Shareholders had a better reason for going to Caroline Savings Bank's annual meeting than voting on independent auditors: pulled pork barbecue.

The final item on the Virginia thrift's annual-meeting notice - about "such other business as may properly come before the meeting" - fails to mention eating. But every year, the shareholders who show up for the annual meeting of the $37 million-asset thrift in rural Bowling Green are treated to a gargantuan barbecue. About 100 people descend on the local high school to partake of the company's prognostications and pulled pork.

Reports of the spread reached American Banker from J.T. Baxter, a Richmond bank consultant who attended the meeting. He told of a feast complete with chicken, cole slaw, potato salad, and Virginia pork barbecue served up by the Ladies Auxiliary of the Ladysmith Volunteer Fire Department.

"And the desserts," he said. "They have pies, cakes, cookies, the works."

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While Edward G. Harshfield has made a name for himself as the chief executive of big, troubled California thrifts, his greatest success has been in the field of community banking.

Mr. Harshfield is still basking in the glow of a 130% return to investors in U.S. Thrift Opportunity Partners, a partnership he formed in 1988 with Merrill Lynch to invest in troubled small thrifts. Mr. Harshfield, currently chief executive of California Federal Bank, was general partner and manager of the partnership, known as Ustop.

Ustop sold its two thrifts - Palisade Savings Bank of Ridgefield Park, N.J., and State Homes Savings Bank of Bowling Green, Ohio - late last year and recently made a final distribution to shareholders of $879,000. Mr. Harshfield recapitalized the thrifts during the worst of the thrift crisis, brought in new management and waited until the time was ripe to sell.

"We believed that irrespective of (the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989), there were thrifts that deserved to survive," he said. "Other funds were doing this sort of thing, but none that I know of that had this degree of success."

Where does Mr. Harshfield - whose storied 20-year career has brought him in and out of the banking industry, including a two-year stint running a community bank in Washington - think the next big turnaround investment is?

"We ask ourselves that question here every day," he said. "I have to say I don't know. I think they are going to be very selective, not industrywide or geographically related."

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