A Presidential Portrait: Ron Collins

In honor of our 150th anniversary in 2017 we are taking a look back at bank history and the people who have helped to shape our bank into the successful, secure institution that it is today. Read on to learn about one of our former presidents!

Collins

Ron Collins has been the Vinton County Bank President since 2009.

Ron Collins is the ninth and most recent President of Vinton County National Bank. As the only President to preside over both the Bremen and Vinton County Banks, Ron has provided a helpful bridge between the two bank cultures and operations.

Ron came to Bremen in 1998 to serve as Head of Lending. Before that, he worked as Field Vice President for ITT Financial Services from 1976 to 1993 and then as Vice President of Consumer Lending for State Savings Bank from 1993 to 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 in 2009.

Ron brought to the bank a comprehensive understanding of the lending world that has benefited the bank greatly. He used this experience and worked closely with the Credit Department to address weaknesses in the bank’s loan portfolio. He has since improved the bank’s loan portfolio to make it both healthy and profitable.

One of Ron’s most noted accomplishments during his time as President at Bremen continues to impact the bank today. Ron oversaw the development of the Canal Banking Center in Canal Winchester.

The bank built this office from the ground up in a location that was outside the bank’s comfort zone at the time. Ron advocated for a location in an up-and-coming commercial area off the highway rather than in a downtown location. The Canal office opened in 2002 and was an immediate success. It continues to be a busy, growing branch.

Ron also oversaw ventures into Licking county where Bremen opened its fifth location. The Friendly Bremen Bank of Pataskala opened in 2006.

After being named Vinton County National Bank President in 2009, Ron set to work softening the differences between the two banks, finding common grounds and seeking ways to streamline and improve the combined operation.

Ron is known as a great communicator and many consider him a “President of the people.” His ability to relate to people of all walks of life have served him well at this bank as he is approachable to all and open to their thoughts.

He considers it an honor to be the bank’s President and calls it “a privilege to follow a long history of outstanding leaders.” He credits current employees and those who have come before with helping grow the bank from one office in one county to sixteen offices in seven counties with assets of $885 million.

Ron says that his greatest accomplishment is being able to work with “all the hard working and dedicated employees in keeping with our bank’s history of
outstanding growth while maintaining our principles of being part of the communities we serve and having a safe and sound bank.”

Born in Dayton in 1955, Ron has been married to his wife Gail for 37 years. The pair have two children, Jill and Ron, Jr. as well as three grandchildren. He is a graduate of the Stonier Graduate School of Banking. Ron serves as Board Treasurer for Fox Family YMCA, is a member of the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce Board and is a past board member for the Route 33 Alliance. In his free time, Ron enjoys traveling, fishing and spending time with his grandchildren.

Daniel Will
Aaron Will
John L. Will
Robert B. Will, Sr.
J.G. Will
Robert B. Will Jr.
George Booth
Steve Hunter

Lender Speak: Tips For Choosing A Contractor

You’ve picked out your building site, you have your house plans and you’re ready to build a home. Congratulations! You must be excited! New home construction is one of the most exciting projects that our lenders get to work on. It’s also one of the most complex and has potential to be frustrating. That’s where a seasoned lender and a good contractor come in. VCNB employs some smart lenders who have been in this line of work for a lot of years. Today, we asked a few of them to weigh in with their tips for choosing a good contractor.

“My best advice is to take your time and ask lots of questions. First, get an estimate from more than one contractor and look at their history. You want to use a contractor with a solid history and not someone doing their first job. Another important thing to do is to look at other jobs they have done.”
Fred Wright

Fred works at our VCNB Loan Production Office on Veterans Drive in Jackson.

*   *    *

“Interview and meet with a lot of different builders. Look for a builder you will connect with and who you trust will meet your expectations.”
Donna Kopis

Donna works at our Friendly Bremen Banking Center on East Main Street in Lancaster.

*   *    *

“Choosing the right builder is the biggest decision one will have to make when building a home. I suggest speaking with multiple builders. Then choose one you feel you can trust to build the home the way you want and in a timely manner. It is vital to choose the builder who communicates clearly with you.”
Chris Coryea

Chris works at our Canal Banking Center on Prentiss School Drive in Canal Winchester.

*   *    *

“I have been fortunate to be involved in construction lending for nearly 20 yrs. Though customers may not realize it, a seasoned construction lender can help the process of building a home go smoother by helping them avoid common pitfalls and helping maintain the relationship between customer, lender, and contractor. Customers should be prepared to do a good deal of homework up front and that includes choosing the right contractor. The wrong contractor will make the project a nightmare very quickly and a struggle to complete. I encourage the customer to ask for references from the contractor and go look at some of their work including some projects that are in the process of being completed. Also, ask your lender about the contractor you are considering. If the lender is not familiar with the contractor, they will need to meet to make sure they are agreeable to our procedures. Those procedures are there for a reason and can help make sure we get a finished project. Ultimately, the customer and the bank are at risk until we get a finished project and neither of us want an unfinished home.”
Joe Risch

Joe works at our Pickaway County Banking Center on Court Street in Circleville.

Lender Speak: The Best Part Of Home Construction Lending

The VCNB Financial Family has some excellent, experienced lenders on staff. These folks have the privilege of working with customers to finance their dreams – their dream car, their dream kitchen, their dream home and a host of other projects that make life good. We talk a lot about what it’s like for the customer to finance a project with us but we don’t always stop and consider what it’s like for the lender.

Today, we’re asking some of our lenders about their favorite part of financing a home construction project! Here’s what they had to say!

 

“I love the excitement of it all. I love the excitement of the borrower once they know they are approved and the excitement of the borrower when the home is move in ready.”   Donna Kopis

Donna works at our Friendly Bremen Banking Center on East Main Street in Lancaster.

 

 

“The best thing is seeing a family’s dreams that started on a blueprint come true when they are given the keys to their new home. It’s a great feeling knowing we helped achieve their goal.”   Chris Coryea

Chris works at our Canal Banking Center on Prentiss School Drive in Canal Winchester.

 

 

“I like to see the excitement of the customers. It’s great helping them with their dream of building their own home and seeing that dream become reality.”    Fred Wright

Fred works at our VCNB Loan Production Office on Veterans Drive in Jackson.

 

“My favorite part of a construction loan is being able to help the customer fulfill a dream of building their very own home. The end result is very rewarding and helps mend the stress that it may have caused in the process. I enjoy seeing the different types of homes people build. Also, the process is very interesting – when it’s in the foundation/ framing stage it looks huge, then when drywall goes on it looks too small, then when it is painted and trimmed it gets bigger and usually just right. It’s a perception thing. As an owner, they may only build one or two homes in a lifetime. As a lender, we build several per year. It is this experience that can help both parties navigate through process and can also be rewarding knowing that you were instrumental in making it happen.”   Joe Risch

Joe works at our Pickaway County Banking Center on Court Street in Circleville.

Small Business Spotlight: The Well

 

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

A business in downtown Lancaster with a passionate following is getting ready to celebrate their third anniversary. It is a spot that was created for families to come and eat clean, wholesome foods, gather for coffee and conversation, and have a little fun. To call it a restaurant would be misleading; to simply call it a coffee shop wouldn’t be enough. Introducing: The Well.

What would you call The Well? “That’s a good question,” says Adam Leu, who owns the business along with his brother Aaron. “We’re a place to gather; a restaurant, a retail shop, a coffee shop, a place to bring your family in to play. We’re here to teach and educate, to service, and to build relationships and be a light in our community.” The words on the glass along the entryway say it best: “A Modern Gathering Place.”

The Leus’ intent was always to create a business with a family atmosphere that their own relatives and friends would want to enjoy; a modern place to eat, drink, play and live. “You see it too much that a small business consumes you. We didn’t want that,” Adam says. He continued, “Our priorities were always very clear – we have families and we wanted them to be involved, to come around and to enjoy this place. We wanted to do that for others.”

The idea for “the Modern Gathering Place” came about after Adam and Aaron held discussions about their next move in business. Inspired by several family play cafés the brothers had seen, Adam and Aaron came out of their discussions realizing they felt it was an exciting idea and something they thought the public would enjoy as well.

The search for a location began in 2013, and when scouting locations in Lancaster, they came across the old Hammond’s Clothier building at 203 S. Broad Street. It was pretty clear from first sight that it would be perfect. Hammond’s had been open since the early 1900’s and the building and its décor reflected so much of that history.

Plus, with the added bonus of empty gallery space below and above the storefront, Aaron felt it’d be a perfect spot to renovate and create a home for him and his family. After several meetings with the Lancaster-Fairfield Area Chamber of Commerce and Destination Downtown Lancaster, the decision to purchase of the building was made, and in May 2013 the plans of opening in time for The Lancaster Festival’s Art Walk in July were laid out. And once work began, those hopes were quickly dashed. “We were pretty ambitious. We worked on the living space first, and Aaron wasn’t able to move in until December of that year- and the shop wasn’t opened until March of 2014,”

Adam laughed as he recalled. “But we did most of the work ourselves. We added the kitchen area and the bathroom, but the building was in good shape. It was mostly cosmetics.”

Now filled with self-constructed décor, hand-made crafts and goods, organic snacks and sweets, art, and a play area the family built taking up a large portion of the rear, The Well has blossomed into a popular place for locals and out-of-towners alike. And the word of these loyal visitors has been key to their success.

“We really haven’t had to pay for advertising.” Adam revealed. “The Eagle-Gazette ran an article the week we opened, which we didn’t plan on, and the Dispatch called right after that for another piece. And it’s just grown from there.”

The space, and the menu especially, were originally intended to serve a very niche market. They just didn’t realize how large that niche market was. “After the Eagle-Gazette article, we were slammed. We had lines out the door and we were thinking ‘what are we doing?’ We weren’t ready for this.” Adam looks back. They seemed to have figured it out, though, and the crowds continue to grow.

The rotating menu features organic, gluten free vegetarian foods and smoothies, juices, coffees, and treats utilizing local growers and coffee beans from around the world (and never roasted more than fourteen days prior!). The Buckeye Bar, the sweet specialty of Tim, their father, has proven to be a hit! In fact, VCNB employees may or may not consistently keep a few of them at their desk.

The Leus have taken calls from interested investors looking to add locations and businessmen looking to franchise. “But we’re just not interested in that, that was never the priority.” Adam explained, again citing the desire to have a place for his family. “I’m here, Aaron, our mother (Pat), our father (Tim), Bob’s a friend, and Mary’s helping us too. Our wives help us, our kids come in here and hang out with us. You just can’t do that if we go somewhere else. Our desire wasn’t to come here and be a restaurant, and be hidden back in a kitchen all day. We want to see you and we want you to take some of this with you. We’ll give you any recipe or information you want. We’re a part of this community and we want to be here building relationships with you.”

Visitors can stop by The Well from 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. on weekdays. The retail and play space can also be rented after hours at $150 for three hours. You can get connected on Facebook or call 740.573.7011.

Santa Claus Is Coming To VCNB!

Santa illustration.jpgSanta Claus will be coming to town for visits at several VCNB offices this December. Here’s the scoop on where and when to find him! Bring your own cameras to get pictures of the jolly old elf with your kids and grown-up kids!

December 9
3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Friendly Bremen Banking Center, E. Main St. in Lancaster
Visit with Santa and tell him your fondest Christmas wish!

December 16
3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Friendly Bremen Banking Center , Bremen
Meet Santa and come prepared to share your Christmas wish list!

December 16
3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Canal Banking Center, Canal Winchester
Enjoy a Christmas Party with Santa, face painting and cookie decorating. Kids can also drop off their letters for Santa and wait for handwritten letters in the mail. If you’re bringing a letter, be sure to include a return address so Santa knows where to find you!

December 17
9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Ross County Banking Center, Western Avenue in Chillicothe
Visit with Santa while you enjoy cookies and punch. There will also be a drawing for a jumbo prize. Don’t miss out!

December 17
10 a.m. to Noon
Friendly Bremen Banking Center, Pataskala
Have fun with a Christmas Party with Santa, face painting and cookie decorating. Kids can also drop off their letters for Santa and wait for handwritten letters in the mail. If you’re bringing a letter, be sure to include a return address so Santa knows where to find you!

There you have it! The magic of Santa will help him travel to several of our banks, spreading joy and providing lots of photo ops for the good little boys and girls! Come see us and be sure to bring your camera!

VCNB Gives Back

Sunday was World Kindness Day and, as a community bank, we think that’s kind of a big deal. In fact, the idea of being good to our customers, employees and communities is something we embrace every day.

We try to be a good corporate citizen and to lead by example, supporting as many community functions as we can across all the communities where we do business. Since our footprint has expanded a lot during our 149 year lifetime, the area where we try to do good is also expanding. From as far south as our hometown in Vinton County up through Logan, Lancaster and Chillicothe to Grove City and all points in between, we donate money and time to countless community and school groups.

This year we expect to spend more than $220,000 in our local communities!

We also reward our employees for their volunteer efforts. In an average year, our employees collectively donate several hundred hours each year to organizations close to their hearts. Animal shelters, food pantries, school events and countless community events benefit from the generosity of our wonderful employees who like to help out where they can.

During the holidays we like to spotlight some local groups that need public support and give our customers the opportunity to help out as well. Throughout the month of November we’ll be collecting donations for the following:

mcarthur-coat-drive

Thanks to Dollar General of McArthur for kicking off their coat drive with a big donation of coats, hats and gloves for kids. Rachel Hoyt, Carol Faber and Heather Ramey are pictured with a few of those items!  

Vinton County National Bank in McArthur – Monetary donations will be collected for the Vinton County Local Schools Backpack Program. New and gently used coats, hats, scarves and gloves will also be accepted for kids in need in Vinton County schools.

 

Vinton County National Bank in Wilkesville – Monetary donations will be collected for the Vinton County Local Schools Backpack Program.

Hocking Hills Banking Center in Logan – Monetary and donations of items will be collected for the Hocking County Humane Society. Click here for more info. 

Salt Creek Banking Center in Laurelville – Monetary donations will be collected for the local Backpack Program.

Ross County Banking Centers in Chillicothe – Monetary donations will be collected for the Good Sam Food Pantry.

Ross County Banking Center in Richmond Dale – Monetary donations will be collected for the Mission Family Ministries and Goshen Run.

Pickaway County Banking Center in Circleville – Monetary donations will be collected for Emergency Clearing House Association of Pickaway County.

Pickaway County Banking Center in Ashville – Monetary donations will be collected for local Backpack Program.

Pickaway County Banking Center in Commercial Point – Bank will purchase canned goods for a local church at Thanksgiving and will also participate in Secret Santa at the church.

Friendly Bremen Banking Centers in Lancaster and Bremen – Monetary and non-perishable food donations will be collected for local food pantries.

Friendly Bremen Banking Center in Pataskala – Monetary donations will be collected for a local food pantry.

Canal Banking Center in Canal Winchester – Bank will accept monetary donations for the Canal Winchester Food Pantry.

Franklin County Banking Center in Grove City – Bank will accept monetary donations and packages of new men’s and women’s socks for Socks For Soldiers.

 

If you’re in the area and would like to help out a local organization, we hope you will stop by a branch and make a donation. The bank will also contribute funds to each of the organizations we are spotlighting this holiday season.  All of these collection efforts are for good causes and we are excited to help them!

 

Community Spotlight: Fairfield Area Humane Society

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The Fairfield Area Humane Society is always in need of volunteers and donations including the items pictured outside their building. VCNB employees from our Friendly Bremen Banking Centers donated supplies during a recent facility tour. 

If you want to find a group of people whose work is a true labor of love, stop by the Fairfield Area Humane Society and take a look around. This tight-knit community of employees and volunteers is dedicated to protecting the rights of animals and helping them find permanent, loving homes. It grows every year, adding services that help pet owners and growing adoption services to help neglected and abused animals. Much of that work happens because the community supports the cause they champion every day.

“Everything we do is possible with help from the community!” exclaimed Corey Schoonover, Executive Director at the Fairfield Area Humane Society.  “We’ve got seven employees, and some great volunteers.”

Though some may only view the facility as simply a place to drop off or adopt an animal and others consider it similar to a retail pet store, it’s important to realize that there is much more happening than meets the eye. “You could look at that part as retail, but it’s retail with a heartbeat.  And this is so much more.  For those unfamiliar, we do an amazing amount of work.”

Here’s just a portion of services that Fairfield Area Humane Society offers:

  • A monthly spay/neuter clinic (partnering with The RASCAL Unit)
  • Quarterly vaccine clinic
  • Flea treatments
  • Stray cat Trap-Neuter-Return services (which has grown to service over 1,500 cats in the last two years alone)
  • Investigations on animal cruelty complaints (which was solely responsible for over 30,000 miles traveled in 2015).

All of these activities occur in addition to the well-known adoption services, which grew to over 800 animals last year. “Adoptees come from all around, not just Fairfield County.  All over Ohio, from Columbus to Toledo to Cincinnati.  We’ve even had adoptions from the Northeast US, like Conneticut!” Corey explained.

Along with growing adoptions and services, the facility continues to grow. For example, in late 2014, the Humane Society constructed a new dog park, dramatically increasing the traffic coming in the facility’s front door and providing a much needed service to pet owners. “It’s become a great marketing tool for us.” Corey said.  “We used to have five, six visitors a day coming in.  But just in the last ten minutes, we’ve had four.  And the park isn’t just here for the new pet owners that come in, but for current pet owners.  Sometimes we’ll hear someone say they have to give up their animal because they moved into smaller living arrangements or because they just don’t have enough room to play.  But we hate to see that as their solution.  So this is a solution for those in that situation too,” he added.

Another important new addition to the grounds is the Barney Wears Memorial Building, a newly erected quarantine facility located behind the main building.  It officially opened on April 1 and provides space for new animals to be inspected and reside while being administered proper medications.  Animals that are too young to be adopted or those from animal cruelty cases may be housed here for a period of time as well.  In fact, 32 cats were just placed in the new building from one seizure in the last week.

“The costs for the services we offer continue to rise and have increased by nearly four times in the last six years.  And our facilities have been improved and expanded,” Corey said noting that the staff and payroll have not increased.  “So it’s really the great community support we have that has allowed us to expand our services and facilities.”

“One of our goals is that our adoption fees recoup the cost of the medical bills.  We’d love it to work out that way, but it doesn’t.  The costs are enormous.  But the ultimate goal is doing what’s best for the animal and keeping them in good homes, and unfortunately it isn’t free.  We’re so thankful for the support,” he added.

Volunteers are not only accepted, they are encouraged as they play a key role in the generous community support that Corey praises.   That’s why VCNB employees consistently donate their time to this non-profit, and even serve or have served on their board. In fact, Corey and his staff hosted nearly 20 of our employees on a sunny Wednesday morning to share a little bit about what they do. They also shared how the Friendly Bremen Banking Center and VCNB financial family have been instrumental in their growth.

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While touring the facility, our employees donated items on the Humane Society’s list of critical need, which includes things not generally considered top-of-mind when donating to an animal shelter or humane society.  These items included paper towels, bleach and HE laundry detergent, dish soap, hand sanitizer, Pine-Sol and kitty litter.

The work for this staff of seven goes far beyond working directly with the animals and is clearly a labor of love. In fact, you’ll often see the Humane Society crew out and about around Fairfield County, sharing information and drumming up membership and support.  In one week in July, they were on hand at the Lancaster Festival’s Art Walk and Festival Fair Day, hosting the aforementioned group of VCNB employees, doing interviews, and filming TV segments for a television station in Central Ohio.

This week, they will host their annual WOOFSTOCK event at the Fairfield County Fairgrounds.  This two day event features a family fun and adoption event on Saturday, August 6 from 11am-8pm. The public is encouraged to attend and the day will feature fun for all ages, including live music, inflatables, laser tag, raffles, food and craft vendors, and wiener dog races.  Most importantly, adoptable dogs needing homes will be on hand.  On Sunday, August 7 from 11am-4pm, they’re hosting day two of Woofstock, which is a low cost vaccination clinic featuring $10 vaccines, $15 micro-chips, $5 nail trims, and $10 dog baths.

To find out more about the Fairfield Area Humane Society, Woofstock, visit them online at www.fairhumane.org or visit them on Facebook. Here you’ll also find pictures of pets available for adoption.

Click here to learn how you can help including information on  or more information on membership or volunteering.

Pack An Extra Form Of Payment

If you’re planning a vacation this summer, you’re probably eager to pack your bags and hit the road. But before you go, there’s one more thing to pack – one or two extra forms of payment.

We know that you love your plastic and we swipe our debit and credit cards more today than ever before.  After all, it’s quick and easy, it’s safer than carrying a lot of cash and, if you’re a VCNB customer using Rewards Checking or our Platinum Visa© Card, you earn UChoose® Rewards Points on purchases.

PrintUnfortunately, plastic is not always foolproof. While most businesses accept credit and debit cards, some mom and pop establishments, festivals and farmer’s markets are not equipped to do so. Also, technology is imperfect and occasionally even major retailers experience a hiccup that prevents them from accepting cards.

Also, with the increased use in debit and credit card usage has come an increase in the amount of fraudulent activity related to cards. That’s why we have a great Fraud Department here at VCNB to monitor your activity round the clock. If we see something that is clearly fraudulent or that looks suspicious, we will place restrictions on your card and then give you a call to confirm that you are actually making those purchases. This is meant to protect you and your money but can sometimes cause an inconvenience for the customer.

We occasionally have customers who are on vacation, spending outside their regular pattern of activity, who will be flagged by the Fraud Department. If you can confirm that it’s really you spending your money, the restrictions will be released and you can go about your vacation. If it’s not you, we will shut down your card to prevent future fraudulent activity and take actions to get you a new card. If that’s the case, you will need another way to pay.

There are many options for a second or third form of payment. If you plan to pay primarily with debit, take along a credit card and some cash too. If your primary payment is going to be credit, a second credit or debit card and some cash might come in handy.

Here at VCNB, we offer credit cards as well as a Reloadable Travel Card. You can use it to make purchases anywhere worldwide that Mastercard© is accepted. It costs $5.99 to purchase but we are waving this fee through the end of July. The Travel Card and other reloadable/gift cards are available in any VCNB branch. Click here to learn more. 

And, of course, cash is still accepted almost everywhere.

By the way, if you’re planning to travel, take a minute and give us a call. If we know you’re out of state or out of the country, you’ll be less likely to experience a disruption in service. Also be sure to give us your mobile phone number. If our Fraud Department does need to reach you, you don’t want them calling your home when your card is being rejected in a restaurant far from home.

 

 

 

Pursuing a Dramatic Passion

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It’s Volunteer Appreciation Week! This is a time to recognize those volunteers who keep the non-profit organizations, churches and civic groups humming across the nation every day. At VCNB we encourage our employees to embrace volunteer projects that they think are important or that they find engaging. While we have a lot of great volunteers in our ranks, there’s one in particular who goes far above and beyond, giving hundreds of hours each year to a project she considers a true labor of love.

Longtime Friendly Bremen Banking Center employee Dee Conrad has spent more than ten years volunteering with the Lancaster High School Drama Department, starting when her middle son became involved with the productions. Her official title is Costume Mistress for major productions at LHS but when she describes her work, she clearly does much, much more than the job title suggests.

Lord Farquaad - Shrek the Musical

Lord Farquaad – Shrek The Musical

The Drama Department puts on two major shows every year: a fall play and a spring musical. Each production requires countless hours of research, searching through the costume storage, Goodwill, Salvation Army, eBay or people’s attics and basements to then manipulate or alter a costume piece or sew something from scratch to make each costume just right for the role and the time period. Dee explained, “We are responsible for every little thing each person needs from the top of their head to the bottom of their feet. That may mean a hat, eyeglasses, jewelry and, of course, the correct shoes in addition to the clothes they wear.”

But first she works with the Director on the production they will do and is involved in the audition process where a committee gives their input to the Director who ultimately decides who gets the roles in the play that may involve anywhere from twenty-five to fifty young people. Each cast member could require as many as five to ten costumes per show. Sometimes the shows are double-cast which allows the less seasoned actors to have a major role for the Thursday night show and also act as understudy for the more senior actors who perform on Friday and Saturday nights. Because these two actors may not be of the same height and build, two separate sets of costumes may be needed.
Once the cast is set, then the real work begins. Along with the help of another long-time volunteer who is the Art/Prop Mistress, each student is measured and their pictures taken. If the show takes place in a time period within the last 100 years, many of the current clothes in stock can be manipulated to fit. If the show is a “fanciful” show like last year’s “Shrek, The Musical” or this year’s “Monty Python’s Spamalot”, Dee takes as many modern pieces as possible and transforms them into period costumes. “For ‘Xanadu’ a few years ago, I used a bridesmaid dress and turned it into the costume of a Greek Goddess. Sometimes it isn’t the actual clothing but the logistics of a show that make it difficult. In “Drowsy Chaperone’, my leading lady had to appear to change into seven different outfits while singing and dancing, all in one musical number. There were many hours of thought and discussion with the Director and Choreographer about how she could accomplish this feat. I was able to finagle and maneuver each piece of clothing just right for her to get this done,” she said.

Donkey (Dakota) & Fiona (Grace)

Donkey and Fiona – Shrek the Musical

Sometimes Dee even sews a costume from scratch, often without a pattern but perhaps working from a picture. She cited one example where a small girl needed a “Madeleine” costume. Working off pictures of this famous literary character, Dee was able to create the collared dress, cape and hat.

Along with research on the right look for a period costume, she may need to learn about period accessories, how to distress a specific type of fabric to make a costume look old or dirty or how to clean and style a wig. Then there is the endless fitting, fixing and adjusting to make each costume look and stay correct. “I assist the actors with their hair and stage make-up, plus I try to look at the actors before they go on stage. Some of the changes the actors must do are so quick that another set of eyes to make sure a collar is down, a shirt is tucked in, a hat is on straight, etc., help to make the production go smoothly.”

The list of responsibilities and the work required for each production seems to be a mile long but Dee takes it all in stride when she says, “It does require a lot of creativity, thought, planning and work. But it always gets done somehow and the results are always spectacular! Our philosophy is that we don’t put on what people might think of as ‘high school’ productions. We do professional work that anyone would pay to see. We strive for excellence in everything we do, from the acting and dancing, to the sets, costumes, lighting and sound quality. Each of our young performers work extremely hard and put in hundreds of hours of their time to memorize their script, learn their blocking, sometimes learn a different accent, perfect their dance moves, etc. I applaud each one!”

Being Costume Mistress is clearly a labor of love for Dee but her efforts don’t stop with clothing and accessorizing the drama students. “I love these kids! I love working with them, seeing them grow from nervous Freshman to confident Seniors! We are family! I do try to be a positive adult role model for them. I try to encourage, teach, laugh and cry with them. I really enjoy seeing them grow and move on to whatever college or career choice they make,” she explained.

She mentioned that this family is looking for a new member as the Drama Department is seeking someone to build sets for future productions. The gentleman who has built spectacular sets for the group for many years is retiring from that position, providing an opportunity for someone else to become involved in the group.

Dee, who was a Theater major at the University of Hawaii, said that she has always loved the theater. She was also good in math at school, so when she needed a job when she moved to Lancaster, she landed a position in banking and has never left. Starting as a bank teller about 38 years ago, she has been with our VCNB family for nearly 18. Dee works as a Retail Banker in our office at W. Fair Ave. in Lancaster. “God puts you where He wants you. I’m a firm believer in that and I believe that I’m here for a reason,” she explained.

She credits her husband Steve for supporting her involvement with Drama all these years. He is also involved with LHS as Asst. Varsity Soccer coach as well as the official photographer for the drama productions. She said, “I’m very grateful to my husband for putting up with so much! A lot of things don’t get done at home when I am in the thick of a show. This time we had a stuffed cow on the dining room table for a few weeks and sequins tracked all over the house. The other day I apologized for all this and he said ‘I just love watching you do the things you love’. And I really appreciate him for that!”

The couple have three sons: Dan and John who both live in Austin, TX and Mike (along with his wife, Mayela) who is stationed with the Air Force in Tucson, AZ. Mike and Mayela are still involved in Community Theater there in AZ. Dee is also a member of Calvary Baptist Church in Lancaster as a Sunday School teacher and in the church choir.

“I really do love working with the kids! They’re a lot of fun and keep me younger!”

We thank Dee for being such a spectacular influence on young people at Lancaster High School and congratulate her for finding a passion that she so clearly loves. We believe the drama students at LHS are very lucky to have her. Great job Dee!

Small Business Spotlight: Sundowner Aviation

Being a small business owner is a tough job. That’s why we spotlight a different business each month to help you learn about unique businesses in your own back yard.

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Lonnie Watts and Pat Rooney pose with a plane at the Fairfield County Airport. They operate Sundowner Aviation, a flight school based at the airport.

If you have dreamed of following in the footsteps of America’s great aviators, there is a business in Lancaster that can help. Sundowner Aviation is a flight school based at the Fairfield County Airport that can make your dream of flying a reality.

For some, becoming a student here is a step toward a career in aviation. Others are crossing a dream off their bucket list or just doing it for fun. Regardless of the student’s intent, the instructors at Sundowner are happy to teach others to do something they personally love.

Lonnie Watts and Chief Pilot Pat Rooney recently talked aviation and gave VCNB a tour of their facilities. “The flying community is less than one percent of the population of the United States. You might say it’s an elite club because when you get your license it’s earned, not given and it’s for a lifetime,” Lonnie explained.  “Anyone who tries it usually can’t get enough.”

They will celebrate their fourth year in business this June, offering lessons, plane rental and even maintenance services. In 2013, they took over the management of the airport as well. Pat said the company was founded as a means to support a hobby. It wasn’t until the business had taken flight, so to speak, that they could see the 10,000 foot view: a flight school was a much needed service in the community.  “It’s costly to store a plane so we decided to start teaching to offset the costs. Then we found out that people really needed us and it got a lot bigger than we thought it would ever be,” Rooney recalled.

The flight school began in a 50×50 foot hangar that doubled as a classroom.  It truly got off the ground when they took over airport management. “We started with two airplanes and now we have six. We can give you almost any license you want and we offer maintenance. Not a lot of people do that,” Pat explained. “We’ve had people come from all over – from Kentucky, Ohio – we’ve had them from Tennessee, Texas and even a guy from China. There just aren’t a lot of flight schools around.”

Pat began flying with the United States Air Force in 1973. In the 43 years since, it seems that he has done and seen everything. He served the Air Force for 25 years, spending more than 17 years as an instructor. He served three years as a B-52G Aircraft Commander based in Barksdale AFB, Louisiana. After the Air Force, Pat flew the Boeing 737, 757 and 767 on international routes for a major airline.

His eyes sparkled when asked what it is like to fly. “It depends on what plane you’re flying. The super sonic? It’s great fun to have all that power and speed,” he laughed. “But take a beautiful, clear day and you can see forever. On a clear, cold winter night, cruising along at 30,000 feet, the stars are like diamonds.”

Describing the clouds as “cathedrals in the sky,” he concluded “there’s a lot of magic in it.”

Lonnie has been flying for twenty years and said it was a lifelong dream. “I’ve been obsessed with planes and flying since I was a little kid,” he said while explaining that a lot of their students also consider flying a lifelong dream. “I went up once and was head over heels for it forever.”

The school tends to have fifty to sixty students at a time. The average age, according to Pat, is late thirties to mid-forties but they currently have a student who is 15 and another who is 82. Before committing to flight school, individuals can take what they call a “Discovery Flight” which allows them to see what flying is like and to even take the controls.

Hours in the cockpit and in a simulator give students ample time to learn the skill. Plus they are required to understand the plane. “Knowledge is power,” Pat said. “You have to know the rules of the road, you have to know how instruments works, how planes fly. You need to know about aeronautics. You have to know things inside out. Remember, if something goes wrong when you’re driving a car, you just pull off the side of the road. If things go wrong up there,” motioning upward, “you have to know what to do.”

Visitors to the airport terminal will notice some interesting things. “When someone completes their solo, we cut off their shirt tale. They sign it and we hang them up around the room,” Pat explained. “Then when they earn their license, they visit the lemonade stand.”

The lemonade stand is a slightly damaged propeller, displayed on a wooden stand that features countless signatures from students who are invited to sign the propeller after receiving their license.

The Airport Pilots Association periodically hosts events for the public including movie nights and cookouts. Many events feature a Young Eagle component where kids 7-17 are introduced to aviation for free. “It’s good for the airport and it’s good for everyone to invite the community in and give them a chance to interact with the pilots and have a little fun,” Lonnie explained.

Discovery Flights are available year round and gift certificates can be purchased. For more information on Sundowner Aviation, the Fairfield County Airport, or upcoming events, find them online at www.sundowneraviation.com or call 740.475.8188.

See below for more pictures from our visit to Sundowner Aviation.