Jim Thorpe Neighborhood Bank: 160 Years of...

Jim Thorpe Neighborhood Bank: 160 Years of Olympic Advances

Jim Thorpe

When a young, athletic Harry W. Hintz traveled below the Mason-Dixon Line to interview for a teaching and coaching job in genteel, leafy North Carolina in 1952, he happened to meet an impeccably dressed man in a navy-blue suit while eating lunch.

“He was a true Southern gentleman,” Hintz recalled.

The man asked Hintz pointedly, “What’s a Yankee like you doing down here?”

Little did the businessman know how close he was to a “real” Yankee.

More accurately, he had stumbled upon a dyed-in-the-wool rival of the Yankees–a pitching phenom for the New York Yankees’ arch-rival, the Brooklyn Dodgers. Hintz had pitched for the Dodgers’ minor league team for the past seven years–including to one legendary Jackie Robinson, the Baseball Hall of Famer who altered the course of athletic and American history by breaking baseball’s color line. One sportswriter had called Hintz’s pitching arm the best he had ever seen in that franchise.

But Connecticut-born Hintz decided to hang up his worn leather mitt and pitch his last game in 1952. He determined he and his family would be better served applying his college education to more than wind-milling strikes at the point of a baseball diamond.

Hintz explained to the Southern gentleman that he was in the land of Dixie to interview for a teaching job. The man–who turned out to be a state recruiter–asked him if he had ever tried banking. And with that fateful sales pitch, Hintz signed on to a whole new team.

Thanks to that impromptu session over sandwiches, the course of Carbon County, the Commonwealth, and PACB were forever altered–and improved.

Hintz went on to serve as president of PACB when popular association fixture Frank Pinto led the organization in the late 1980s. He also built a superstar career at Jim Thorpe National Bank, now a state-chartered organization.

Hintz started his banking career with Wachovia Bank in Winston-Salem, NC (now Wells Fargo). Then he took over the Loan Department at First National Bank in Bloomsburg. After eight years there, that bank merged with another. Hintz came on-deck in scenic Jim Thorpe in May 1968, debuting as a cashier but working his way up to board member when the modest bank had only $5 million in assets and two offices. He became president within a span of a few short years. Retiring in 1993, he stayed on to serve as a consultant and board member.

This year, the bank and farm team that he helped cultivate marks 160 years strong.

When the bank was first founded in 1855, the Crimean War–pitting Russia against Great Britain, France and Turkey–had just ended.

Before the area was renamed after the singularly versatile Olympic athlete whose remains were relocated there in 1955, the region was dubbed “Mauch Chunk,” which meant “Bear Mountain,” so named because the defining mountain looked like a massive slumbering bear.

The picture-perfect region of river, mountain, and sky, dubbed the “Switzerland of Pennsylvania,” had been settled in 1817. Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company envisioned the possibilities in the vast coal deposits hidden in the towering mountains and the ease with which “black gold” could be transported down the nearby Lehigh River, making Mauch Chunk a dream-come-true shipping port. Soon, in 1829, the coal company erected a stone office building that became a private bank known as the Savings Shoppe in 1852. Three years later, the Mauch Chunk Bank was reorganized by the directors of the Savings Shoppe. It is the site of the present Broadway structure of JTNB.

Through the ebbs and flows of the next 160 years, the bank’s life both molded and mirrored the vibrant history, colorful culture and passionate soul of the riverside region. In the beginning, Mauch Chunk was a booming coal region, and the railroad was the clickety-clacking pulse that coursed through the body of the tight-knit community. As coal and railroads gave way to high-speed air travel and alternate energy sources, Mauch Chunk struggled, stalled and slouched, but never surrendered.

In 1863, The First National Bank of Mauch Chunk was organized, and with it, a new building was erected on the site of the former Mauch Chunk Bank.

After four decades as a prosperous bank in the quaint Victorian town known for its bustling rail traffic and coal mines, The First National Bank of Mauch Chunk consolidated with the Linderman National Bank in 1902 and was chartered by the United States Treasury Department as The Mauch Chunk National Bank.

At the turn of the 20th century, Mauch Chunk still was a vibrant hub for coal shipping, railroading and the canal trade. Millionaires built mountainside mansions, and the town became a popular summer resort for the wealthy, a destination second only to Niagara Falls in popularity. It also became a sanctuary for rail barons such as Asa Packer, founder of Lehigh University.

In 1955, a year after the merger of the neighboring towns of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk, and the new “Jim Thorpe” moniker, the Citizens National Bank of East Mauch Chunk and the Mauch Chunk National Bank consolidated to form The Jim Thorpe National Bank. In 1988, The Jim Thorpe National Bank became a subsidiary company of the newly incorporated JTNB Bancorp, Inc. On December 31, 2013, the bank became a state-chartered organization operating under the new name, Jim Thorpe Neighborhood Bank.

Today, JTNB has six branch offices with the main banking house at 12 Broadway, Jim Thorpe. They have expanded their footprint into neighboring Carbon County communities with branch offices in Penn Forest Township and the boroughs of Lehighton, Nesquehoning and Lansford. While the bank has grown since its birth to include six branches, each branch has successfully retained that small-town spirit and harmony.

Today’s President and CEO Craig A. Zurn said, “We may not be the biggest, but we take pride in being the oldest community bank in Carbon County.”

And with age, came wisdom and loyalty. Throughout the storied life of this nation and this bank, JTNB continued to prosper, even in dark times of depression, wartime, and industrial decline and decay. Its personal banking services remain a hallmark.

Dedication and community focus represent the heart of the bank’s philosophy.

“There is such great passion, pride, and commitment for our community, which is embodied in everyone, from our board of directors to our tellers,” Zurn said.

“We have been able to survive because of our long-standing tradition of caring for the community,” observed Zurn. “We invest a lot in our community and Carbon County, not only with monetary support, but with a strong commitment to our neighbors, supporting their needs.”

Most of the bank’s employees live in and around the Jim Thorpe area and are actively involved in the local schools and charitable, civic and business organizations.

“We recognize that’s our niche in the market here,” reflected Zurn. “I think our success is probably due to the fact of our partnership, the strong standing relationship we have with our community. We are good corporate citizens and that speaks volumes.”

Management credits its versatile and adaptable employee base for the bank’s continued success as an independent bank. In addition, the bank’s board of directors and shareholders, most of whom have a personal stake in the local community, treasure that hometown friendly atmosphere underlying its core business.

Like a close-knit family, the bank has an open-door policy for employees, affiliates, and customers. “We do things like a team and a family here. Our philosophy of management is definitely community-oriented,” added Zurn. “Sometimes when you get too big, you lose your niche of being a small community bank. You lose focus.”

The leaders of Jim Thorpe Neighborhood Bank agree that their primary goal remains to serve as the “financial cornerstone of the community” by maintaining its independence and through the development, sale and servicing of high-quality financial services and products.

Bank leaders attribute the bank’s growth to the friendliness of their employees and their adherence to the principles of service, integrity and trust. Their prosperity is shared with stockholders, employees and the community.

One of the modern faces of the bank in the new millennium is attorney Jane Engler, who is now the Chairman of the Board and the first female director. Ms. Engler banked at the historic bank, as did her parents. She acknowledges sounding like an advertisement when talking about the bank, but insists that it is no hyperbole: “It is a true community bank.”
Engler has had a front-row seat to the tenure of four CEOs. She was active when they formed the parent company, JTNB Bank Corporation, and when they secured a state charter, and she has witnessed the countless acts of generosity that emanate from the bank to the community.

Zurn insisted that Hintz, Engler, and John Cherb be included in the telling of the bank’s remarkable 160-year narrative.

“It was a sleepy little town that had a great history,” said former Dodger Hintz, who is now 89, as he reminisced about Mauch Chunk and Jim Thorpe, and how coal was shuttled down the river on barges into Easton and Philly.

“We were more people-oriented as a community bank than the big banks,” he said.

“When I first got to Jim Thorpe, it was a small town with $5 million in the bank. Lending was not a favorite feature of the bank at the time.” Some areas had been red-lined for loans.

He recalls that Race Street, where St. Mark’s Church attracted worshippers, became “a haven for artists of all kinds.”

“I got to know people in town, and we loaned a lot of money to the people of Jim Thorpe.”

The “systems were so old-fashioned for a tiny little bank.”

Then the East and West region banks united.

“On the West side of town, the Irish had dominance. On the other side, German settlers had dominance,” he recalled.

In 1954, when East and West Mauch Chunk joined forces, “It brought the town together. That was a good thing, too.” That union created a new synergy.

Hintz’s wife Janice began as his executive secretary, and he chuckled at the admission that yes, indeed, he married his secretary. “She was a great worker.”

“It’s a good little bank and I’m very proud of it. I love the people there in Jim Thorpe.”

Hintz, who now lives with his wife in North Carolina, near his son and grandchildren, strongly believes that the nation should limit the size of big banks.

“Community bankers work in town, live in town, spend money in the town, go to church there. They are good citizens there.”

“There’s no comparison between what small community banks do for a community versus large banks. Regulations are killing small banks. Many have been forced out of business or into mergers. Too many regulations are out there that don’t concern community banks, but we are forced to live with them due to the sins of the big banks.”

Another venerable leader of JTNB is John Cherb, a retired CPA, who has been on the board for 34 years. He was Chairman of the Board for 16 years and is now Treasurer of the Board. When he came to the bank, Hintz was CEO.

“Back then, banking was somewhat of a pleasant business to be in,” Cherb reminisced. “Customers came in, we knew who they were, we knew their families and where they worked.”

Companies like Bethlehem Steel, Mack Truck and Air Products were still booming.

“As big banks went through their problems, it filtered down to the smaller banks,” Cherb recalled. Before that time, Hintz would interview a prospective loan seeker, and the board would ratify the loan because they knew the applicant and trusted Hintz’s judgment. Today, it takes two to three weeks of paperwork just to get a loan.

Many bank employees have been hired just to cope with regulations instead of getting down to the core business of banking. Some banks discontinued their mortgage lines.

“Still, we continued to grow as a community bank,” Cherb said with pride. “We say we are a community bank, so we contribute to the community.”

Today, the bank has about $180 million in assets and 45 employees. Most of its business comes from its home county, though the bank’s reach for loans extends south into Lehigh and Northampton communities and north into Luzerne County.

Cherb points to today’s market where people are afraid to spend money, and the looming threat of a harsh bank shares tax at the state level.

“We are still thriving. We are still successful.”

JTNB has generated earnings every year. A full 25 to 30 percent of income every year is given in dividends to its 323 shareholders.

Cherb and his wife, who have been married 60 years, note the transformation of Jim Thorpe in recent years. “The town went from darkness to daylight,” Cherb said.

Today, ecotourism, such as white-water rafting and hiking, is as booming as the coal mines and rail lines once were, said Cherb, who himself served on the boards of the library and hospital.

“It’s a good bank and it has a good brand,” Cherb said, with understated respect.

Zurn ascended from a spot as an entry-level teller to the very top in his 32 years at the bank. He is quick to attribute his success to his predecessors.

Of Hintz he said, “He’s still my mentor. He’s so valuable to the bank.”

President Zurn joined JTNB as a teller, with no financial experience, after being laid off from a Fogelsville factory.

In an age of bank mergers and out-of-town ownership, little JTNB is still a place where a hardworking local boy can rise to the top. Zurn says that he’s not alone–he’s fortunate to be surrounded with an outstanding management team, many of whom enjoyed the same successes as he did, and have risen through the ranks to become officers. His eight top executives have an average of 28 years with the bank; most also started as tellers.

“I feel these success stories can only happen in small community banks. It’s so special here. At the risk of sounding politically incorrect in today’s corporate world, I feel blessed to be part of such a great organization. To survive this long in this ever-changing environment is attributable to the leaders of this bank.”

JTNB has seen its share of challenges and adversity. Recently, they experienced the sudden loss of past chairman Dennis Gallagher and Senior Vice President Francis W. Wolman. Both were consummate community bankers who served their country and community with pride and passion.

Zurn said, “It’s always been about faith, family, and banking that has given us strength and enabled us to come together as a JTNB family to endure these hardships.”

Another one of Zurn’s mentors was Ralston Jones. Since deceased, Jones was as much a part of the bank as its plate-glass teller windows. Zurn worked as a teller under Jones’ supervision. Jones had 50 years of service to the bank and retired as a teller at the age of 93.

Zurn said, “Allowing Jones to retire on his terms shows how much respect and honor we have toward our dedicated employees.”

Locally managed and operated, JTNB recycles most of its customer deposits and 95 percent of its loans back into the community.

At a recent annual shareholders meeting, Zurn said he read three or four letters from customers whose lives were changed by the bank. “It actually brought tears to people’s eyes,” he said.

“We donate to just about every organization,” Zurn said. “We give not only money, but time and talent as well.”

JTNB supported local law enforcement agencies with the purchase of a drug-sniffing dog for the Jim Thorpe Borough Police as well as updated equipment for other municipalities. They have sponsored the annual Fourth of July celebration, purchased scoreboards for the little league associations and schools, and donated funds to charitable organizations throughout the county.

They have given economic development loans to plant the seeds of many companies, such as airports and drug stores, to buy equipment, rent space and create jobs. They contributed to a fund to give smaller, low-interest loans to companies.

“I think what probably separates us from the larger banks is the personalized service,” said Zurn. “Our directors are all local people. When decisions have to be made, they are usually familiar with what’s going on in the community so it makes decisions easier.”

He said when the town decorates for the holiday season, it is like Old Time Christmas in Bedford Falls in the Christmas classic, It’s A Wonderful Life.

“We take pride in our hometown,” he said with emotion. When the streets of the village are dusted with snow and lined with lights, it looks like a Hallmark Christmas card.

“We are often compared to Jimmy Stewart’s classic and that small-town effect,” Zurn said.

Through the decades of growth and modernization, the bank has successfully retained the charm, nostalgia and old-fashioned values of 1950s-era Bedford Falls.

They have carried forth the Horatio Alger dream of hard-working employees who start small and climb to the top, remaining grateful and humble all the way. And they pay it forward.

The bank has endured through earth-shattering world wars and fragile times of peace, unrivaled prosperity and stubborn economic stagnation, consolidations and over-regulation, joy and sorrow. Like its famous namesake, who wowed the world when he won both the pentathlon and the decathlon in the 1912 Olympics, and who, according to folklore, hit three home runs into three different states in one game, Jim Thorpe Neighborhood Bank continues into 2016 as a versatile, virile, gold medal winner.

This community bank profile can be found featured in the December 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.