Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Bethany Helwig
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

First National Bank celebrates 100 years


October 17, 2019

Provided Photo

The former First National Bank building once stood where the present day building is now.

Over the past year, First National Bank of Moose Lake has been celebrating its 100 year anniversary with contributions to the community. Staff helped put together new picnic tables for the city park, revamp the pavilion, stain the playground equipment, and host a lunch for the community outside the main office.

The official date of their establishment was October 20, 1919, as the Security State Bank of Moose Lake. It wasn't until 1926 that the bank changed from a State Charter to a National Charter and was rechristened as the First National Bank of Moose Lake. Today, they are the last financial institution that still has a charter in Carlton County.

"We're kind of proud of that, because we want to be locally owned," said Rick Bothwell, Vice President of Lending. "That's part of our mission statement."

"Keeping the bank here and locally owned is our first goal, our biggest goal," said President Larry Peterson.

Peterson went on to credit the Blacklock and Lower families for playing a big role in keeping the bank local.

"It started with the Blacklock family," he explained. "When they could have sold their share (in the bank) for a lot more money, they made it exceedingly clear that the only thing that was important to them was to see that the bank was locally owned. They made an arrangement with the other shareholders at the time and that's when we setup our ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan), and they gave us great terms that made it possible to buy their ownership in the bank."

Despite having another offer on the table to sell their stock, the Blacklocks committed to keeping the stock within local hands. The other shareholders, including the Lowers, agreed to continue to sell the stock at a reduced price to keep the bank locally owned.

President Peterson expressed his gratitude for the efforts made by those early families. "We were given an opportunity by the Blacklocks and Lowers that is just unheard of. So we call it the 'Blacklock and Lower legacy' or 'the gift.'"

Ask any of the staff or board members of the bank, and they will happily explain why they believe having a locally owned and operated bank helps the community more than one owned by a large company.

"All the decisions are made right here," said Peterson. "Out of necessity, when institutions get larger and larger, they have to start centralizing all decisions so you're getting an answer to your question a hundred miles away, five days later. I think we're far more invested in the community."

Bothwell added, "For me when I think about it, if we all were in a big bank in the Metro, we'd make more money and things like that, but our staff really doesn't get the greatest reward from those things. We care about our customers. We're relationship oriented, not transactions and commissions. I don't know how many times I've gone into Larry's office with tears over a customer's troubles. We really do care about our people."

"We work with our customers, in bad times as well as the good times," said Peterson. "For one thing, it's the right moral thing to do. Secondly, we have a finite number of customers. It's not like you can kick customers out during the bad times and expect them to come back during the good times. Nor is that the right thing to do. I think that's got us a really good reputation over the years."

While their main branch is located on Elm Avenue, they opened a branch on Hartman Drive near the Dollar General in 2000, "which was motivated really by running out of space," said Peterson. "But also we thought it was a really good geographic location.

"We just grew and grew and grew. I'm sure they never envisioned in 1983 (when the current main building was constructed) that they could possibly ever need more space. But the town did well and the bank did very well."

Apart from the branch in Moose Lake, the bank doesn't have plans to expand outside of this area, but they still like to keep an eye on the future.

"We will be doing something with space needs and improving our image at the other location," said Peterson. "Technology, of course, is never ending. We spend a small fortune on technology now. For a small bank like us we can't be on the leading edge of technology because it's too expensive, but we also can't be on the bleeding edge where we lose customers because we can't afford technology. We're always looking at a 3-year technology plan.

Board Member Jerome Bennett was pleased with where they currently stand. "I think we do a good job on the technology side. We're maybe a little above average when it comes to community banks and technology. We're progressive, I'll say."

For the foreseeable future, First National Bank of Moose Lake plans to continue supporting the local community that has made it the institution it is today.


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