By Josh Baldwin
In 1888, a group of 26 shareholders decided to begin a small community bank along the banks of the Greenbrier River. Beginning operations at 218 Frankford Road, The Bank of Ronceverte opened for business. Now, 125 years later, the bank has multiple locations and has become a leader among the valley’s community banks.
“As a community bank, we absolutely believe that we should be giving back to the community,” says CEO and President Matt Burns, who took over in 2010. “In fact, we actively seek ways to support a variety of community events and non-profit organizations.”
That dedication to community stretches all the way back to that sunny July day in 1888 when the bank first opened its doors in Ronceverte. The institution got off to a bit of a rocky start when inaugural president A.F. Mathews resigned after only three months, but John W. Harris seized the reins and guided the bank through its infancy.
After the purchase of the lot on Edgar Avenue, the bank built a two-story, brick structure to the tune of $2,075. In 1900, the bank received its national charter and moved to its current location in Ronceverte at One Cedar Street. Under a new moniker, First National Bank, the bank waded through the turbulence of the Great Depression, during which it was reorganized, becoming FDIC insured. It came out the other end of the depression relatively strong, and in the 1970s underwent a number of physical changes to prepare itself for the 21st century.
In recent years the bank expanded its community outreach by establishing offices in Lewisburg, Covington, VA, Hot Springs, VA, White Sulphur Springs, and most recently the downtown Lewisburg location, which began as a temporary office and opened its full service office in 2009.
First National Bank has provided quality financial services to the communities and is proud to support over 500 community organizations and events that range from PGA badge giveaways to partnering with local chambers, schools, little leagues, non profits, future farmers, and food banks, as well as offering programs on financial literacy, how to do your banking, having good credit, and understanding social security updates to many, many others.
According to Burns, “As a community bank, the earnings we make go right back in to the community to make loans, help businesses and support organizations, all of which make our communities stronger.”
Building upon its long tradition of growing communities, the bank takes special pride in its support of local initiatives and non-profits. Its employees especially take pride in their volunteerism, for which the company provides 8 hours of paid time off annually.
“That’s something a lot of companies can’t do,” notes Burns. “We feel like it’s a benefit to the employees, the organization and the company.”
When the United Way rolls out their annual campaigns, First National Bank spends two full months hosting employee activities to raise monies specifically for the cause.
“When an institution like First National Bank fully invests in one of our campaigns, the benefits are immeasurable,” notes Cindy Lavender-Bowe, Executive Director of The United Way of Greenbrier Valley. From just a volunteer perspective it brings in hundreds of hours and keeps United Way of Greenbrier Valley strong so it can keep serving our communities.”
A few years ago, when Hospice of Greenbrier Valley wanted to reinvent their annual one-mile Fun Walk, the bank took an active role in planning the event itself, aside from being a sponsor and providing volunteers for the walk.
“I think that kind of focus is what helped First National Bank withstand the test of time,” says Burns. Moving forward, the bank says it remains dedicated to the community that gave it her beginnings.
“Like most things, banking is not the same as it was 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago. We, too, are changing and evolving, and we continue to keep our focus on how we can best serve our towns and communities. I think that focus is what has made First National Bank withstand the test of time for 125 years.”
To celebrate the 125-year milestone, First National Bank will be doing a variety of special activities within the communities this year. Some of the events to expect include an essay contest with six community high schools; a coloring contest for 16 elementary schools; a special customer selection to be a “Banker for a Day”; sponsorship of the new program, Entrepreneur Café, which promotes business growth; PGA ticket giveaway during customer appreciation week with anniversary cake served; and partnership with Greenbrier Valley Theatre for their WV Symphony concert which celebrates West Virginia’s 150th anniversary.