Donald M. Karp loves his city.

Born and educated in Newark, N.J., Don is chairman and chief executive officer of $650 million-asset Broad National Bank, established in Newark in 1925 and now the city's largest independent bank.

Adorning his office walls is a priceless collection of pictures, memorabilia, and text material on Newark.

"I've been in Newark at its best and its worst, and now I am here as our city is really recovering," Don says.

Newark has come a long way since Mayor Kenneth Gibson warned in the bleak 1970s that wherever the downward path was leading American cities, Newark would get there first.

The progress since then is in large part due to Broad National and its leadership.

The bank has made major contributions to numerous organizations that work to improve Newark and the lives of its residents, such as the new Performing Arts Center, the Portuguese-American Scholarship Fund, the Board of Education program to keep students in school, and the Rutgers program to promote the viability of urban life.

Naturally the bank also supports basic programs like United Way, and employees and board members serve on the boards of many major nonprofit organizations.

Why? "Because we are here," Don says. "We are part of the community."

Don pays close attention to the suggestion boxes prominently displayed in each branch. He insists that they be emptied weekly and the contents forwarded to him, whether complimentary or not for the individual office.

The bank gets compliments for its friendly people, for serving coffee and doughnuts regularly, and for making banking a pleasant experience.

Adverse comments range from complaints over lousy pens, lines, busy phones, service charges, and 3 p.m. deadlines on deposits for next-day credit to more serious issues such as calls for more branches, more ATMs, and complaints about printing the amount on deposit on the back of non-U.S. checks cashed for customers.

Don answers them all, from the comment "You guys serve us well. I would not change nothing" to the request that the bank change the music it plays in several branches to rock and roll.

So what does the bank get out of all of its support of Newark?

Don says the city and its people rely on Broad more and more now that its far larger competitors have been sold to out-of-state superregionals. Whether this brings the bank profitable new business Don isn't so sure.

"We aren't getting the lion's share of public deposits," he says. "And even if we were I would worry, as they can be pulled out so quickly."

Do community banks such as Broad get enough in return for their heavy contributions to their communities? Though some benefits are clear, Don acknowledges that he is not sure.

I wonder if you readers have some insight on this. Let us know. Tell us why you do what you do for your community, and maybe brag a little about the unusual things your bank does to support its territory.

We will publish as many answers as we can and, of course, the best response will make its writer president for a day of the most famous community bank of all, our Schmidlap National, with a certificate suitable for framing to prove it.

Don't let Don Karp be the only person with interesting memorabilia on the wall.

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