Friday, October 28, 2016

Salem's oldest bank closes for good

Gone are the days of house calls by bank tellers and lock boxes fastened with bobby pins.
And it won’t be long until Salem’s longest serving financial institution is relegated to a paragraph or two in the county history book.

Today, Oct. 28, Regions Bank will shut its vault and close its doors for the last time. On its final lap, two longtime employees – Pat Hall and Dorothy Fox – were able to spend an afternoon reminiscing with customers, old friends and family. The two are the last in a long line of ladies and gentlemen who served Livingston County as tellers, clerks and loan officers. Hall started at the bank at age 17. She planned on staying only for a summer after graduating high school.

“It’s bittersweet,” she said Friday during a reception for her and Fox.

The branch’s only other employee, Steve Watson, is transferring within the company.
Hall has worked at the bank for 51 years. Fox was there over 23 years.

Together, they’ve seen just about everything. Hall remembers when all loans were due on the first day of the month. The record keeping was done on index cards. Interest was calculated with a pencil.

“People ask me how I can figure interest so quickly,” said Hall. “Well, I had to do it on every one of those notes.”

Fox remembers bowling in the building where the bank is today. It was a movie theater before that.

“My husband, J.W., remembers being in the theater, but I never went. He told me the first picture he saw here, it was a western, but I can’t remember the name.”

Salem Bank was founded in 1902 with less cash than it would take to buy a used car today. The original bank was across Main Street in Salem were there’s a beauty shop now. Dr. John Valentine was the first president.

“He delivered me,” said Jackie Myrick, who’s in her 80s and worked at the bank for 35 years until 1997.

Myrick and her sisters, Jane Slayden and Doris Ann Henry, were among more than 50 who stopped by the bank last week for its going away party. They all three worked there at one time or another. And so did others, like Marble Champion, who stopped in, too.

“I do hate to see it close,” said Champion. “People don’t know yet how much they are going to miss this thing.”

The bank evolved and changed names over the years, but many of the faces behind the counters remained the same season after season. They knew how to serve their customers, Hall said. She recalls that H.G. “Homer” Maddux and his son, T.L. “Louis” Maddux Sr., were the backbone of the bank during its formidable years.

“Louis was a gentleman banker. He was a country banker and everyone loved him,” said Hall.
“I can still see him holding that cigarette in his hand like this and see all those ashes on his desk,” she recalled.

Fox remembered a practical joke she and Hall played on Neal Ramage, who was among the last managers before the independent bank sold out to a larger company.

“He drove a Corvette and left the keys in it. Pat and I decided we were going to play a joke on him so we hid it around the block. He wasn’t too happy about that. I was young then and probably wouldn’t do something like that now that I am older and wiser,” she said.

Times sure have changed since Hall started at the bank. Back then the phone company kept cashier’s checks and took the liberty of signing off for all its customers’ bills each month. When the phone company needed more checks, Hall would take them a stack.

“And we had a set of shelves in the back room. People would bring in tackle boxes. That was their lock boxes. But the thing is, most of them weren’t locked. One was kept closed with a bobby pin,” she said with a laugh.

The tellers helped folks balance and reconcile their checkbooks at the window. One elderly woman who couldn’t read or write would bring her mail to the counter so Hall could read to her what was in the mail.

“The lobby would be full of long lines back then, but I’d take the time to read her mail to her,” Hall said.

The women remembered the ice storm of 2009 and how they never missed a beat.

“They were in here without heat working in gloves. They were troopers,” said Sherry Miller, the bank’s regional manager.

Peoples First National Bank bought out the independent Salem Bank in 1989. In 1998, Union Planters became the owner. Regions bought the bank in 2001, but didn’t change the name until 2007.