Without a hint of pride or pretension, Terry L. Foster uses the word “even-keeled” to describe himself.
His coworkers and customers at historic MCS Bank in rural, central Pennsylvania, and his wife and five kids, would probably agree.
With so much activity swirling around him, from lacrosse, basketball and football games to local fundraisers and leadership meetings, Foster’s trademark stability and constancy are bankable virtues.
With a quiet, steady humility, Foster has led MCS Bank in Mifflin, Huntingdon and Snyder Counties, in the shadow of State College’s Happy Valley, since 2009. In that year, Kenneth P. Fisher retired after 36 years with the venerable bank, which at one time operated as Mifflin County Savings and Loan. Foster, as senior vice president, moved into Fisher’s sizeable shoes in July of 2009. It was a natural progression for a bright, faithful, numbers-oriented worker who advanced through the ranks propelled by hard work and that characteristic even temperament.
Foster remains the incarnation of the population’s core values, which is influenced, to some extent by the Amish and Mennonite communities that are prevalent in the area. Hard work, simplicity and Main Street fellowship, amidst rolling green cornfields and picturesque horse and cow pastures, are staples of the Mifflin County culture.
He just celebrated 19 years at MCS. “Like many bankers, I didn’t have a mission to go into banking,” Foster said.
Foster was the younger of two boys. Born in Baltimore, his parents hailed from Pennsylvania, where they returned to raise their sons. His mother worked for an eye doctor, his dad, in the farm equipment manufacturing industry.
They settled in Belleville, Mifflin County.
“It was an idyllic community to grow up in. Everyone knew one another,” Foster recalled.
One of the community banks there, at the time, was Mifflin County Savings and Loan, which had a branch in Belleville.
Foster kept a small savings account there. It was where he brought his hard-earned dollars and cents from his paper route and lawn-mowing jobs.
“Needless-to-say, I didn’t envision at the time that I would later go to work for the bank where I deposited my summertime earning as a youth.”
A graduate of Indian Valley High School, he studied business and earned an accounting degree from the Penn State University.
After graduation, he went to work for IBM in New York. His brief foray into the bustling Big Apple made him realize what he missed about Pennsylvania—small town values, neighborhood closeness, quaint brick buildings, clapboard houses, winding streets, mom-and-pop storefronts, and a community spirit bigger than Beaver Stadium.
It was about this time that he met his wife Dawn. They both wanted kids, she wanted three, he was thinking of two. Jokingly, he said, “They compromised and settled on five.”
Foster returned to his hometown roots and joined MCS Bank as an accountant in 1996.
Today, his office is filled with photographs of the outdoors and his cherished family. The oldest, Hannah, is 15; Rylan is 14; Maya is 13; Erin is 9; Griffin is 6. They are all involved in sports and school activities.
In his spare time, Foster is a hiker, cyclist and hunter. “Anything outdoors is good for me,” he said.
As a child, he and his brother were devoted hunters. After a fifteen-year hiatus, deer season has returned as an annual bonding time for the brothers and their dad.
“I spend so much time in the woods with wildlife; I just love it.”
His love for Lewistown is evident as well, though, tragically, the Lewistown area, home of the state’s only Fire Academy, has seen better days. Once the hub of commerce for the entire Commonwealth during the heyday of railroads and the Pennsylvania Canal, Hurricane Agnes in June of 1972 devastated the town and all but drowned out the local economy when the Juniata River overflowed its low-lying banks with a vengeance. The rebuilding process has been slow but solid, and has cemented the can-do spirit of the survivors.
“Neighbors helping neighbors” is a bank slogan. Founded in 1923, when Louis Armstrong, Albert Einstein and Yankee Stadium were re-inventing society, the bank has recently participated in such beloved traditions as Relay for Life, Day of Caring, and Walk for Warmth. Foster himself is a member of Mount Nittany United Methodist Church, the Chamber of Commerce and the local Rotary Club.
In addition to MCS’s main office and separate loan center, the bank has four additional branches.
“We feel a part of our uniqueness is in that we are a mutual, the only mutual in the majority of our market. We tout our mutuality. We are not a stock institution,” Foster said, allowing MCS to operate in the middle ground between credit unions and commercial banks.
One of MCS Bank’s quirky claims to fame is its bank branch situated in a hardware store. The “hardware” branch opened in 2013, after a regional bank closed its doors and the community was left bank-less.
A grass roots effort brought MCS to Allensville, and ultimately to Allensville True Value on Main Street. Customers joke that you can buy a hammer and a certificate of deposit all in the same place.
Co-locating was a custom-made solution. With the Amish buggy as the main mode of transportation for many in that community, a distant bank, which demanded a long buggy ride, would never suffice.
When the hardware branch was first contemplated, we worried: Was there enough loan business in addition to deposit business? We knew that the Amish traditionally borrow from their own family and from within their close-knit community. But it is working, in true Mifflin County style.
With a do-it-yourself attitude reflective of the hardware store-bank, Foster’s goals for PACB as its new Chairman include deeper member involvement, more educational offerings, and the cultivation of more vendor relationships.
“In the coming year, I look forward to visiting with members on their home turf to learn about their communities, their banks’ histories and what makes their community banks unique.” he said. “I also plan to share what PACB leadership is doing to make the association stronger.”
“PACB only survives and thrives based on the input of members,” he posits.
He plans to encourage greater member attendance at the annual ICBA Washington Policy Summit, which is held annually in April.
He acknowledges one of the challenges he is concerned about is the challenge to “grow at a pace to stay ahead of the cost of doing business.” One big contributor is the cost of evolving regulatory compliance. “Every bank has to contend with how to effectively and most efficiently solve this problem. Unfortunately, this issue is a likely influencer on much of the industry consolidation.”
“Our competition has changed dramatically. At one time we only had to compete for a customer with the bank across the street. Now, with the available technology, we as community banks have to think of our competition more broadly. If I’m a homebuyer looking for a mortgage, my choice of lenders is nearly limitless.”
Part of the MCS brand is their focus on community service. “We spend a lot of time to be a neighborhood bank, from supporting youth sports, to sponsoring 4H to FFA.”
“We recently delved into the social media world to foster deeper connections with our customers. Our hope is that by using social media to talk about activities going on at the bank and talking about topics that are of interest to our customers, conversations are happening that ultimately create a better customer experience that is mutually beneficial.”
MCS Bank is a state-chartered, mutual savings bank operating five community branches in Mifflin, Huntingdon and Snyder Counties and a Loan Center in Lewistown, Mifflin County.
The bank’s website reveals: “At MCS Bank, we take great pride in our mutual charter, or ‘mutuality’. The independence that we derive from this banking structure grants us the flexibility we need to help the community grow and prosper, unfettered by short-term pressures to produce returns to stockholders. Free of stockholders, we are able to take a long-term view of operating in the best interests of our customers and communities, evidenced by both quality products and services provided at a fair price and by service to the community reflected in the wide variety of civic activities in which we engage.”
We ARE “neighbors helping neighbors” and a TRUE “community bank,” they write—and live.
As Foster takes that neighborly, can-do, spirit to PACB, his solid, even keel is expected to take the association to new heights.
This article can be found featured in the October 2015 issue of Transactions. Not a subscriber? Visit the Transactions page on this website or call PACB at 717-231-7447 to start receiving the magazine.