by Anna Ferraro
On October 16, 1916, 10 local businessmen formed Jacksonville Savings & Loan, with a goal to promote savings and home ownership in the community. Interestingly, none of those 10 men were affiliated with any commercial banks in the area at the time. In 1916, their assets were $4,000. Today, 100 years later, the bank’s assets total over $312,000,000.
What is the story of this bank that has stood the test of time, surviving depressions and recessions, and emerging as a leading financial organization in the community?
Richard Foss, the bank’s current president, said, “You can advertise all you want, but if you can’t deliver, the public will figure that out.” Apparently, Jacksonville Savings figured out how to deliver well. Over the past 100 years, as many other banks have come and gone, they have remained – an integral part of the Jacksonville economy – perpetually giving, building and growing.
“We grew consistently, but conservatively,” said Andy Applebee, the current chairman of the bank, speaking of the early decades of the bank’s existence. And looking back, Applebee has the inside scoop – his grandfather and great-grandfather were two of the 10 original founders. His father, formerly an attorney, returned from military service during the war to later become the president and CEO of Jacksonville Savings.
Applebee himself followed a similar path. Debating between law school and the Marines, he chose the Marines for three years. Then, after completing his master’s degree at Northwestern University and becoming a CPA, he returned to reestablish his life in Jacksonville, turning down career options in larger cities. Looking back, he described that choice as the “absolutely right decision … this was my hometown.” In 1976, Applebee joined the ranks of staff at Jacksonville Savings.
Considering the history of the bank, Applebee summarized the highlights of their growth after their early years. He shared, “The Great Depression didn’t hit in Jacksonville until a couple years after 1929. But right through the depression, Jacksonville Savings & Loan paid the dividend on its shares to its depositors.” Coming through hard times with growth and strength proved to be a characteristic of the organization through the years.
In 1933, Jacksonville Savings held its first annual meeting to report on the results for the organization. All of its members, borrowers and savers were invited, and over 75 percent attended. Attendees of the meeting were rewarded for their participation by being served an oyster stew dinner. Within a few years, the annual event outgrew the largest banquet halls in Jacksonville at the time.
In 1936, Jacksonville Savings occupied the Farrell State Bank Building at #1 West Jacksonville Public Square. Then came World War II. During the war years, there was less emphasis on home lending and more on promoting savings and war bonds. But after the war, when the young men returned home, there was an explosion of people wanting to own their homes. With that, Jacksonville Savings & Loan began to take off.
By 1959, they had outgrown their location on the square and they relocated to 211 West State Street. With long-term plans for that location, they designed the building with modern features, leading Applebee’s father to state, “We’ll never outgrow this building,” and Applebee concluded that the staff at the time was truly “thinking it would last for the next 50 years.”
Then came the recession of the 1970s. During that decade, the savings and loan industry nationwide went through a major crisis. In the midst of that crisis, two other savings and loans in the community did not survive. Jacksonville Savings & Loan did. Applebee commented, “That was one of our strongest growth periods – the community knew we were strong.”
Their strength and commitment became even more visible in the community as the 1970s came to a close. In 1979, the state auctioned off a 53-acre tract of land. During this period of time, there was a lot of concern about rising interest rates. Nevertheless, Jacksonville Savings placed the winning bid on the ground in hopes of being able to build a subdivision there.
Applebee says, “We decided to jump in and take all 150 lots,” an act which comprised “the largest single development since the original founding of the city.” Overnight, 53 acres became a part of the city – today forming the attractive, family-friendly subdivision of Grant’s Meadow. In Applebee’s words, “It was a good thing for the Savings & Loan, and it was good for the community.”
The growth continued. In 1986, Jacksonville Savings expanded out of Jacksonville, purchasing a banking office in Virden, Illinois. In 1989, they opened up their Jacksonville branch bank location on South Main – increasing its teller and lobby services for their Jacksonville customers. Within the community, they continued building, investing and contributing. They built buildings, duplexes and homes, and then … before the predicted 50 years were up, they had outgrown their State Street location.
During the 1980s as the economy of Jacksonville developed and spread onto West Morton, Applebee shared, “We needed to be where our customers were.” Around this time, the state was auctioning off another piece of ground – 17 acres known then as the “red farm.” Applebee says he remembers standing on the courthouse steps next to Richard Foss while the auction took place.
Applebee had hired Foss in 1986, calling it, “the best hiring I ever did.” Today, Foss is the current bank president, and shared, “the thing that I’ve always enjoyed about working here and working with Andy is that he is a thinker.” Laughingly, he remarked, “Andy gives me some off the wall ideas … but we have a good relationship. We’ve worked together well in putting together a staff that has helped this organization grow.”
As the two friends stood on the courthouse steps bidding for their organization that day, Applebee commented, “It was hot bidding” – and no wonder – they were up against John Deere. As the auction progressed, the bidding reached $250,000 and the representatives from John Deere backed down. It was official. Jacksonville Savings had outbid John Deere at an auction, and with the erection of their new building on West Morton, they had made another significant contribution to the community.
In 1992, Jacksonville Savings took on a new identity – changing from being a state-chartered savings and loan association to a state-chartered savings bank. And thus, the organization changed from being a “savings & loan” to the organization it is recognized as today – Jacksonville Savings Bank.
On December 5, 1994, Jacksonville Savings Bank opened their newly constructed 17,000 square foot building at 1211 West Morton, which now serves as the bank’s headquarters for the area.
Their growth continued through the 1990s and the following decade, acquiring Litchfield Community Savings in Litchfield, Illinois, in 1997, and merging with Chapin State Bank in 2010, a merge that Applebee described as “synergistic.”
Applebee reflects, “The industry is continuing to change and evolve. There’s a lot of consolidation taking place. It’s being forced on us by the regulatory burden that the banking industry is under. As such, it’s very difficult for us to make the kinds of loans that we used to do easily … I used to say that in Jacksonville we’re kind of an island … we had good businesses, Fortune 500 companies, good agriculture … we were buffered a little bit by what was happening nationally. Today, those [institutions] are all impacted by the national changes.”
So, in the midst of confronting challenges and adjusting to change, to what do they contribute their continued success over the years? Once again, Foss and Applebee concurred – “We have a great staff. The success that we’ve had over the years and the growth we’ve experienced is directly attributable to the quality caliber and dedication of the staff.” Jacksonville Savings Bank maintains many of their employees for decades – 25, 30 and even 40 years.
Today, Jacksonville Savings Bank is the largest bank in the area, offering a presence and services in multiple communities. Foss sums it up well, saying, “This bank is nothing but upside potential. Good people in place. Good locations, the right products and services. We’re always trying to improve, and we’re strategically positioned to continue to grow.”
Foss reflects, “As this organization has grown, the community has benefitted from that, and we have benefitted from the community.” Applebee concluded, “The banking industry is important to any local economy – it’s the lifeblood.”