Deloris Sims started her banking career as a part-time teller for Firstar Bank in central Milwaukee, where she had lived since the age of five. Over 28 years, she rose up the ranks to become a vice president and a business banker, developing five Firstar banks in the city. All the while she watched as her own neighborhood, a low-income minority community, steadily deteriorated.

In 1999, she teamed up with two other minority women, Margaret Henningsen and Shirley Lanier, to found Legacy Bank. Their goal was to give the area's poor residents a stake in their neighborhood by financing small businesses and home purchases. The three women raised $6.9 million, bought the former Firstar building where Sims had worked for most of her career, and got to work with Sims as President and CEO.

Among projects Sims has been proud to see the bank support: the 2003 opening of a Ponderosa Steakhouse on King Drive in a lot that stood vacant for decades. The owner, Stella Love, is the only African-American woman in the United States to own a Ponderosa franchise.

Legacy also financed Milwaukee Health Services, which is owned by and serves minorities. The bank's support allowed the MHS to move to a location where they could serve more low-income residents.

In the bank's beginnings, Sims said, "Raising capital was the biggest challenge. None of us were wealthy."

To get started, the team bought a preferred trust for $5 million and won awards from the U.S. Treasury Department.

Nine years later, Legacy has assets of about $221 million. Year-over-year average deposit growth is 21 percent. In 2007, assets grew by 15 percent and the loan portfolio grew by 11 percent.

This year's efforts to raise capital, given the crises in the real estate and subprime markets, have been "very, very, very slow," Sims says. "With the banking industry the way it is, nobody wants to buy stocks in banks." And yet, based on Legacy's success in developing central Milwaukee, charitable foundations are picking up the baton and running with it. (c) 2008 U.S. Banker and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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