100 Years of Fortitude
Frank Sinatra used to close out his concerts with this parting wish for his audience: “May you live to be 100, and may the last voice you hear be mine.”
In December 2015, Sinatra himself would have hit that coveted 100-year milestone. And he would have been in good company, because Harleysville Savings Bank, in the prosperous suburbs of Philadelphia, reached its century mark just a few months before.
However, while Old Blue Eyes faced his final curtain in 1998, Harleysville Savings Bank seems destined to live for 100 years or more.
Based in Montgomery County, the bank’s leaders seem to be at the top of their game. From the bank’s infancy in the Roaring Twenties and the tense days leading up to World War I, on through the threat of Y2K and the dawn of rap, Ronald Reagan, the Great Recession, and the social-media revolution – bank officials have been all about doing things “your way–” and that has been the ethos behind their endurance.
Living Long and Prospering
Ask the hearty souls who have reached the extraordinary age of 100 to divulge their secrets to longevity, and the advice usually flows as freely as Star Wars fans to “The Force Awakens:” olive oil, a daily multi-vitamin, yoga, a solid marriage, a bachelor’s life, laughter, prayer, good genes …and even, a shot of whiskey a day.
A community bank’s tips for lasting a full century revolve more around core principles than clean living: intangibles like customer service, accessibility, and friendliness.
Brendan J. McGill, who has served as President and COO of Harleysville Savings Bank for the past year, knows the timeless recipe for how his community bank has stayed relevant and robust through the decades.
He appreciates the fact that some things change, but the things that matter endure.
Long before McGill and his current board members were born, the bank’s first seeds were planted, in the year when the Lusitania was sunk by a German submarine, Alexander Graham Bell placed that first fateful telephone call, and Thomas Edison became a one-man invention factory.
Faded scenes from the early days of the bank can be viewed in a professional 36-minute video posted on the bank’s website and made in honor of the 100th anniversary milestone. Vintage, black-and-white photographs of Father-Knows-Best-era homes, Model T’s, men in wide-legged suits, black-rimmed glasses, and fedoras, and women in pin curls and page boys, joined together to meet the needs of their neighborhoods.
A barber, a baker, a general store, a clothing factory, a printer, and a creamery operated in a charming cluster in a humble one-street town, often covered in a thick blanket of pure white snow.
Fast forward to today’s Harleysville, and the town springs from the screen in full-color, with ruby red fire trucks, plumes of fireworks, grassy green soccer fields, crowded fairs, and Little League tournaments giving the town a sense of vibrancy and spirit.
When the bank was first founded, the philosophy was to save, be honest, and treat people well, bank leaders said. They embraced the frugal, cohesive community, and celebrated their old-fashioned neighborliness and interdependence.
Like the bank’s elegant blue and white scroll lettering on its signs and their buildings’ traditional Williamsburg style of low-lying red brick and white pillars, its workings were designed to be timeless.
The 100th year celebration was not just a time of wistful remember-when’s, and nostalgic comparisons between “then” and “now.” Instead, it became an opportunity to give back in a larger way than they ever had before. As part of the festivities, the bank bought coffee for employees, offered a lunch, and executed an all hands-on-deck volunteer day on the actual anniversary date at a nonprofit called Hands in Service.
They collected professional clothing to give unemployed men help in dressing for a job interview and landing a job. They aided in the construction of a community center and pool, and sponsored a wide-ranging, heartwarming “Random Acts of Kindness” venture (see breakout at the end of the profile).
And they also continued to sponsor the events they facilitate every year: Community Appreciation Days, with its hot dogs and popcorn, moon bounce, fire trucks, prizes and games, and the popular fireworks display at the Harleysville Fair in May.
“We can’t meet the needs of everybody, but what we do is important. Little League, soccer teams, parades, we stay connected to the community,” said McGill.
In this era of voice-mail and online banking, “Anyone can pick up the phone and talk to a person directly.”
“The community is one of our stakeholders,” McGill emphasized.
McGill gets his savings savvy honestly. Banking is a family affair for him. He grew up in nearby Philly, the grandson of a founder of a bank in the tree-lined, bridge-framed Roxborough/Manayunk region. He worked at the multinational accounting firm of Deloitte and Touche, and had the bank as a client, before making the jump to work for Harleysville and rapidly working his way to the top.
One of the key founders of the bank was Alvin Alderfer, a respected local entrepreneur. Of the three entities he started, only one remains—the bank. Harleysville Insurance was acquired by Nationwide, and Harleysville National Bank was acquired by First Niagara.
The village of Harleysville was founded soon after Pennsylvania itself, shortly after William Penn came from England to plant his colony. Part of the land along the Perkiomen Creek that Lenape Indian chief Manghousin deeded to Penn in 1684, Harleysville was little more than a trading post, outside Philadelphia, about 15 miles from George Washington’s famous winter outpost of Valley Forge.
Harleysville was settled by religious immigrants who fled persecution in Germany, Holland and other parts of Europe, mostly members of the “plain” sects: the hard-working Mennonites, Schwenkfelders, Dunkards and Quakers.
Samuel Harley gave his name to the village that sprang up around his tavern.
Harley’s grandfather, Rudolph, left Germany in 1719. Thirteen years later, the Harleys were followed by Friedrich Altdorfer (Americanized to “Alderfer”), who married the widow of the man to whom he had been indentured. Friedrich was the head of the large Alderfer clan, which included Alvin C. Alderfer, who became one of Harleysville’s great 20th century entrepreneurs.
Through the 1800s, the community continued to grow, as new settlers, businesses and church meeting houses sprang up.
The early 1900s brought the founding of the town’s two most prominent businesses of today: Harleysville National Bank and Trust Company (1909) and Harleysville Mutual Insurance Company (1915)—both the brain children of Alvin Alderfer.
As the first lumbering cars began to pull out onto the dusty roads, Alderfer and Harleysville’s town leaders were forced to find a solution to a wave of theft spawned by the automobile’s rising popularity and the resultant envy from the motoring have-nots. On November 15, 1915, they formed an “association,” to be officially chartered as an insurance company in 1917, and issued cards to “members,” who each agreed to pay a fee of up to $5, depending upon the car’s value, for protection against the theft of their automobiles.
History of Harleysville Savings Bank
Harleysville Savings Bank, chartered by the State of Pennsylvania on February 16, 1915, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Harleysville Savings Financial Corporation. The bank was founded as Harleysville Building and Loan Association by Alvin Alderfer, and initially had no permanent office. The Board of Directors met monthly to report deposit balances they personally helped to gather and used these funds to grant mortgages to homeowners.
The first mortgage loan granted was for $700 on a property still used as a home at 555 North Main Street in Harleysville.
In 1956, the Bank opened its first permanent office at 482 Main Street, Harleysville, and the name was also changed to Harleysville Savings and Loan Association.
In 1971, a new facility was built at 271 Main Street, Harleysville and the bank’s name was changed to Harleysville Savings Association.
In 1975, the Bank opened its second office at 3090 Main Street, Sumneytown as a result of a merger with the Sumneytown Savings and Loan Association.
In 1977, the Bank opened its third office after another merger, this time with the West Norristown Building and Loan Association at 2301 West Main Street, Norristown. A fourth office was later opened at 1550 Cowpath Road, Hatfield.
In 1987, the mutual company was converted to a stock form of ownership, and in 1988, the bank’s name was changed to Harleysville Savings Bank.
PACB fixture Ronald Geib became President and Chief Operating Officer of the company and bank in 2003, and Edward J. Molnar retained the title of Chairman and CEO. After a 40-year career, Molnar retired in 2007 and Geib became President and CEO.
McGill became President and COO in 2014. Geib retained the post and title of CEO, and the bank’s assets topped $800 million.
McGill has a strong sense of connection to those first founders, in their derby shoes and pompadours, and his more recent predecessors, as the bank toasts that past, improves the present and prepares for the future. The core values of trust, teamwork, fairness, customer service, honesty and integrity live on.
The bank’s history had no cataclysmic challenges, just the slow, inexorable march of time.
Despite the Great Depression, Recession, housing boom, Dodd-Frank, and more, bank officials preserved the bank through the generations, and never lost perspective and the time-honored traditions that fortified it.
Markets may go up and down, but their commitment to customer service and satisfaction remain high, McGill said.
They have lived and learned for a century, and the community they have embraced has loved them back. This seasoned centenarian has fulfilled Frank Sinatra’s wish, and will surely personify that other beloved Sinatra hit: “The Best Is Yet to Come.”
Harleysville Savings Hails 100th Anniversary with a Happy Banks-giving
Who hasn’t speculated about what they would do if they won the Lottery?
Diamonds, BMW’s, mansions, a paid-off mortgage, the end of student loans, a trip around the world…but what if you were given a tidy sum of money and told to do something kind for others?
That is the path Harleysville Savings Bank took for its employees, in honor of its 100th anniversary. Instead of throwing a lavish affair with champagne, crab imperial and confetti, the bank gave each employee $100 and asked them to do random acts of kindness with it.
It was an idea they had heard from their friends at Standard Bank, and they thought it worthy enough to replicate in their Montgomery County home, COO Brendan McGill said.
“We thought this would be perfect, based upon the team members we have,” said McGill.
“Imagine the ripple you can create by performing Random Acts of Kindness,” the bank’s letter to employees said.
Bank staff members could spend their money all in one place, or divide it up however they saw fit. They could use it as a team or individually.
The only rule on the use of the money, according to the bank’s missive to employees: “Just be you.”
And like the parable of the talents in the Bible’s Book of Matthew, each employee took their talents and made much more.
More than 120 employees participated in celebrating the past by paying it forward. Employees were given the opportunity to then tell the bank anonymously what they did. More than 80 staff members gave their feedback.
The truth is, employees had been doing random acts of kindness all along, but this was far more deliberate and intentional, McGill said. Still, it was random for the recipients, who were often overwhelmed and speechless at the generosity shown.
One employee paid for the orders of many customers in front of him in line at Wawa, including many state troopers from the nearby barracks.
One employee picked up a woman whose car had broken down in freezing cold temperatures–which cost nothing but her time. Another employee gave all $100 to the family of a man killed in an electrical accident who had two small children.
One person gave a mom and her two young children walking in a windstorm money to buy something warm when the employee spotted them walking in the freezing snow to a gas station.
Another employee saw an elderly man eating alone in a restaurant. He tried to buy the man’s dinner, but the waitress said he was a veteran, so the dinner was free already because it was Veterans Day. Undeterred, the employee bought the lonely veteran a restaurant gift card and wrote “Thank you for your service” on it.
Another man bought a man collecting money for the White Cane Society a hot chocolate and soft pretzel.
People had tears in their eyes and a gratitude that was tangible when confronted with these unexpected kindnesses.
Many couldn’t stop saying “Thank you,” for even the smallest act of generosity. Even if the gesture only amounted to $5 or $10, the value was beyond measure.
The gestures reflected the mission of the bank, which not only celebrated its 100 years, it contributed to it.
That giving attitude helped make that 100th anniversary possible: “This reflects who we are. We have a servant attitude here,” McGill said.
“We work for the community and serve the community. We give to the community and we get so much more back.”
Those 120 lessons in kindness brought happiness to both giver and recipient, and reminded everyone that we are connected at our core, and giving is so much better than getting.
This Community Bank Profile can be found featured in the January 2016 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.