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.

 

Barb Clemons Will Retire January 31

Barb ClemmonsThe tellers who work with Barb Clemons like to tell newcomers not to be offended when customers don’t want their help. That’s because Barb has a following of customers who would simply rather wait for Barb. She’s been working at our McArthur office for almost 33 years and her customers have come to know her and trust the work she does.

She knows them well too. “You get to know them and how they want their work done. They like to just hand you their stuff and know that it will be correctly done. You learn who you can joke around with and they will tell you about their life and things that are important to them,” she said. “I’m glad people want to come to my window. It makes you feel appreciated.”

Barb has a good sense of humor and an easy laugh but she takes her work seriously, always focused on the task at hand and on pleasing the customer. “People don’t realize how much is involved in teller work. There’s a lot to do and remember and it can get stressful. A lot of people think we just stand there and count money but it’s a really complicated job,” she said.

She’s so good at what she does that she trains most of the new tellers in McArthur. In fact, countless tellers have benefited from Barb’s years of experience. “I have trained a lot of tellers. Lots and lots of tellers. You know I trained Mark Erslan when he came here,” she said.

Now the bank president, Mark started with VCNB as a management trainee, a program that required he learn several jobs including teller. She laughs as she recounts the day that his drawer was off a single dime. “He likes to tease me about that day.  He went home that night and found that dime in the cuff of his dress pants,” she said.  “He came in the next day with that dime and we teased him about it. Sure, Mark, it was there all the time!”

When asked about the advice she gives new tellers she thought for a moment before saying “you know there’s really so much that you need to know but the first thing you need to do is pay close attention to what the customer is saying. You need to hear what they want and if you’re not sure, it’s a good idea to repeat things so they can confirm it,” she explained. “The customer in front of you should be the most important person. Make them feel special and important. Make them feel comfortable.”

Before coming to work for the bank, Barb worked at a local nursing home for close to ten years. Some former classmates who worked for the bank thought she would be a good fit for an open teller position in Wilkesville and they asked her to apply for the position. But after a month of training in McArthur then President Bob Will was so impressed with her that he asked her to stay on in McArthur where she would have more opportunity for advancement.

Barb tried working in new accounts but quickly realized that she really enjoyed being a teller and that the new accounts position was not for her. “I would like to think that I’m good at what I do and I like that every day is different. Yes, I do the same things all day but the customers are different every day and that keeps things interesting.”

After close to 43 years in the workforce, Barb is excited to have some free time. “I can’t even imagine what it will be like to get up when I want and not have to come someplace but I’m looking forward to it. I just want to sit on the porch swing and do what I want to do,” she exclaimed.  “I’m looking forward to having time to get out and do things, to go to lunch with my friends, to keep up with stuff around the house.”

She and husband Mark were high school sweethearts and have been married for 45 years. They have two grown children and four grandkids. “I’m looking forward to spending more time with them and having time to go to the kids’ ballgames and things. But I will miss my customers and my coworkers. Some of my customers have expressed that they’re sad to see me go but that they’re happy for me. I want them to know I’ll miss them too.”

Barb will officially retire on January 31 alongside longtime coworkers Jane Nickels and  Brenda Brooks. Customers can stop by the bank on January 29 to wish the ladies well during an informal reception. A reception will also be held at our Richmond Dale office that day to honor Elaine Prater who also will retire on January 31.