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Visting a real community bank that's lending in Texas

“Banker on Wheels” American odyssey begins in historic Fort Stockton, Texas 

Visting a real community bank that's lending in Texas
After he hung up his president hat, bank chairman Larry Marik and his wife, Mary Ann, decided to sell their home, buy a Winnebago, and see more  of America. They will now also be blogging about what they see about banking for Banking Exchange. In the couple’s first report, Larry narrates their visit to Fort Stockton, Texas, and Pecos County State Bank. You can read more about the Mariks in the first blog in this series, “Chairman of the Open Road.”  See the link at the end of the story.

The first stop for “Banker on Wheels” was Fort Stockton, Texas, which, among other ag products, is know for green chili peppers.

Fort Stockton, located in West Texas on I-10, in Pecos County, is approximately 240 miles east of El Paso. The economy here is based on ranching, gas, and oil. Sheep and goats used to be a big part of the ranching industry but have given way to cattle. There is some farming….cotton,  green chili peppers, and pecans. Wind farming is beginning to have a major impact, but over the past several years, the gas and oil industries have influenced the local economy the most.

Fort Stockton is a most friendly community. Everyone liked to visit…from the docents at the museums to “K.C.” at the Hilltop RV Park to the golfers sitting around the tables at the municipal golf course.

Our bank visit: Pecos County State Bank
In search of a community bank, we saw a Pecos County State Bank billboard declaring, “All the bank you’ll ever need.”  

That sounded like a community bank to us so we went exploring. We walked into a lobby that was very much alive….people everywhere. The personal bankers and tellers were all busy with customers. We could see into the president’s office, and he was with someone as well.

We asked at the information desk if there was someone who could tell us about the bank. We were directed to Kenda Furman, assistant vice-president. A bit reluctant at first—she thought these two senior adults on bicycles were selling something—Kenda opened up when she learned what we were looking for.

Founded by five ranchers in 1928, the bank has prospered for over 80 years. It has grown to total assets of $140 million, with three locations and over 50 employees

When asked the question, “Do you consider yourself a community bank?” without hesitation Kenda  said, “ Absolutely.” “Why?” we asked.

“We know our customers by name,” Kenda answered. “No one who walks into this bank is a stranger. We know who they are, what they do, and what they need. We make an effort to visit with each and every one.” 

And from our observation, that was happening. One thing that sets community banks apart from Wall Street banks is dedication to community. Kenda told us about Pecos County State Bank’s community involvement … from 4-H, to Rotary, to providing school supplies .

The bank even purchased and refurbished a 1920s Montgomery Ward mail-order house to preserve a piece of the community’s heritage. As a matter of fact, Kenda was deep into planning the Big Bend Open Road Race (one of the country’s biggest closed road races) when we arrived. She told us that the race’s economic impact on the community is huge. (How would you like to be driving a sleek red sports car for 120 miles and not have to worry about the county mounties?) .

Pecos County State Bank is truly a community bank.
At Pecos County State Bank, they’re lending
When Robert Weyerts, the executive vice-president had time to join us, I mentioned the national media’s assertion that banks are not making loans.

Robert looked at us and said, “We are.”

When asked about the housing market, he said that the bank is pretty conservative, but a house that’s priced  right will sell.

We asked Robert his thoughts about the Dodd-Frank Bill and the potential new regulations.

“We just got done with examiners,” he said, “and it went fine.” Larry asked, “Are there people available to be hired to help with the regulatory burden?” and Robert responded, “That will be difficult. In order to weather the regulations storm, we need to grow, or there’s a risk we won’t be here. I don’t know what the magic number is.”

Robert Weyerts and Kenda Furman were among the Pecos County State Bank employees who visited with Larry and Mary Ann Marik as the “Banker on Wheels” team made their first stop.

A bank on folks’ lips
I many times wonder what it would be like to have someone come into my own bank’s community and ask, “Where do you bank and why?” There is a risk when you just randomly pick people whether you are getting a true story or just a story.

After finishing nine holes of golf at the municipal course, we joined three local characters enjoying a soft drink on the porch.

After some small talk, the obvious question came up: “Where are you folks from; What are you doing”? It gave us the perfect opportunity to ask those very important questions: “Where do you bank and why?” 

After 30 seconds of silence, the answers came forth: “Pecos County; Pecos County; Pecos County.” 

Three for three—not a bad average.

These local folks didn’t know who we were or why we were asking the question. For the next several minutes, we talked openly about Pecos County State Bank and why it was a good bank for the community. Their responses were as favorable as K.C.’s, the host at the RV park.

“They take care of business, and they’ve been around for a long time,” said K.C.
Thinking things over
In summary, is Pecos County Stat Bank a community bank? In my opinion, yes.

When I served as chairman of the Nebraska Bankers’ Association, I spoke many times about the value of banks to their communities. Strong banks make strong communities, and strong communities have strong banks. When thinking back on Robert’s concern about the necessity to grow or the possibility of ceasing to exist, I many times have told U.S. Senators and others in Washington that the  loss of community banks would be devastating to our national economy.

Although we didn’t have time to see all the banks in Fort Stockton, we can say without a doubt that Pecos County State Bank is a bank that continues to help its community grow.

Among the many local projects that Pecos Country State Bank takes on is the refurbishment of this area home, which began as a 1920s Montgomery Ward mail-order house. Thousands of U.S. homes started with blueprints and materials sold by companies like Montgomery Ward and Sears.

Larry Marik inspects the officer’s quarters at historic Fort Stockton. Portions of the old fort have been refurbished, complementing a museum devoted to the site.

Keep your eyes open for Larry and Mary Ann Marik and their huge Winnebago Journey. If they come to your bank, you just might wind up as their next blog.
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