OKOLONA — On September 15, the Bank of Okolona will commemorate its 75th anniversary by offering catfish dinners to the community. And, the proceeds will be donated to the United Way.
It’s an appropriate gesture. According to John A. Herrod Jr., president and COO of the Bank of Okolona, a focus on community has been the key to the financial institution’s longevity, and it will continue to be the linchpin in its future plans.
“I think the key to our success has been a commitment to the community and continuity,” Herrod said. “The basics of community banking really haven’t changed. It’s all about knowing your customers and offering personalized service.”
The Bank of Okolona opened in February 1931. As of April 16, 1931, the bank held assets of approximately $101,430. C.A. Lagrone was the bank’s first president.
Lagrone would continue as president until 1935, when he was replaced by James E. McCain Sr., who was originally elected cashier. A native of Mathiston, McCain Sr. would lead the bank for the next three decades until his death in 1961.
McCain Sr. was succeeded by his son, James E. McCain Jr. Mirroring his father, McCain Jr. would occupy the president’s chair for more than 30 years until his sudden death in 1997.
With that, John A. Herrod Sr. was elected president.
Unfortunately, his tenure would be the shortest. Ill health caused him to step down last December, and he passed away in January. Herrod Jr. was promptly elected to replace him.
Herrod Jr. is a local product. He grew up in Okolona, and graduated from Okolona High School before going on to Itawamba Community College and Mississippi State University (MSU), where he earned a degree in accounting. From 1988-1993, Herrod Jr. worked as an internal auditor at MSU, and subsequently hired on with an accounting firm before coming to the Bank of Okolona.
The presidency is not the only example of continuity at the bank. As example, A. Tonquin Stovall is a current board member and stakeholder, and he is the grandson of the bank’s first chairman of the board. There are currently 12 board members/stockholders who are descendents of the original directors/stakeholders. And, Herrod listed employees who had been with the bank for years, even decades.
While the Bank of Okolona has long been and remains a symbol of consistency, there has been and continues to be change and growth. Since its opening, the Bank of Okolona has seen three different renovations, in 1971, 1991 and 2000, including remodeling of the upstairs space. This space is as important historically as the bank, as other businesses have set up shop in the facility over the years. For instance, Robert Henson, a director of the bank, can remember having surgery at his doctor’s office located then on the second floor. The space has also held a legal practice.
Today, the Bank of Okolona employs 19 workers. It counts approximately 1,600 loan and deposit customers, and total assets are $604 million.
“Our customers tell us they like the fact they can see the same loan officer each time they come into the bank, or that the tellers are going to remember them as a person and not just an account number. Most of the employees of this bank were raised in Okolona and the surrounding communities. Those of us who were not are married to locals and still seem like old neighbors and friends.
“We hope to continue to serve our town to the best of our ability, and not forget that the customers are the reason we are here.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at email@example.com.