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.
She 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.