As most people are probably aware of by now, Kiowa County National Bank has officially changed its name to GN Bank, a change that is being made by the entirety of Kansas based Girard National Bank. Girard National is the parent bank of Kiowa County National Bank and, including GN-BANK in Eads, serves 14 wonderful communities in locations throughout Kansas and Southeastern Colorado.
Multiple branch banks, some of which have been operating under names tied to their location, has resulted in the need to standardize, simply to avoid confusion, if nothing else. Consequently, the name change is strictly that: a name change.
“Everything will continue on just like always,” states local bank President Sean Lening. “Our routing number hasn’t changed, so people can still use their checks. When they order new checks, those will just come in with the new name.”
Local banks are typically a major cornerstone of business in rural counties, and Kiowa County is certainly no exception. While local residents are very familiar with (formerly) KCNB, Lening thought customers might want to know a little bit about the history of parent bank Girard National.
On February 25, 1918, a group of local farmers and miners started a bank in downtown Girard, a town in Crawford County in Southeast Kansas. The bank operated under the name “The Farmer’s and Miner’s State Bank”. In 1923, roughly five years after it opened, a man named Earl Schifferdecker, who had just graduated from Pittsburgh Business College, began working at the bank as a bookkeeper. Earl, who saw tough times on the horizon, asked for permission from the bank president to go through the application process to become a national bank, which would gain the small bank access to the Federal Reserve System.
The year 1929 is one that will always be remembered for the financial catastrophe that hit the United States, literally from one coast to another, and it was as hard on Crawford County as anywhere. However, Earl Shifferdecker’s wisdom paid off “in spades”, as the saying goes. Two of the four banks in Girard failed; of the two that remained, Girard National Bank was one.
The bank survived not only that year, but the entirety of the Great Depression. Granted, times were difficult and profit was minimal. In 1936, the bank’s profit for the year was $600. But the bottom line was that the bank survived when many, many didn’t, which might be part of the reason that Earl Schiffendecker took over as president in the late 1930s.
Earl was known as a man who had “faith in people and…a very genuine and unique character”. Far from one to flaunt the status of bank president, it was not uncommon for him to come to work in a soiled shirt and boots covered in cow manure. Some of the older residents who had business dealings with Earl recall him as someone who was willing to take a chance on people and give them a start when other bankers wouldn’t. One man, in specific, recalled a time when his car was about to be repossessed by another bank where he had the loan. Earl heard about the situation and loaned the man the balance of the loan out of his own pocket. In 1960, Earl started a Christmas tradition of providing a meal and games for people in the lobby of the bank and, perhaps, a jug of wine in the basement. The tradition continues today with an even larger meal served to roughly 1600 people each Christmas Eve. Years after his passing in 1974, Earl Schiffendecker continues to be remembered as a beacon of generosity and community spirit.
After he passed, Earl’s son, Martin, took over in his father’s place. Although his “style” differed from his father’s, Martin demonstrated the same generosity and faith in people, even going so far as to make personal loans to customers when they could find help nowhere else. This generational good will toward people is part of the reason that Girard National Bank has the strongly loyal customer base that continues to exist today.
Under Martin’s leadership, the bank continued to grow and prosper in the decades that followed. In the 1980s, Martin began to expand the bank in new towns, starting with Yates, Kansas. That was followed by People’s Savings and Loan in Girard; Bucklin & Offerle in Kansas; Clay Center, also in Kansas; Holton, Horton, Hiawatha and Horton, also in Kansas; GNB Mortgage Company; in 2006, Eads and Lamar in Colorado; a second location in Hiawatha, and, in 2015, acquisitions in Pittsburgh, Arma and Galena.
In 1995, Martin’s son, Mark, joined the bank, bringing with him more than a decade of experience in finance. In 2003, Mark took over as bank president and CEO and, with additional experience on a variety of financial boards such as the Bankers’ Bank of Kansas and others, has become a leader known for his diligence and integrity.
Despite being a century old, Girard National Bank’s reputation of devotion to community continues to this day, as is evidenced by the commitment and support that the GN Bank in Kiowa County has shown to local projects. Donations to the CLCEC, Prairie Pines, the Kiowa County Hospital District and numerous purchases of 4H animals at auction over the years is just a small sampling of their community giving.
Sean Lening puts it in more personal terms. “Girard National started off as a small town bank and it still operates as that, today,” he says. “Personally, I really appreciate the values they have. They tell employees that family and God are the most important priorities. Work comes after that. And that’s really how they operate. They are the type of people who truly mean what they say, and, these days, that means a lot.”
This month, Girard National and its branch banks decided to come together under one name—GNBank—and one motto: “The Best Place to Bank and Borrow”. If the past is any indication, GNBank means it when they say that, as well.