It was March 1850. Millard Fillmore was still working through his first 100 days in office as the thirteenth President of the United States — although no one was probably counting the days back then. In six months, California joined the Union as its 31st state, taking the country from coast to coast and Ware Savings Bank was incorporated under the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Thus, the first chapter in the 170-year history of Country Bank was written.
There have been a number of important chapters written since — including the incorporation of Palmer Savings Bank in 1870 and the merger of those two institutions in 1981 to form Country Bank for Savings (later shortened to simply Country Bank). Paul Scully, the bank’s current president, noted that many things have changed at this institution over those 170 years, everything from its footprint — it now stretches from Ludlow to Worcester, with 14 branches and 23 ATM/ITM locations — to how people do their banking.
A community bank with 14 locations
What’s more significant to him — and all members of the Country Bank team — is what hasn’t changed in that time. Specifically, it’s a commitment to the customers, communities, and staff that sets this institution apart. In short, what hasn’t changed is that this is still a community bank in every sense of that phrase. “What we are celebrating is the bank’s support for those who have been right there with us along the way,” stated Scully. “And we’re celebrating our independence in being a mutual savings bank, and one of the most highly capitalized banks in the Commonwealth.”
This rich history of support prompted the bank to assume a leadership role during times of crisis — and there have been many over the past 170 years, perhaps none more significant than the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over the past several months, the bank has stepped up to assist its commercial and consumer customers impacted by the virus and resulting economic downturn. “Every customer matters, regardless of their deposit balance, and we’re here to help them achieve their dreams or navigate through rough waters.” None have been rougher than those generated by the pandemic, he noted, adding that the bank has written 475 Payment Protection Plan (PPP) loans in amounts ranging from $1,500 to $2 million and helped many commercial and mortgage borrowers. “It’s the premise of why community banking and Country Bank exist,” he went on. “Since the start of the pandemic, the bank has donated over $450,000 to COVID-related relief efforts along with an additional $400,000 to other local non-profits. For the past one hundred and seventy years, the bank’s operated with the belief that healthy communities thrive; recognizing that it has not only an opportunity but a responsibility to support its communities at varying levels.”
A RICH HISTORY
There have been many milestones for Country Bank since 1850, and dates to remember:
• July 1869: The Committee of Investment voted that the bank loan to the town of Ware in the amount of $70,000 was to be used in the building of the Ware River Railroad;
• 1920: The service of school savings accounts was inaugurated to help establish a habit of thrift among young savers;
• 1945: The first home loan to a veteran of World War II was made under the G.I. Bill of Rights;
• 1982: The first ATM was installed;
• 2017: The Boston Business Journal first recognized the bank for its charitable donations; and
• 2019: Country Bank became a founding member of the Worcester WooSox.
These milestones collectively speak to the notion of what a community bank is — or should be — and that legacy is being celebrated as this institution turns 170. “Behind the individual milestones is a consistent pattern of service to the community,” Scully said.
A LEGACY OF CARING
When asked how the bank would mark its 170th birthday, Scully said there would be “subtle” celebrations. “We’re not big on tooting our own horn on things,” he noted, adding that there would be themed events in the fall celebrating its 170th birthday and the staff and customers who have been a part of the bank’s legacy. Rather than celebrate with lots of hoopla, the bank is far more focused on continuing — and building upon — its strong track record. “It’s a significant milestone that you can’t take lightly,” he said. “For all of us who are associated with the organization, we are given the challenge — and opportunity — to maintain a legacy: a legacy of supporting those in need and helping customers achieve their financial goals and dreams, whatever they may be. And that’s what is being celebrated as this institution turns 170.”