The History of First Community Bank and Trust
The history of our company plays a significant role in determining our future direction because it shows the progress the company has made and the steps taken to get there. It mirrors, albeit on a much smaller scale, the decisions we still face today. By using that which we have learned from our predecessors, we can continue to make decisions that will propel us toward a long and profitable future. Let's take a look back at our beginnings to see just how far we've come.
The first directors' audit of the banks records was completed on April 19, 1918. All was found to be in order.
Back in 1916, a group of fourteen businessmen saw an opportunity to charter and invest in a new bank they called Farmers State Bank of Beecher. There were 26 original shareholders that purchased 250 shares of stock at $100 each. The total capital for the new company was $25,000. The proceeds from the stock sale were deposited in Fort Dearborn National Bank in Chicago. The bank opened for business on November 20, 1916. The minutes of the first Board of Directors’ meeting reflect that Mr. Fred Wehrmann was elected president, Mr. Thomas Clark and Mr. Herman E. Ehlers were elected vice-presidents and Mr. Henry B. Ruge was elected cashier. It appears that only Mr. Ruge was paid as his salary was set at $50.00 per month for the first year. At the end of the first year, the cashier’s salary was increased to $900 per year and the vice-presidents were added to the list of paid employees at the same rate. The president may have still been working for free!
At that same time, The First National Bank of Beecher was planning to file for voluntary liquidation and the officers and directors of the new Farmers State Bank of Beecher took the opportunity to buy a number of good loans from First National. At the second Board of Directors meeting held on December 6, 1916, 82 loans were purchased for a total of $24,972.50. The smallest of those loans was for $9.00! All of the loans were to individuals with the exception of one, and that company remains a customer today. Some of the loans to individuals were made to the grandparents and great-grandparents of current customers.
By the third meeting, the directors had established a correspondent bank account with The Continental and Commercial National Bank. By May 1917, the bank had begun investing in a variety of securities including the commercial paper of Omaha Packing Company, Plankinton Company, Swift & Company, and Libby, McNeill, & Libby. Most of these investments were for $3,750 each. The bank ended 1917 with $311,146 in total assets. After 15 months in operation, the bank had made its 1,000th loan and the directors had completed the first directors’ audit of the bank. Everything was said to be in good order. For the twelve months ending June 30, 1918, the bank had earned net income of $2,148.
Bank lobby at 759 Penfield St. with bullet-proof teller cages. Note the spittoon in the corner!
There are few early financial records of total assets, deposits, or net income, but by December 13, 1918, the directors were transferring $1,000 to the Capital Surplus account and the balance to Undivided Profits. Interest rates were pretty attractive as well, as can be seen in the advertisement we have duplicated on page 14. By the end of 1918, the bank had grown to $418,398 in total assets. At the December meeting, the cashier and vice-presidents were also bonded for the first time.
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By the end of 1919, the growth had continued, with total assets reaching $554,466. In early 1920, several “insider” loans (loans made to executive officers or directors) were considered. A special motion was made at the meeting to approve these transactions (this is still done today). The bank also made a real estate loan for the princely sum of $14,000! Earnings for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1921 were up to $6,660.
An early deposit ticket from Farmers State Bank of Beecher. Note the detail line for GOLD.
The first notation of any type of bank examination came on July 3, 1925. The process looks amazingly similar to that of today as can be seen in a copy of the bank’s response letter to the State Auditor in the minutes. By the end of 1925, Fred Wehrmann had passed away and Thomas Clark was elected to replace him.
In the mid ‘20s, the bank had become an agent of the Federal Government and was allowed to collect PO Box rental payments. The bank also became a collection agent for Illinois Bell Telephone Co. At the end of 1926, the bank reported $530,432 in total assets, but would not exceed $500,000 in total assets again until 1942 (long after the Great Depression). In late 1927, Thomas Clark passed away and Henry Wehmhoefer was elected president of the bank. By October 1928, the bank had made its 10,000th loan.
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In December 1930, the directors authorized the installation of bullet-proof fixtures at a cost of $2,300 from a company in St. Louis, MO. Times were tough in the early 1930s. The bank was forced to cut salaries, board fees, and cease payment of its regular dividend. A number of customers were struggling financially. While financial records during this time period are very scarce, in 1932 the bank lost money for the first time. The loss was $7,577 that year, and by early 1933, total assets had fallen to $227,702.
From May 11, 1933 until July 27, 1935, the bank was closed because of a government-mandated “Bank Holiday”. When the bank reopened, much time was spent working out loan problems caused by the Great Depression. At an examination in 1935, total past due loans over 60 days was reported as 54% of total loans outstanding! Total assets stood at $186,219 at the end of 1935. In November 1936, Dr. E.H. Kupke was elected president. By the end of 1937, assets had grown back to $229,651 and the bank had recorded net income of $1,575.
In 1938, for the first time, the bank took out a “blanket bond” insurance policy with Scharborough Insurance Co. Up until that time, any of the employees that had been bonded had done so on a personal basis. Interest rates had lowered substantially by 1938, as the bank was paying 3/4% interest on a deposit from the State of Illinois. After the reopening of the bank, the cashier served at a salary of $100 per month until late 1938 when he was granted an increase to $150 per month. For the first time, the total monthly expenses of the bank were reported in the minutes. Total expenses for February 1939 . . . $305.16! Total past due loans over 60 days had declined to only 2% of total loans outstanding.
On May 25, 1939, Garneta Ehlers (a future president of the bank and the daughter of then cashier H.E. Ehlers), was hired as an assistant in the bookkeeping department. She was to work two to three hours per day at a salary of $5.00 per week.
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On August 7, 1942, the Bank applied for deposit insurance under the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. The bank also began safekeeping its securities with the Northern Trust Co. in Chicago. Additionally, the bank was advised that all real estate loans should have an opinion of title, an appraisal, and fire and tornado insurance in the file. The lending function was beginning to get a bit more formal.
In January 1943, William J. Hinze was elected president of the bank. Shortly thereafter, Herman E. Ehlers passed away. Fearing that no one was left with the knowledge to run the bank properly after Mr. Ehlers’ death, the Board of Directors passed a resolution in April 1943 that was forwarded to the United States Navy requesting the release of Herman H. Ehlers from active duty. Herman H. had worked in the bank prior to his Navy service. The Navy did not release Herman and, at the June meeting, Garneta Ehlers was named assistant cashier. In 1944, the bank became an authorized agent for the purpose of cashing government bonds. In 1945, the bank surpassed $1,000,000 in total assets. On January 10, 1946, after Herman’s release from service, he was elected as cashier of the bank. By July 1946, the bank had made its 25,000th loan. In January 1947, Herman H. Ehlers prepared an operating budget for the bank projecting a total net operating profit of $5,000. His salary recommendations for the budget were taken from a study completed by the Illinois Bankers’ Association for a three-person bank in a town of less than 2,000 people.
A fire severely damaged the bank building on February 4, 1948. The records of the bank remained intact but the operations had to be moved to the Washington Township Community Building for several months. Damages totaled over $22,000. The bank was able to return to its building in late May. In 1948, the bank’s net income had exceeded $10,000 for the first time.
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From the mid-1940s on, the FDIC and State Auditors discussed with the bank on a number of occasions their desire for the bank to increase total capital and to engage outside auditors. The focus of these agencies has not changed much over the years. The board felt that the capital levels of the bank would increase over time from retained earnings, as they did not want to sell more shares at that time. The board did, though, get a quote for an annual audit from Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Co. in 1953 for the sum of $600.00. The board elected to continue to do the audit on their own.
In 1955, the bank became certified to collect Treasury Tax and Loan deposits for the Federal Government. The bank bought a ten-column electric Burroughs adding machine to replace the old posting machine in 1956. This was probably quite a piece of technology in its day!
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At the January 1961 meeting, Herman H. Ehlers was elected president. In mid-1962, the bank had completed an emergency preparedness plan, with special consideration to having alternate check clearing agreements in the case of a nuclear attack. By the end of 1963, the $5,000,000 in total asset mark had been eclipsed. In 1964, the bank purchased the land at 660 Penfield St. for a future bank site at a price of $10,900. In July 1966, the bank joined the Illinois Guaranteed Student Loan program and helped local college-bound students apply for and receive loans for college expenses. The bank also began a more formal internal audit program in 1967. By the end of the decade, the bank had exceeded $100,000 in net profits for the first time.
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The ribbon cutting ceremony for the new bank at 660 Penfield St. in 1976.
In 1972, the bank surpassed $10,000,000 in total assets. In July 1973, interest rate ceilings were lifted, which allowed banks to determine their own interest rates. The bank began offering a new 4-year certificate of deposit in January 1976 at a rate of 7.25%. This was the normal length for a time deposit in those days. In March of that year, interest began to be paid quarterly instead of semi-annually on savings accounts.
In February 1975, Bruce W. Bockelmann joined the bank as cashier. On August 18, 1975, Herman H. Ehlers passed away and, in January 1976, Garneta Ehlers was elected to replace her brother as president.
On May 20, 1976, the bank moved from its original location at 759 Penfield Street to its new state-of-the-art facility at 660 Penfield Street. The transportation of 532 safe deposit boxes down Penfield Street made for quite a sight! For the first time, drive-up service was available in Beecher. A new NCR proof machine was leased and installed in the new building, and shortly thereafter, two new Burroughs L-9000 accounting machines were purchased. These machines were capable of tracking balances and calculating interest on accounts automatically. In late 1980, the bank was preparing to offer NOW checking and CLUB checking accounts. In order to do so, though, a new computer system would need to be installed. Hence, a new Burroughs B-800 system was purchased.
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The grand opening of the first ATM in Beecher in 1989.
In the beginning of 1982, the Board of Directors approved the hiring of Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Co. to conduct an audit of the bank. At the end of 1982, Garneta Ehlers decided to retire and sell her interest in the bank. A group of local investors led by Bruce W. Bockelmann formed a new bank holding company, Beecher Bancorp, Inc., which bought out the majority of the existing shareholders of Farmers State Bank of Beecher. A new board was elected and, in January 1983, Bruce W. Bockelmann became president of Farmers State Bank of Beecher. By February 1983, more new products were being introduced, including Super NOW accounts, IRAs, and Money Market accounts. In 1984, the bank surpassed $25,000,000 in total assets. In 1985, Greg M. Ohlendorf joined the bank as a loan officer.
During January 1987, the bank opened up the area’s first automated teller machine (ATM) at 660 Penfield Street. Customers were given a demonstration of the machine and had a chance to win real money during a test transaction.
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In 1992, the bank joined the Cash Station ATM Network, which allowed customers to use their cards all over the Chicagoland area to get cash, transfer funds, and make deposits. In late 1995, the bank launched a home equity line of credit product for the first time, which allowed customers to access the equity in their home using a convenient line of credit. The bank’s card further evolved in 1996 when it took on a new look as a Debit MasterCard. Once again, this was another first in the area. Now customers could use their cards at millions of merchant locations around the world.
The new Peotone Financial Center, located at 650 Wilmington Rd.
In early 1996, a new branch opened in Peotone to serve that growing market. To reflect its new, multi-community stature and to reinforce its local roots, the bank’s name was changed to First Community Bank and Trust. New land trust services became available as well. In 1996, the bank surpassed $50,000,000 in total assets.
The beginning of full-featured electronic account access began in 1997, as TeleBanc was introduced to bank customers. Now, from anywhere there was a phone, customers could inquire on their balances, make transfers, see if a check had cleared, or make loan payments with just the touch of a button.
At the beginning of 1998, the bank introduced full-service investment services to its customers. People could now get quality investment advice locally with access to a wide variety of products and services. Customer statements improved in 1998 with the introduction of check imaging. Those stuffed shoe boxes with old cancelled checks had been replaced by easy-to-read and store image statements. Later that same year, commercial customers gained real-time access to their information 24 hours a day through ExecuBanc. This robust corporate cash management solution allowed businesses to manage their cash position throughout the day, originate ACH payroll, transfer funds, and make loan payments and advances right from their home or office computer.
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In 2000, the bank’s consumer customers entered the on-line world with the launch of First eBanc, an Internet-based real-time banking service. Customers could inquire into their accounts, make transfers and loan payments, and see check images on-line 24 hours a day. In the summer of 2000, the bank began offering a wide variety of long-term mortgages to the marketplace. That same year the bank surpassed $75,000,000 in total assets and had made $1,000,000 in net profit for the first time. At the end of 2001, Bruce W. Bockelmann retired and was replaced by Greg M. Ohlendorf as president.
In 2002, ExecuBanc became First eBiz, also a real-time, Internet-based solution for our commercial customers. Later that year, all customers were offered electronic, on-line statements through either First eBanc or First eBiz. No more waiting for the mail to arrive, and storage became even easier. In 2003, the bank surpassed $100,000,000 in total assets. In the middle of 2004, the bank introduced an innovative deposit program called CDARs. This program allowed CD customers access at very high levels of FDIC insurance without having to chase from bank to bank or retitle CD accounts.
In 2005, First ePay was launched. This bill payment service, powered by CheckFree, allowed customers to pay virtually anyone with a click of their mouse. First eMortgage was also introduced making the process of applying for a mortgage on-line quick and painless. Legacy 401(k) services and full trust services were also made available to the bank’s customers through a partnership with the Independent Bankers’ Bank.
With the increased power and ever changing enhancements to smart phone technology, phones such as the Apple iPhone made it only a matter of time before mobile devices started becoming banking devices. In 2007 we introduced First eMobile and our customers could now easliy stay connected to their accounts anywhere.
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In 2011, First eMobile was upgraded to allow users to pay bills using your smart phone, marrying two of our services, First eMobile and First ePay. Customers now can pay bills online using First ePay from their computer when they are home or at work and from their smart phone wherever they may be. We also rolled out a new online deposit account opening service for our current customers. Need to open a CD, savings account or checking account? Simply log into First eBanc and launch the online account opening forms. It's that simple.
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