Maybe they don't have the bucks to do high-profile good deeds, but small banks in rural Minnesota have found unique ways to help their communities.

Jasper State Bank took a lead from the hit sitcom "Northern Exposure" and raised money to lure three doctors and a physician's assistant to practice in the county.

The project earned it a "silver" award for community development from the Minnesota Bankers Association.

"It's tough to get doctors to practice in rural areas," said Jasper State vice president and co-owner Keith Eitreim, who served on the search committee. "In a community our size, if a bank doesn't do it, it's not going to get done."

Meanwhile, State Bank of Lucan bought more than 20 street signs and posts for the 275-person town.

"We've never had street signs," said Ray Thull, president and chief executive of the bank.

And Minnesota Valley Bank of Redwood Falls donated $40,000 to pay the salary of a third-grade teacher whose position had been eliminated in budget cuts.

* * *

Tossing out bank president Wilfred J. Cross' business card would be like throwing money away.

Printed on the back is a coupon worth $5 for every new account opened at his Illinois institution, the First National Bank of Oblong.

"It's not a big value, but people remember it," said Mr. Cross, who has redeemed a number of business cards at the bank.

That's not the only gimmick Mr. Cross uses to keep First National fresh in the memory bank. During food fairs at the local grocery store where vendors give away pizza and doughnuts and other goodies, First National doles out nickels in paper catsup cups.

"You always get a lot of comments that it is the first time I ever had a banker give me anything" for free, he said.

* * *

Talk about a man who loves his work.

Burt Richardson, a vice president in new accounts at Central National Bank in Enid, Okla., turns 100 next month. He is the oldest full-time banker in the country.

"He gets ill every once in a while and we think, now maybe he'll retire," said Sheila M. Morris, public relations officer at Central. "But he keeps coming back."

When he hits the century mark on May 2, Mr. Richardson will enter an elite club. Only one centenarian that we know of, Arthur G. Gaston, the 102-year-old chairman and founder of Citizens Federal Savings Bank in Birmingham, Ala., still has a formal position at a financial institution.

Mr. Richardson was unavailable for an interview because he was at home recovering from a kidney infection. His wife, Louise, said he's marshalling his strength for his birthday.

"He's doing just fine," she said. "He's asleep at the moment."

The last time he was away from work was in March, when he was recovering from a fall. But he was back on the job March 23.

A native of Texas, Mr. Richardson moved to Oklahoma in 1952. He retired as manager of an F.W. Woolworth store in Enid in 1961, and has worked at the bank ever since.

The bank is throwing a birthday party for him, and May 2 will be declared Burt Richardson Day in Enid.

Compiled by Barbara F. Bronstien, Bill Atkinson, and Terrence O'Hara

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.