Chesterton Tribune

Bank sale: Welter family looks back on 33 years of community service at FNB

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Since 1974 the First National Bank of Valparaiso (FNBV) has been locally owned and operated and under the majority control of the Welter family. Over that time FNBV has maintained a strong tradition of community service, with involvement in numerous development and redevelopment projects, low-income housing projects, and local bond issues.

Among other things, FNBV has supported the construction of Hilltop House and Valplayso in Valparaiso, contributed to the Portage Unit of the Boys and Girls Club of Porter County, and participated in Christmas in April in Valparaiso, Chesterton, and Portage. On a couple of occasions, moreover, FNBV has provided the Town of Chesterton with a tax anticipation warrant at an extremely favorable interest rate.

Indeed, on a message on the bank’s website CEO Wayne Welter emphasizes the centrality of community in the vision of FNBV. “Many people realize that banks are dependent on many factors, but what they may not realize is that we may be most dependent on the vibrancy of the communities we serve,” he observes. “This is why FNBV has always been, and will remain, a community oriented institution, doing what we can to ensure the prosperity of all the communities we serve.”

So when, sometime in the second quarter, 1st Source Corporation of South Bend, parent company of 1st Source Bank, acquires FINA Bankcorp Inc., parent company of FNBV—in a cash and stock deal valued at $135 million—what will become of FNBV’s community-mindedness?

That question is an inevitable one, Welter concedes. “There are a number of concerns that I think people will have and are natural,” he told the Chesterton Tribune on Tuesday. “The employees certainly, I’m sure, have concerns about what will happen to them.”

1st Source is “a familiar bank” with a smattering of branches in FNBV’s market, Welter said, yet while a larger bank than FNBV “most of the other banks are larger.” The acquisition of FNBV will allow 1st Source to establish “a strong presence in this market and they will build on that because that’s what banks do. It’s a good thing for the employees and for the community.”

“I’m proud of the fact that First National Bank has been very, very supportive of the community,” Welter added. “But that won’t go away.”

“Porter County will kind of anchor the west end of 1st Source’s operations,” Welter noted, “and I feel good about that.”

The Welter family, however, will “probably not” have any role in the combination, Welter said. “I have mixed emotions myself. I’ve been part of the bank and the bank’s been part of the family since 1974.”

For his part Bob Ax, senior vice-president and regional president for 1st Source, said that he has been “struck by the similarity of the two banks,” both of them tidy institutions with strong traditions of civic involvement. “We can empathize with and support First National Bank’s dedication to the community and we embrace that and have a very strong ethic in doing that ourselves. . . . We’re looking forward to working with people who are so dedicated to working in their communities. That’s why I think we’re going to work together just fine.”

By way of example Ax cited 1st Source’s commitment to 4-H, an outgrowth of its agricultural lending department. He also cited 1st Source’s annual Ernestine M. Raclin Award, named for an owner of the bank who has acquired a reputation for philanthropy in South Bend and throughout the state. That honor is bestowed on business people and 1st Source employees who are active in the community, Ax said, and is comprised of a cash award to the recipient and to the recipient’s favorite charity. “It’s a very professional way to recognize service to the community.”

“A hallmark of loan officers, managers, employees at 1st Source is community service,” Ax added, “whether it’s in 4-H, frying fish for civic groups, offering leadership by coaching in Little League, in church fund-raising drives, or on economic development boards. . . . People don’t really care about what you know until they know you care about the community.”

For the record, one member of the Welter family opposes the acquisition: Charles Welter, who as a member of the FINA Board of Directors voted against the deal, and whose opposition to any sale of FNBV led to his exit from the bank in September 2006 after serving as president since 1982. “I didn’t want to see the bank sold,” he said. “I think that the bank has been a wonderful asset. It’s been a very successful business, as the selling price indicates. We owe a debt of gratitude to a lot of people.”

Charles Welter has no particular objection to 1st Source. “I’m not saying that 1st Source won’t do a good job,” he said. “What I would say is that you feel much more confident about the future of the business when you own it, when you’re in control.”

Charles Welter added that he had hoped to watch both his son and daughter succeed in the family business. “I really wanted to see the legacy continued,” he said.

“We have supported the community and the community has been very important to the bank,” Charles Welter said. “Continuing that relationship with the community has served us well.


Posted 2/21/2007