Darlene Merckle To Retire After Fifty Year Banking Career

When Darlene Merckle came to work for the Bremen Bank, she was a student at Fairfield Union High School who landed a part time job at the bank. On June 15, she will celebrate her well-earned retirement after a fifty year career with the bank.

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The kindness and professionalism of Darlene Merckle will be missed after her retirement from the bank this week.

Darlene’s name isn’t one that most customers know. However, scores of loan customers over the years have benefited from her expertise, hard work and dedicated approach to her job. That’s because she is an Indirect Loan Processor. That means she’s part of a select team of employees who are responsible for processing the loans that customers receive after applying at the dealership where they buy their automobile, RV, boat, motorcycle or other type of vehicle. While the loan documents can be signed at the dealership, there remains much work on the back end to insure that the loan is processed properly and the dealership paid.

But Darlene hasn’t always worked behind the scenes making dreams come true for customers.

She actually started at the bank at a time when employees had to be trained to do a lot of different jobs. “Back then, you did everything. Teller work, bookkeeping, you name it. We had to be able to do it all,” she said.

In those days, bookkeeping was a manual affair where posted checks were checked against hand written ledgers. She recalls the bank using lots of large machines such as a proof machine which was used to process checks at banks prior to the advent of computers.

Since then, she has moved around some within the bank and has seen more changes in the banking industry than she can count.

At the Bremen Bank on Main Street in Bremen, she recalls several remodeling projects, town floods, the addition of new branches and the many shifting responsibilities of staff. She even recalls a time when a stray cat had a litter of kittens in the crawl space underneath the bank. “Lots of good memories,” she said with a chuckle and a twinkle in her eye.

While Darlene started as a teller, she also worked in new accounts for a period before finding her niche in loan processing. At that time, a customer’s loan documents were kept all together in large paper files. As the bank grew, it became necessary to begin breaking out files by loan type and to change the filing system. Later, computers made it easy to scan and file documents, altogether eliminating the need for paper records.

She also recalls the many regulation changes that impact how a customer applies for a loan and the kind of information needed from the customer. “There was a time when there were no disclosures given, no application. There was just a note you signed promising to pay it back,” she said. “And I remember when we first started having customers fill out an application. It was a hard thing for some of our customers because they had never had to apply.”

Today, buyers can apply for a VCNB loan from the dealership. It’s a quick process that provides the customer with a convenient way to borrow money from VCNB when and where they need it and without making a trip to the bank.

Once the borrower is approved and they sign the documents at the dealership, Indirect Loan Processors like Darlene take over. They build the loan into the bank’s system and pay the dealership from their office in Lancaster.  “I like doing the behind the scenes work and I’ve always been fascinated by numbers,” she said. “It’s been a good fit.”

With just a few days left on the job, Darlene says she is looking forward to retirement. “It’s time to retire. Sometimes you just know. There’s not a reason I want to go now but I don’t want to wait too long either. I don’t want to wait until it isn’t fun anymore,” she explained. “Fifty years is enough time.”

The Fairfield County native looks forward to spending time with family including her two grown children and her five grandchildren as well as Mark, her husband of 45 years. “I’ll miss the people. Yes, I will miss my coworkers. A lot of them are like family,” she said wistfully.

And Darlene’s coworkers will miss her too.

Vice President of Indirect Lending Trisha Kyer is visibly saddened when speaking of Darlene’s upcoming retirement. The two have worked together for 25 years, forming a bond that extends beyond work. “She’s a good person and once you’re friends with her, she’s there for you for life,” Trisha said. “I think she knows everyone in the bank and they all lover her. I know this is best for Darlene but we’ll miss her.”

The bank will celebrate Darlene’s fifty year career with a reception at our West Fair branch in Lancaster on Friday, June 15 from noon to 3 p.m. The public is invited to stop by for cake and to wish Darlene well as she starts a new chapter in her life’s book.

“Who would’ve thought that little seventeen year old girl would still be here all these years later?” Darlene asked. “It’s hard to believe!”

Small Business Spotlight: Donut World

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!

50755929_534720143701097_998579857665294336_nwhite donutsBill Miller doesn’t know what he would be doing if not for making donuts. That’s because he’s been in the donut business since his very first high school job at Jolly Pirate Donuts in Lancaster. For the last thirty years, he and his wife Cheryl have owned Donut World, a Lancaster landmark known for the best donuts in town.

A graduate of Berne-Union High School, Bill started working at Jolly Pirate doing clean-up work. “I started out with the most entry level job you could do there and worked up to night shift manager,” he said.

Bill and Cheryl opened their first shop in Logan in 1989 where they operated successfully until moving to Lancaster in 1993. Located at the corner of N. Broad Street and Sixth Street, the shop is just a few blocks off of Memorial Drive.

The delicious aroma of donuts permeates the neighborhood as one car after another lines up to order. Many are regulars who need only to pull up and wait for their favorite treat to be boxed and passed out the window. Others take their time selecting just the right donut.

People from the neighborhood walk in to pick up breakfast. A youngster with a clean report from the dentist next door comes in with a coupon to claim his rewards for taking care of his teeth. His dad requests a cherry turnover and the pair leave happy.

And this goes on all morning long.

The staff is friendly and cheerful, always glad to help the next person at the window. Some are family while others have been with the shop for many years. They even still have the first employee they hired in Logan in 1989. Bill and Cheryl’s daughter Heather works at the shop now but was just a little girl when she named it Donut World from the back seat of the family car. Together, they all seem to share the bonds that come from working in close quarters for a long time.

Group.jpgTheir variety of donuts is exceptional and includes over 50 kinds, including some seasonal favorites like pumpkin and cherry. “We tend to focus on the most popular and on the things people love the very best,” Bill said as he began naming customer favorites like chocolate iced vanilla, devil’s food, chocolate bismarks, apple fritters and cinnamon rolls. Still the runaway favorite here is good old fashioned glazed donuts. “People never get tired of our glazed donuts,” he said.

They do take requests and he said they are always open to new things if they think there’s a market.

The shop has a large following, not just in Fairfield County but across the region and beyond. “We have customers come up from Logan and Vinton County, from Columbus, Buckeye Lake –really from all over the area,” he said before going on to talk about those who come from much further away.

“We have a lot of customers who stop by when they come to visit family in town. They’ll come in from out-of-state, go see the family and then come straight here. We have people who say they wish we were wherever they live.”

Bill gives credit to many other people for his own successes. He speaks fondly of a friend in the donut business who encouraged him to open his own shop and then helped him get started. He smiles at the memory of an old friend, now deceased, who drew up the Donut Man character when Donut World was still just a dream in a young man’s mind. Donut Man still presides over the shop, looking down from the sign out front.

Bill credits his family for their hard work too. Cheryl does their books. His daughter, sons, grandsons, sister-in-law and mother either work in the shop now or have helped out over the years.

Most of all, he’s grateful to his parents and to his uncle who taught him work ethic, self-sufficiency and saving money.  “They taught me to be smart about saving, about growing food and preserving it, about building houses and taking care of things. I owe a lot to my mom and dad. I had the greatest parents you would ever want to have,” he said. “They taught me to be careful with money, to be reasonable and to always be fair.”

Then there are the people he’s met because of his line of work. “I’ve learned a lot from a lot of different people. When I worked nights at Jolly Pirate I would talk to older customers and to the night shift cops.  You can learn so much just from talking to people,” he pointed out.

Life, he said, hasn’t always been easy. “Especially in the beginning, in the early days in Logan, I worked eighteen to twenty hours a day for the first few years.”  Now he has a good staff in place and the time to enjoy some of his hobbies and pursuits. He especially enjoys big game hunting and trips on his motorcycle.

A lot of people don’t know Bill by name but they do know his business. “I see people everywhere I go and they just call me the ‘donut man’ and I think that’s pretty great. Everything I have is because of donuts so I’m always happy to stop and talk to my customers.”

51188981_382350412577202_6012871888466870272_nDonut World is one of the top ranked donut shops in Ohio and was the Best Bakery in Fairfield County in 2016 and 2017, according to the readers of the Lancaster Eagle Gazette.  They have a five star rating on Yelp and have a large following on Facebook too.

In addition to selling donuts by the single or by the dozen, they provide larger orders to local churches, schools and organizations. They also do close to fifty weddings per year, enjoying an ever growing trend to serve donuts in lieu of a wedding cake.

Donut World is located at 601 N. Broad St., in Lancaster.  Stop by or call them at 740.653.4888 to place your special order.  You can also follow them on Facebook.  Donut World is open 24-hours a day, closing only for Christmas morning. They recently began accepting plastic in addition to cash.

Kathy Cooper Retires This Week

kathy cooperWhen Kathy Cooper talks about her years as a banker, it’s clear that this has been a career and a passion rather than just a job. She will retire January 31, closing a 35 year chapter of her life’s book. But she insists this is just the end of a chapter and that she still has a lot of life and maybe even some new pursuits ahead of her.

Kathy has been with Friendly Bremen Banking Center since 2001 but had a varied and interesting career with other banks prior to that. In fact, she began her banking career in 1983 when she started as a part time teller at Equitable Federal Savings and Loan in Lancaster. Six months later she moved into middle management and hasn’t looked back since.

Kathy grew up in Lancaster on what she calls “Main Street USA.” Her father owned retail businesses in downtown Lancaster which she said was a quintessential small town. She wanted to be an educator but, after some time in the education program at Ohio University, decided this was not the career for her and took that first position as a part time teller.

Customers in Bremen often think of Kathy as the face of the bank as they often see her out and about in the community and because she is a veteran Bremen banker who has helped many of them realize their life’s dreams as their lender.

She has worn many hats in the world of banking and says that she has seen and done almost everything. From a bank run in the early eighties to changes in banking culture to holding a stock broker’s license for one of her prior employers, she said that every job and each person she worked with over the years taught her something. “I’ve been fortunate to have great individuals, maybe you would call them mentors, who took the time to ask questions and give feedback and to help form me,” she said. “I’ve met many interesting individuals who have helped me in some way and I’m grateful for that.”

When it comes to banking in general and lending in particular, Kathy has some strong opinions about what it takes to be successful in a hometown atmosphere. “You have to be approachable and be able to talk to people on their level so they feel comfortable using you as a resource. You have to be knowledgeable about all products and be able to help them with the big picture. You have to ask a lot of questions and be able to identify what’s best for the customer and any weaknesses that might become problems,” she said.  “Availability is key too. Customers know where I live. They have my cell phone. They know I’m tied to the community and that I’m here for them always – evenings, Sunday mornings – when they need me. And most of all, you have to treat people in an honest manner. That’s extremely important.”

Once she retires, Kathy said she has plans for projects around the house and yard. She also looks forward to a little light travel and some volunteering with Habitat for Humanity and the Fairfield Heritage Society. More than anything, she looks forward to spending time with family including daughter Sarah, son Zachary and her four grandkids. In fact, her eyes light up when she talks about Marin, Joseph, Isabelle and Camden, her grandchildren who she says are involved with a host of activities.

While time off work sounds appealing, she doesn’t expect retirement to last forever. “I’m just taking off my Peter Pan cape for a while. You never know what I’ll do next but I can tell you this. I’m like a bad penny. I just keep rolling back,” she laughed.

“It’s been great! It’s been a fun ride but now it’s time to turn the page,” she said.

Santa Visits Set

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Here at VCNB we’re pretty good friends with Santa Claus which is why he’s kind enough to visit some of our branches every December. We know it’s his busy season so we really hope you’ll take advantage of his visits by coming to see him!

Boys and girls of all ages are welcome to visit, share their holiday wishes and have their picture taken. Just remember to bring your own camera or phone for pictures!

Here are the dates and locations!

Friday, December 7 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Canal Banking Center

Friday, December 14 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Friendly Bremen Banking Center in Bremen

Thursday, December 20 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Friendly Bremen Banking Center in Pataskala

Friday, December 21 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Friendly Bremen Banking Center Lancaster East Main

Small Business Spotlight: Bay Food Market

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!  

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If you’ve ever driven the roads of Fairfield County or the streets of Lancaster, you’ve no doubt seen one of the red Bay Food Market vans traveling about. It’s a brilliant yet simple piece of marketing, and the vans have become nearly as iconic as the little market on the corner of Maple and Walnut Streets in downtown Lancaster.

Since 1932, Bay Food Market has been serving up quality meats with great service in a locally owned and operated neighborhood grocery. As Lancaster’s oldest independent grocery, the Fairfield County staple has become an icon in Lancaster and around Ohio.

Bay Food Market was recently selected by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted to be featured for “Women-Owned Business” month, showcasing a handful of women-owned businesses around Ohio.  The grocery is owned by siblings Karen Kraft Crutcher and David Kraft, who received a special commendation presented by Secretary of State’s Regional Liaison Bob Kalish.

Specials - Ham Steaks & RibeyesThe few who don’t already know about the market are now finding out why local patrons and long-time regular out-of-town visitors make the market a regular visit.  Known for their wide variety of fresh cut steaks and chops, house made brats and fresh sausage, and ham steaks, bacon, pork belly, and a variety of sausages smoked in-house, they are also well known for their variety of high quality and creative beef patties, some made with a variety of cheeses and even bacon.

And while the patties fly out the doors, beef brisket has become a top seller, something that wasn’t always the case, says co-owner David Kraft.  “It wasn’t until people started smoking (brisket) in maybe the mid-2000’s that it was anything special.  We actually used to grind it up.  But those meat smokers changed the game,” he explained.  On a visit to Texas, David said he kept seeing brisket on the menu and offered as a cut in local markets.  Once he saw what was happening and the popularity it was gaining, they revamped their strategy for this particular cut in their own market and stopped grinding it.  It’s become one of the most popular sellers, showing that a business as old as Bay Food Market is never too old to adapt and evolve.

Custom party trays and grill boxes are a hit with customers and it’s not uncommon to find something new and creative being offered behind the counter.  A recent visit saw Apple Brats on the price board, a secret concoction that David said exemplifies the inventiveness of their business.  “We’ll try to make anything – whether it’s by request, or just an idea that pops into our heads!”

And Bay Food Market is not just a meat market – you can find everything you need for your pantry, kitchen, cookout, or even your pet.  Fresh ham salad and beef barbeque are a regular offering.  Fresh produce, baking goods, sauces, spices and seasonings line the shelves, and local favorite Conn’s Potato Chips and Snacks are prominently offered.  Sweet treats like Pumpkin Rolls from Margaret’s Heritage Kitchen in Bremen can be found, as well as massive jars of pickles perfect for your cookout and dog treats and dog bones for your furry friend.

 

However, the meat is what drives business and it all comes from their state inspected meat processing facility – the only fully inspected red meat facility in Fairfield County. This means that an inspector from the Ohio Department of Agriculture is in their facility any time meat is being processed. The inspector is looking for quality and safe food handling practices.  The majority of their meat is not prepackaged or frozen, and their practice of only purchasing from farmers that do not use growth hormones and that limit their antibiotic use to an as needed basis assures that no additives or preservatives are added.

For a fantastic deal on filets or ribeye, smoked ham steak or New York strips, Bay Food Market is where you’ll find it.  The grocery is located at 301 South Maple Street in Lancaster, and can be contacted at 740.653.9606.  For hours, payment options, specials, and answers to frequently asked questions, visit them online at https://www.bayfoodmarket.com/ and find them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/BayFoodMarket.  Pay attention to their frequent contests, as you may be the next Fan of the Week!