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Yoakum National Bank celebrates its 120th birthday Thursday

ALLISON MILES

By ALLISON MILES
July 7, 2010 at 2:07 a.m.

Yoakum National Bank Chairman of the Board Dave Marlow displays a book kept from the beginning of the bank. "Loans used to be called discounts back then,"  Marlow said. The bank celebrates its anniversary on Thursday.

YOAKUM - A storage room behind Yoakum National Bank houses a treasure trove of history: a tattered ledger, newspapers bound with twine, a worn wooden sign.

And, now, the bank celebrates that history. On Thursday, the institution marks its 120th anniversary with food, games and music.

Here's a look back at the bank's past and where it's headed.

In the beginning

The institution got its start as First National Bank in 1890, said Darlene Renken, president and CEO. The bank, which began with $50,000 in capital, first occupied a rented building on West May Street.

It took on the name Yoakum National Bank in 1907, according to the company website, and moved several times before finding its current home at 301 W. Grand St.

Today, it remains family-owned and operated.

Board Chair Dave Marlow is the family's fifth generation with the company. He joined the board about 24 years ago and was later elected by the shareholders.

It wasn't until recently that he came on as chair.

The family made it known early on that advancing in the company was based on merit, not lineage, Marlow said. When a former chair told his grandfather Marlow would make a fine director, Grandpa simply said, "We'll see."

It's nice to carry on the tradition, Marlow said.

"It feels good," he said, explaining that the role brings a sense of accomplishment and responsibility. "I hope when I end up where they are now, I don't get a stern talking-to."

Weathering the storms

The industry has seen ups and downs, but the bank remains strong, Marlow said. He attributed that survival to a few things.

The bank never made the sub-prime loans that got others into trouble during the downturn, he said, and some of the management team has been around for more than 40 years.

"There's a lot of experience in the bank," he said. "When you find a good employee, you don't want to let them go."

Being a community bank, the employees know the customers, he said. That helps the clients, especially when they go in for loans or the like, he said, but also protects the bank.

If a person's story just doesn't sound right, it can put up a red flag and urge the bank to check into it before making a commitment.

Outside benefits contribute, too.

Texas, as a whole, wasn't as affected as other states throughout the downturn, Renken said, explaining local property values didn't see extreme inflation.

The rising unemployment rate, although not as extreme as in other states, might bring some effects, just as the freeze on oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico might, she said, but the bank will move forward.

"In the last two years, we've done very well," Renken said.

The downturn wasn't the first obstacle Yoakum National Bank faced.

During the Great Depression in 1930, for instance, its officers were all employed at the bank, Marlow said. When looking for ways to save money, the board met to cut their own pay as part of the solution.

Marlow is trying to locate that story in the books of meeting minutes.

"I haven't come across it yet," he said, "but I'm looking."

Changing with the times

As time advances, business and technology follow. And the bank has seen its share of changes.

Everything was manual when Jeannette Knezek began her bookkeeping job in 1968.

When posting checks, they lined them up alphabetically, separated them and wrote them onto posting sheets, said Knezek, who now works as vice president and chief lending officer.

The bank used dual control, where bookkeepers checked numbers with one another to make sure they balanced, said Elorine Sitka, vice president and loan officer who started at the bank in 1969. If they didn't come up even, they had to find the mistake.

"I do not want to go back to that," she said, explaining computers allow quicker access to more detailed information. "I love this."

The company began Internet banking about four years ago, Renken said.

It also recently began a reward checking account, which offers clients higher interest rates. Customers save the bank money when they opt for e-statements and other electronic features, she said, and the interest rate is a sort of "thank-you."

Further change is coming but nobody knows exactly what that will be, said Glenn Renken, vice president and loan officer, who has been with the bank 28 years.

As technology changes, it's difficult to predict the future. Twenty years ago, if someone had told him about voice-activated computers, for instance, he said he probably wouldn't have believed them.

"What's next? Who knows?" he said. "But we don't want to get so advanced that we never have people coming in here."

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