Saving For A Rainy Day

Saving For A Rainy Day

First Federal Savings and Loan Association of Greene County

First Federal Staff

Most savvy investors save for a rainy day, but hope the storms never rumble on through their lives.

For the residents of Waynesburg, Greene County, they not only embrace the rain; they celebrate it each year in a 142-year-old annual tradition filled with fanfare, food, outdoor concerts and family festivities.

The rural town in the southwest corner of the state hails July 29 as “Rain Day,” and a unique cultural tradition has arisen around the rain showers that seem to fall with temporal precision on that date every year.

“We are the only town in America with a festival built around a desire for rain,” joked Judi Goodwin Tanner, President and CEO of First Federal Savings and Loan Association of Greene County, which has served the community for more than 90 years through sun, snow and storms.

With the bank headquarters lying in the heart of charming Waynesburg, First Federal has also been at the heart of the Rain Day celebration, with the history of both closely intertwined over the years.

Legend has it that the iconic Rain Day celebration began in 1874, in the popular Daly and Spraggs Drug Store, tucked along High Street, Waynesburg’s historic Main Street. The store was next door to the site that would one day become First Federal’s headquarters.

A farmer shopping in the drug store kept a daily journal and mentioned to the owner that it always rained on his birthday, July 29.

An annual bet over the rain pattern arose and became a local tradition, eventually leading to a day-long street festival and a rain record of 114-28.

Even now, local newspapers and TV and radio stations from around the world flood the town with calls on July 29 to see if it has rained, and bets are wagered as to what time those first fateful raindrops will fall from those famous leaden skies.

In addition to helping sponsor the main event and the related Miss Rain Day Pageant, First Federal offers a few other unique tie-ins. The bank provides the prize money for a $500 contest for the person who correctly guesses when the first raindrops will fall from the sky; hosts a “Baby Rain Day” contest in the main office, where individuals can vote for their favorite babies; and has even offered a CD rate that would escalate a quarter of a percentage point if it rained on July 29—which it did, Tanner said. Fifty-two accounts will come due on Rain Day this year.

The summer rains, however, rarely provoke gloom in Greene County’s close-knit residents.

Charles Trump Jr., Vice President of First Federal, described the bank’s home county as being “the cornerstone of the Keystone State,” with rural West Virginia as its next-door neighbor. The bank’s professional footprint reaches across bucolic Greene, Fayette and Washington Counties, and in to Monongalia County, West Virginia.

Their service area is part of the resource-rich Marcellus Shale region, but faces a recently closed coal mine, an epic plummet in gas prices and current unemployment rates higher than the state and national averages. The Association continues to constantly monitor economic conditions.

Today, the bank has branches in Waynesburg, Uniontown, Washington, Taylorstown, Carmichaels and Mt. Morris, in Pennsylvania, along with one in Morgantown, West Virginia. The West Virginia branch operates under the name of First Greene Service Corporation and is a loan origination center. Mt. Morris is the newest branch, opening in May 2013 and featuring three drive-thru lanes.

President and CEO Tanner has been with the bank for more than 33 years, ascending to the top post in 2012.

Tanner was born and raised in Greene County and still resides on property once a part of her family farm. Her grandfather opened an account for her at this bank the day after she was born, and she has been a loyal customer for more than five decades, typifying the bank’s customer base of generations of families.

As an accounting major at West Virginia University, she had planned to take an auditing job elsewhere, and needed a job for just a few short months until that permanent job began. Thirty-three and a half years later, she hasn’t moved on yet.

“It felt like home from the first day,” Tanner said.

In total, the bank employs 119 full-time employees and 10 part-time workers. Fifty-five employees work in the main Waynesburg office.

“We are a large family here,” Tanner said. “We know each other. We know our customers. We see our neighbors every day.”

The seeds for First Federal Savings and Loan Association of Greene County were planted in 1924 with $33,000 in assets and 17 founders who met in a store in nearby Carmichaels.

The institution bought its Waynesburg main office in 1945 from the former Union Deposit and Trust Bank, a holding company for Mellon Bank and then the Union Trust Bank. The building, next to the Daly and Spraggs Drug Store, once housed the local hardware, grocery and clothing stores.

After remodeling, First Federal’s new main office opened its doors in April 1946 with 4,000 members and resources of $4.5 million. The bank continued to expand in the following decades, opening new branches throughout the region.

The 1990’s brought more changes for the Association. In 1990, the bank purchased Ellwood Federal’s deposit base from their Waynesburg office that closed in May of that year. Total assets purchased exceeded $2 million. And in 1992, extensive remodeling of the main office was completed.

Fast forward to today, to a thoroughly modern machine with more than $900 million in assets and nine offices splayed out like a hearty oak across Greene, Washington and Fayette Counties, and this growing bank is now out of space.

On April 11 of this year, the bank celebrated a milestone for both the institution and Waynesburg Borough when they broke ground on a new building, adjacent to the Waynesburg main office, a post-war building of sandy concrete blocks and columns straight out of a Bedford Falls movie set.

The new building will be located on the site of the former Daly and Spraggs Drug Store, the birthplace of Rain Day, and will include a mini-memory lane of artifacts from the Association’s history and that defining Rain Day tradition, bringing both long-standing community symbols full-circle into the same home.

Employees and Board members marked the occasion with celebrations that included a special cake featuring the former building. In a nod to tradition, the new building will closely resemble the former building, retaining the historic architecture of the old structure and the historic curb appeal of the block. The new construction will be an addition to the main office and will be dedicated almost exclusively to the Association’s mortgage operations. It should be completed by the end of the year.

Balancing all of that tradition with technology, the bank has offered maximum convenience and mobility for today’s fast-paced lifestyle through online banking, telephone banking and online mortgage applications to augment in-person transactions.

First Federal continues to employ modern tools and processes relative to fraud, and utilizes the newest technologies to help protect its customers. The Association also takes pride in educating its customers on the most recent trends and schemes.

Allowing you to check your bank account while stopped in the car or sitting at a Little League practice is one thing, Trump and the Board realize, but home purchase and construction is where most customers want to sit down with bank employees face to face and talk as they buy and build a home in one of the biggest decisions of their lives.

In 2010, the bank introduced eStatements and new no-envelope ATMs.

In 2011, they launched a new online mortgage application tool to allow customers to apply for mortgages and home equity loans 24-7. The Association also unveiled mobile banking and a personalized mobile app in May 2015. These high-tech steps have maximized convenience and allowed the small-town bank to compete with the big boys.

“We branded it,” said Trump of the app. “We are fully embracing technology with our customers. We felt it was important to have.”

Through the app, customers can view their account balances, transfer money, pay bills and make deposits by taking a picture of their check.

But despite the technological innovations and cutting-edge advancements, “We have continued to operate as a traditional savings and loan association,” Tanner said.

They specialize in household accounts, with only a small portion of their bread and butter as business and commercial accounts and loans.

Trump said, “We serve families and individuals and households.”

Trump and Tanner also point out that the financial institution is a mutual thrift, owned by the customers. Without the obligation of reporting to shareholders, they have been able to remain independent, resulting in a higher level of service for its customers.

Trump said there is never an emphasis on personal gain. “We are blessed with our capital position. The secret to our success is we are very conservative and we continue a tradition of conservative decision-making.”

“Our decisions today parallel decisions made decades ago. We engage in responsible, conservative decisions,” he continued.

Thus, their net income remains consistent, Tanner added.

First Federal Staff

While home ownership is the main focus of First Federal, educational accounts are one of the many other products the Association offers.

Many area families start saving for their kids’ college costs, but the bank specifically encourages students themselves to save. If students choose to save for higher education at First Federal, incentives abound. Eight students annually are awarded $1,000 scholarships for each of their four years of college. Winners are randomly selected from among participants in the bank’s Education Savings Program.

Frist Federal has given more than a quarter-million dollars in education scholarships since the program’s inception.

“We always want to be a good neighbor and give back to the community,” said Liz Menhart, the bank’s Marketing Coordinator.

The bank supports fairs in Greene, Fayette and Washington Counties, 4-H, Little League softball and baseball teams, and Career Days held at local elementary schools.

“We focus on activities for children,” Menhart said. “For example, the Career Days are organized by our local Chamber of Commerce for fifth-grade students who can learn about different career opportunities available to them. We are always glad to participate and be a presenter at those events.”

The bank also offers Looney Tunes-themed savings accounts for young students, and contributes to the Community Foundation of Greene County to help cover the cost of Pre-K for families in need.

“We are family-focused and family-oriented,” Menhart said.

The bank has also teamed up with Community Action Southwest, serving Washington and Greene Counties, in their program for those with limited means, known as “Assets for Independence.” Consumers are taught how to budget, save and plan for the future.

Participants set goals, such as getting a college degree, starting a business or buying a house, and receive matching funds if they successfully attain those goals.

In 2014, the bank won a PACB Community Leadership Award for its work with the Great American Cleanup of PA, when they adopted four miles of roadway along Route 19 in Waynesburg and transformed it to its pristine condition. Association employees volunteer time every April to clean up the stretch of road.

First Federal also supports Habitat for Humanity, having donated several properties to further Habitat’s mission of home ownership, as well as the United Way of Greene County, supporting several signature fundraisers to help the community.

“At the bank itself, we also do a Customer Appreciation Day right before Christmas, including visits with Santa,” Menhart said. “We have also been very closely involved with the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life and the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women events. Our employees will plan luncheons and raffles and donate food and prizes, all to raise money for both of these charities.”

In the professional realm, the bank earned a Five Star rating from Bauer Financial, a mark of quality that only one percent of banks can boast. The bank has earned that designation for more than 100 consecutive quarters.

With accolades such as these, the bank is on track to advance its legacy and expand its stellar services to more customers.

First Federal’s slogan is, “The people you know, the people you can trust!”

Like a trusty umbrella, First Federal Savings and Loan Association of Greene County has provided shelter from the rain for many community members and nonprofits. They are committed to their customers and their neighborhoods in a perpetually sunny climate of caring, and in a world where “Greene” has become the new black.