‘Key is Service’
Farmers State Bank, Yale, held its annual free breakfast Saturday featuring Dad’s Belgium Waffles.
Bank officers, directors, employees and family members were on hand to serve the large turnout and spread goodwill, a small example why this independent-owned bank in a town of 250 has survived nearly 100 years.
It’s survived a fire, robbery and the Great Depression along with government regulations and a transition to electronic banking.
President and CEO Doug Hemphill is very firm in his belief of why the bank still exists at its original location on the north end of Main Street.
At a time when many towns this size have only a branch bank, Hemphill said the key is service.
“We’ve treated the people well and tried to serve the community and area well ... small banks know how to serve customers,” Hemphill said.
He offers as proof a meeting he attended in Des Moines when 20 bankers met with the head of the Consumers Finance Protection Board on the then mortgage crisis. The official asked each banker how many times they’d foreclosed on a property. All the small bankers answered “none,” said Hemphill. The big banks were the ones that foreclosed.
“We work with customers,” he says with a passion. “We don’t want your house back or your car, tractor or anything else. We’re going to do what we can to help you keep it. We work with people and that’s what keeps us going,” the soft-spoken and personable Hemphill said.
Farmers State opened for business on March 21, 1921 and a Hemphill has always been a part of the bank.
Doug’s great-grandfather, C.R. Hemphill, was on the original board of directors. Grandfather Jay W. Hemphill began working at the bank in 1924. His son, Jay C. Hemphill,then took over the reins. Doug began full-time in 1975 and became the CEO in 1990.
What motivates him to come to work each day? “It’s nice to see our customers and know we can help people,” he said.
The customer base far exceeds Yale.
“As as a rule, we serve customers in the Panorama school district and a 30-mile radius,” Hemphill said.
They actively seek them, for example running billboard advertising in Panora, which has two banks, the sign being across the street from one of them.
He points out the bank has national and international customers, people who’ve moved away but remain connected by using electronic banking.
“It’s just like they live here,” he noted.
Hemphill sees both the bank and himself as a community leader, supporting community projects and organizations. “Often when somebody needs something, they come to the bank first for support.”
He points to the bank’s role in the rejuvenation of Main Street back in the 1990s when vacant and crumbling main street brick buildings were deliberately burned away by the city, to be replaced by a small strip mall.
“Growing Trust. Building Community” are the words above the entrance to the bank, the oldest in Guthrie County.
Fire destroyed the original structure in 1928. The current building cost $15,000 to build and was remodeled in 1967 and updated in 2009.
Farmers State was the only county bank to reopen after the 1933 government ordered closings of banks during the Great Depression. Reopening, 50 percent of all deposits were made available for withdrawal with the remainder held in trust for up to three years.
The Guthrie County Vedette reported on the first day of being back in business, deposits exceeded withdrawals by over $500, a sign the public “had not lost confidence in the stability of the bank.”
A bit of bank history took place October 21, 1931 when Doug’s grandpa, Jay W. Hemphill, and another employee arrived for work, encountered two robbers inside the building who locked them in the vault.
Meanwhile, Yale mayor Fred Brechbiel, who ran a garage east of the bank, noticed a strange car in town and towed it to the garage, locking it inside.
Without transportation, the thieves ended up stealing a parked car of bank cashier Guy Heater in a nearby driveway. They made away with $4,585,82, but were later caught and tried.
Asked to name the major changes during his tenure, Hemphill says technology is the big one as computers took over. Assets were about $5 million and the bank had eight employees, he recalled in the early 1970s.
Now it has assets of some $50 million and only six employees.
Another change is government regulations, deeming them “horrendous.” He said small banks are subject to the same regulations as Bank of America. “That always doesn’t fit.” He maintains the government would like for a lot of small banks to go away, not realizing these banks survive because they know how to serve people.
Is Doug Hemphill the end of the Hemphills? “I don’t think so, he said, “but who knows what is going to happen.” His son Derek is chairman of the board, but works in a non-banking industry.
Son-in-law Scott Stanley is employed at Farmers State.
He does receive occasional inquiries from those interested in purchasing the bank.
Yale is surrounded by rich farm ground and noted for prominent farm families. Did this play a part in the naming of the bank 97 years ago? Hemphill doesn’t know what sparked the name, but offers this speculation.
At one time there was a Yale Savings Bank that didn’t reopen after the moratorium on banks in 1933 during the Great Depression. Perhaps the founders of the Farmers State didn’t want a second bank there with Yale in the name, said Hemphill.
Considering independent banks somewhat the heartbeat of communities, Doug Hemphill is optimistic about the future.
They key is they always continue to serve.