to paying off the loan, they also recently opened the River Valley Campus (RVC) branch, a brand new second location created in partnership with Fairfield Medical Center.  Officially opening in September 2019, the RVC was a years-long project that evolved far beyond the initial concept.

“We were approached initially by Fairfield Medical Center who were in the planning stages and they had some ideas about child care” said Robert K. Family Fox YMCA’s CEO, Howard Long.  The YMCA was intrigued by the potential partnership, so as the ideas began to flow and the model for what the medical center could be began to evolve, so too did the Y’s involvement in the project.

“We all have the same goals.  We just want the community to be healthy” explained Howard.  It made the partnership a no brainer, and what came out of it was a brand new, fully functional YMCA facility, operated and maintained by YMCA employees.

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From day one the public response to the spacious facility and the latest and greatest in exercise science equipment has been nothing but positive.  “It’s been an amazing partnership” Howard beamed, before referring to the value the new facility adds for Fairfield Medical Center, the YMCA, and their members.  “Our brand has a value and that was recognized.  Our logo is prominently displayed.  It’s fully functional – a brand new second branch.  It’s instant value for our members!”

The RVC has quickly become a model for YMCA programs across the state to follow.  “I’m taking calls and meetings all the time” said Howard.  “They want to know how we did it, and this is really a model of how to do it right.”

But Y members will be happy to know that the newest locationisn’t the only facility getting all of the attention.  The main branch’s Wellness Center has seen updated carpeting, equipment, and HVAC systems, and the RecPlex continues to see growth.  The gymnastics program, in particular, has seen explosive growth and now requires the use of the facility’s second floor.  Additionally, their childcare program has grown significantly and has expanded into the former Sanderson Elementary School building.

This physical growth and expansion is in addition to program success – old and new – at the Y.  For example, Darkness to Light, a newer offering featuring the Stewards to Children program that Howard has been involved with since before his arrival to Fairfield County in 2018, helps adults learn how to prevent, recognize, and react responsibly to child sexual abuse.  To date, 253 adults have been trained through this program in Fairfield County. Our strong partnership with the Harcum House and United Way have made this program possible.

To say that the staff here is pleased with this growth would be an understatement.

However, all of the success and growth of the Robert K. Family Fox YMCA program would not be possible without the numerous donors and partners that contribute a tremendousamount of support.

Someone else who played a huge role in the YMCA we know today was the organization’s namesake – Dr. Robert and Dorothy Fox. “Without the Fox family and their foundation, the (main campus) addition wouldn’t exist.  We truly wouldn’t be where we are today without the generosity of them and their continued financial support,” Kerry said.

Donations from the community go directly into the Y’s Annual Giving Campaign (AGC), which topped $210,000 in 2019.  As part of that $210k, over $10,000 came from the generosity of the selfless YMCA staff members themselves.  Fittingly, the success of the AGC meant that the YMCA turned no one away in 2019 for their inability to pay.

If you’re interested in joining the Robert K. Family Fox YMCA, consider their Better Together program – a referral program that can earn you a savings of 20 percent.  For more information, contact Annie Weaver at 740.654.0616 x234 or at aweaver@ymcalancaster.org.

For full information on the Robert K. Fox Family YMCA and their programs, visit them online and follow all their latest happenings on Facebook.

 

Former VCNB President Ron Collins Has Retired

When Ron Collins stepped down as Vinton County National Bank President in December 2018, he didn’t actually leave the bank family. Instead, he stayed on as CEO, in an advisory role to assist newly minted VCNB President Mark Erslan through the transition. With a mind like a calculator and a keen understanding of banking, Ron was just the ninth president in the bank’s long and storied past and was eager to ease the bank into a new era of leadership.

Ron CollinsRon joined the VCNB family when he came to First Bremen Bank as Head of Lending in 1998. He was named President of the First Bremen Bank in 2001 and served in that capacity until being named President of Vinton County National Bank when the two banks merged in 2009.  One of his accomplishments was using his expertise as a skilled communicator and leader to soften the differences between the two banks, finding common ground and seeking ways to improve the combined operation.

During his career with VCNB, Ron used his vast knowledge of the lending world to improve the bank’s loan portfolio, making it both healthy and profitable.  He also oversaw the development of the Canal Banking Center in Canal Winchester, Friendly Bremen Banking Center in Pataskala and the Jackson County Banking Center in Jackson.

“When I started, the Bremen Bank was about $160 million in assets. Vinton County was over $200 million. Working together, we were able to bridge the gap and now we’re a billion dollar bank. That wasn’t just me. That was because of a lot of people,” he said “And I’m proud to say that we did all of that while staying true to our core values.”

“My wife asked me if I’m sad. Yes, I’m a little sad. It’s like leaving a part of yourself behind. But I have such a sense of accomplishment and a sense of excitement too. I’m excited for the future of our bank, I’m excited for Mark, and I’m looking forward to this next stage in my own life,” he explained.

When asked about his hopes for the bank’s future, Ron discussed VCNB’s place in the banking world. “A bank has to grow to succeed. But the more you grow, there’s risk of losing focus on the community part of community banking. We don’t want to be like the larger regional banks. There are plenty of them but there’s only one VCNB and what makes us special is our commitment to our communities. My hope is that we always offer that personal touch,” he said. “I also hope we always deliver what the customer wants. If they want to talk to a person, I hope there’s always a person to talk to. If they want technology, I hope we give them technology. Whatever is important to the customer should be important to us too.”

He went on to talk about the role of the bank president. “Every president leaves their own mark. We all do things a little differently but we all always put the bank first. That means focusing on the customer, the community, and our employees. As long as we continue to do that, we will do well,” he said. “Mark has been with us for a long time. He understands our culture and what’s important to us so I have no doubt he will lead us well.”

After a lengthy career managing people and learning the ins and outs of different types of workplaces, Ron has much wisdom to share with a young person starting out in business. “I would say you have to ask yourself some questions. Where do I want to go? What do I want from life and from my career? Can I get there with this job or this company? I’ve had offers to move elsewhere but I love our culture and the people I work with. Another job might mean more money but I could be sacrificing things that are important to me,” he added.

What things are important to him?

“Health, family and job. These are the most important things and you have to balance the first two so you can take care of the third,” he said. “You have to look at the total package. We have one employee who can attest to that. She had a good job making good money in another field. But she worked long hours and missed out on a lot. When she asked once to go see her kid play baseball and they told her no, she knew it was time for a change,” he recalled.

He went on to describe the VCNB culture which encourages employees to maintain their health, to volunteer in the community, spend time with family and to have a happy life. “I love our culture here and the people I work with. You spend more time with your coworkers than anyone else in your life. You better like where you are when you go to work.”

Ron officially retired January 31 but he isn’t in any hurry to make a lot of plans. He wants to volunteer somewhere that he can work hands-on with elderly citizens. He enjoys fishing and travel and often combines the two passions. He anticipates visiting the last few states he hasn’t yet seen.

Ron also looks forward to spending time with Gail, his wife of more than forty years, who he credits for supporting him through a host of moves and career advancements over the years. “I couldn’t have done it without her,” he said with a smile.

They have two grown children, Jill and Ron Jr, as well as three grandchildren. “It’s our time. Gail and I will be free to do what we please without the pressures of running a company,” he said. “It’s bittersweet, retiring, but I’m excited to see what the future holds.”

VCNB will host a retirement party for Ron at Kingy’s Pizza in Canal Winchester from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Friday, February 14. The public is invited to attend.

While he won’t be coming to work every day, he will remain a part of the bank family as he plans to remain on the Board of Directors. “It was a pleasure and honor to lead this organization and be able to work with such dedicated people. It’s been my dream job and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.”

 

 

Kevin Coe To Retire On Valentine’s Day

It’s a brand new year and a new decade. 2020 also marks a fresh start for VCNB employee Kevin Coe. The popular Ross County Banking Center Commercial Lender will retire on Valentine’s Day after a 40 plus year career in banking.

Kevin Coe“I’ve achieved what I set out to do. I worked for another bank for twenty years and worked here for twenty. So I’ve made it to 40 years and I’m retiring in 2020 with twenty and twenty at two banks,” he explained. “The timing is right to retire.”

Ask Kevin to talk about his career and he’s very quick to mention his customers. You see, the Chillicothe resident says that his job isn’t just to loan money – it’s to help people. “I love talking to my customers and learning about their businesses,” he explained. “I’ve gotten to start with some customers on the ground floor. Being a part of their businesses and learning about their line of work … well, that’s one of the most rewarding things. I’m a people person so I like to relate to people and to hear their story.”

Kevin’s parents were educators who lived in West Jefferson when he was born. They relocated to Chillicothe when he was just five and he is proud to say he calls Ross County home. After graduating from Chillicothe City Schools, he spent two years at Miami University in Oxford. Uncertain what he wanted to do, he took a break from college and accepted a seasonal position at Mead Corporation in Chillicothe.

While there, he chose to pursue a career in finance. He graduated from Columbus State with an Associate Degree in Banking and Finance before taking a job in the Collections Department at another bank in Chillicothe. He moved into lending after three years before finally becoming a Commercial Lender. After twenty years with that bank, he made the leap to Ross County Banking Center where he started out as a Lender and eventually became a Commercial Lender.

Commercial lending clearly is Kevin’s niche and his interest in people and their businesses has been a key to his success. He is outgoing and kind but it’s the genuine interest that he takes in people that makes customers look forward to doing business with him.

That’s not to say that life has been without problems. The grandfather of three was devastated by the loss of one granddaughter in January 2018. A few months later a blown knee forced him into surgery and off work for the shortest period of time his doctor would permit. When he returned just two and a half weeks after surgery, a new software system for processing loan requests was being implemented.

“I’ll be honest with you. I was struggling. I was in a lot of pain and I’m not a techie person to begin with. Losing my granddaughter . . .  the surgery. . .it was just too much at one time and I didn’t know if I would make it to retirement,” he said. “But I’ve had good people help me along the way and I’m so pleased that I was able to stay until I was ready to retire. I’m grateful to my customers and my coworkers and everyone that has helped me.”

When asked if he has advice for someone considering a career in banking, Kevin’s answer went back to the human aspect of the job. “It’s a rewarding career but if you’re not a people person, lending is probably not the career for you. If you like people, if you’re interested in their successes and in what they care about, you’ll love it,” he exclaimed.

While Kevin looks forward to having free time, to catching up on some things around the house and maybe even playing a little golf, he isn’t in any hurry to leave.  “I’m not counting the days or anything like that. I know how long I have but I’m not dying to leave. In fact, I’m sure I’ll miss working. I know I’ll miss the people,” he said. “But I’m looking forward to doing something different. Catch up on things at home, maybe find a part-time job to keep me busy,” he said with a grin.

He does look forward to having more time with his family including Debbie, his wife of 37 years. “I’m so blessed that I had the opportunity to come to work here. Wow, retiring! It’s going to be a big change. For forty plus years I’ve gotten up and gone to work,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it!”

“Banking has been a rewarding career and I am blessed to have worked with so many fine people and to meet so many great people throughout my 40 plus years in the business. And to be able to work in my hometown was icing on the cake.”

Customers and friends are invited to join Kevin for an informal reception at his office on East Main Street in Chillicothe from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Wednesday, February 12.

 

 

Small Business Spotlight: Georgie Emerson Vintage

Small businesses are important to communities and running a business is tough work. That’s why we feature a small business in one of our communities every month!

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Coming home. That’s how it feels when you enter Georgie Emerson Vintage.

Here you will find a comfortable atmosphere filled with beautiful things. Here you will find kind people who can’t wait to see what you have chosen. You will find laughter and a sense of belonging that will make you want to stay and shop just a little longer.

In every nook and cranny you will find something special, something you won’t find in any other store. Not to mention Pippa, the precious rescue dog who presides over the shop, accepting kisses, ear scratches and other forms of attention lavished on her by loyal shoppers and admirers.

1D4F8768-A1DC-419C-BCB9-9D82B4C2E06AWhen Polly McCormick was a little girl and people asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, she said Nels Olsen on Little House on the Prairie. “I always wanted to be Nels, to have that store counter. So I would play general store and my parents would be my customers,” she laughed.

Today she owns what she calls a vintage lifestyle shop with an enormous sales counter, large rolls of paper and twine, and an atmosphere that would make Nels proud.

She described her childhood with a mother who took her to yard sales, flea markets and auctions. They would find old pieces to clean, reimagine and transform into treasures. “She taught me to paint, sew, craft – I guess you could say it’s in my blood,” she said.

Yet, the road from playing mercantile to owning one was long and painful at times. She had a corporate career for several years and was working as Human Resources Manager for Big Lots when her parents fell ill and she took time off to care for them. After her father died, Polly said she worked to keep her mom in her own home for about seven years. During that time, Polly opened a booth at an antique mall, quietly growing this business and working part time at the antique mall where she learned about working retail.

It was after her mother passed in 2012 that Polly was feeling a little lost and the seeds of Georgie Emerson were planted.  With encouragement and support from her husband Mick, a small shop in downtown Canal was born. But that first 485 square foot shop was short lived as the business grew quickly. In fact, they are now in their fourth location, a 5,000 square foot space that allows Polly and her girls and guys to play with displays and to create charming vignettes at every turn.

Her girls and guys are a few of the 29 local people who create handmade items that are available only at Georgie Emerson.  Some helped Polly look past dirt and junk to transform their current location from cavernous to cozy. “I couldn’t have done it without their help. I might not be here if it weren’t for them,” she said.

Those 29 artists and artisans from Canal Winchester, Lancaster, Pickerington, Ashville and points in between work in a number of mediums  including ceramics, woodworking, crafting, sewing, metalwork, jewelry and painting. These Georgie Emerson exclusive items give the shop a sense of handmade flair to accompany fine quality vintage and antique items, and carefully curated reproduction pieces.

Clothing and accessories, furniture, wall art and a host of decorative items pack the store without feeling overwhelming

Polly finds inspiration in French country as well as modern farmhouse, using a palette of soft colors, beautiful textures and weathered patinas to create a sophisticated yet simple and warm environment.  “And fun! We want people to have fun with their homes. We want them to have fun with us,” she exclaimed. “I want people to feel like they got a hug when they visit here. Having a bad day? Shop here and you’ll laugh, you’ll be inspired, you can pet a dog and be happy,” she gushed while gesturing toward Pippa tucked away in her bed on the counter. Little Pippa presides over the shop, eager to meet a new friend and to greet an old one. People frequently pick her up, cuddling the affectionate little dog while they browse.

While Pippa clearly enjoys the attention, it seems her human friends gain something special from the interaction as well.  “People just love Pippa and you can tell it makes their day better having her here,” Polly said.

Pippa isn’t the only one to give special attention to customers. Watch Polly interact with customers for a few minutes and it is clear that she takes an interest in everyone who comes in. She knows their birthdays, the names of their pets and what they purchased last time. She inquires about a sick grandmother and about whether someone else is ready for their big move. She’s so friendly and engaging with everyone around her that the store takes on the atmosphere of a slumber party at times.

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“I guess I’m kind of a dreamer and have a bit of gypsy soul,” she said. “But in all my dreams, I never imagined it would become what it is today.”

The store that began as a tiny shop in 2012 continues to grow. Soon they will open Georgie Celebrates, a classroom space that will be available for rent for small parties. Polly expects the space to be available by spring.

Want to visit? George Emerson Vintage is located at 360 West Waterloo Street in Canal Winchester. They are open Thursday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Have questions?  Call 614.562.9938 or ask them on Facebook.  They go live on Facebook at least once a week and often post pictures and videos of new merchandise so be sure to follow them for the latest news!

Want to see more of the merchandise? Check out the slideshow below!

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Brenda Prater Brooks To Retire This Month

When Brenda Prater Brooks came to work for Vinton County National Bank in 1979, President Bob Will joked that she was kicking the slats out of the cradle. Just over forty years later, Brenda is retiring as the second most senior employee in the bank.

Brenda BrooksShe never intended to stay this long but instead planned to work while going to college and eventually move on. “This is where God wanted me. I got married, had two kids and never left. Life is good,” she smiled.

Brenda began her banking career as a teller – first inside the lobby and later at the drive-thru. “On my first day, they gave me a cash drawer and told me any money out, write on the right side and money in gets written on the left. And you know what? I balanced my first day!”

When she started at the bank, the lobby was open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily and until noon on Thursday and Saturday. “We didn’t have any of the technology we have today. Everything was done by hand and no one left until the General Ledger was balanced. You didn’t want to be the reason it wouldn’t balance,” she joked. “You felt about an inch tall because everyone had to wait around all because of your mistake.”

With everything filed and kept manually, when a customer wanted to know if a check had been cleared, the teller went downstairs to find the check. “We didn’t have an elevator back then so it was a lot of trips up and down the stairs. I was thin back then!” she laughed.

She speaks about many former colleagues with admiration, especially those who were here when she first started and who taught her to be a good representative of the bank. She is especially fond of Rosemary Reynolds and Ruth Molihan who were New Accounts Officers for many years. “I always thought they were the classiest ladies ever. Never a hair out of place, make-up done perfectly.  They were always so professional and kind. I wanted to be like them,” she said.

When Rosemary left the bank in 1991, Brenda got her chance to be like those ladies in New Accounts. “They put me across from Ruth and I learned so much,” she said. “I’ve done everything on the deposit side but never loans. I’m not sure I could tell someone who really needed money that I could not do a loan for them,” she said.

Brenda points out that many of her early customers have passed away. Now she’s serving their children and grandchildren. “I’ve loved every minute of getting to know my customers,” she said before talking about some of the births, marriages, retirements, deaths, celebrations and sorrows that she has witnessed in the lives of her customers. She even remembers two current VCNB employees when they were just tiny tots sitting on her lap while playing with her typewriter. “They’re all grown up now!” she exclaimed.

It is her own life experience that Brenda believes has helped her better relate to some of her customers. She specifically mentioned how the passing of her first husband has allowed her to relate to customers who have lost spouses. “I’m a firm believer that our experiences make us who we are and that we should use the knowledge and compassion we gain to help others,” she said.  “I’ve been able to better relate to my customers who have lost spouses because I’ve been through it. And unless you’ve been through it you just don’t know,” she said.

She will miss her bank family and customers but looks forward to having more time with her own family. With a husband, two grown kids, three grandsons, lots of friends and elderly parents, she has much to keep her busy and to look forward to. “I am so excited to just do my own thing and to have more time for what I need to do,” she said.

Brenda reluctantly admits that some of her customers will miss her. “People don’t like change and honestly, I don’t either. I remember when Rosemary left, so many people were reluctant to give me a chance. And when I started, if the system went down, that meant my pencil was broken and I needed to sharpen it,” she laughed. “So much has changed in these forty years but it’s a necessary part of life.”

Brenda is known for her good customer service so when asked what advice she would give someone in a customer service job, her response was decisive. “Never judge someone for their appearance and never treat anyone differently than you yourself would want to be treated. Every customer is important. They are the reason we have a job.”

“I will miss the people. Some have become like family but to everything there is a season. It’s time for me to leave,” she said.

Brenda will retire on January 31 along with three other longtime employees. Jane Nickelsand Barb Clemons in McArthur and Elaine Praterin Richmond Dale will retire that day as well. An informal reception will be held for customers and friends in McArthur on January 29 and a reception for Elaine will be held on January 29 in Richmond Dale.

 

The End Of An Era: Jane Nickels Will Retire This Month

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 NickelsJane 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.

Depot girls with Bob

Jane is pictured with President Bob Will and coworker Doris Adelmann in the early days of her career.

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.