“Wherever we open a branch office, we're the hometown bank,” says Joseph Klimavich, Hometown Bank's vice president of communication, with a smile on his face, obviously pleased that there are now six towns for which that's true. He's also happy to be gearing up the for bank's 125th anniversary celebration this year.
Joe told us a little of the history: Now headquartered in Oxford, Hometown Bank was founded in Webster in 1889 when a small group of farmers and merchants formed a cooperative bank to provide home loans to residents. The Webster Cooperative Bank, with a single office on Main Street, stayed small for the next 100 years, with assets of just $30 million.
It wasn't until the mid 1990s that the bank's board of directors embarked on a longer term strategy to expand and grow. The first change was in the name: Hometown Bank, a Cooperative Bank.
By 2001, the Webster location on Main Street had been remodeled and branch offices were built in Oxford and Sturbridge. In 2011, the Athol-Clinton Cooperative Bank, with branches in Athol and Lancaster, merged with Hometown Bank.
The following year saw the addition of a new branch in Auburn’s Heritage Plaza.
Finally, in the summer of 2013, a gleaming new branch opened at the corner of Rt. 16 and Thompson Road in Webster. The original, existing downtown Webster location became a convenience center for drive-through and walk-up customers, a decision confirmed by the business it handles.
Hometown Bank's assets grew exponentially during these years, and now stand at $365 million.
Joe is emphatic about the bank's mission and focus: “As a cooperative bank, we operate for the benefit of our customers, our depositors/shareholders, and not for the benefit of outside stockholders as in a public company.
“We are able to make local decisions,” he said. “Our board of directors, our lending committee, our employees are all residents of the communities we service, so they can bring a unique local perspective to the decisions they make.”
The fact that Hometown Bank is heavily invested in its communities is directly demonstrated by the annual programs it sponsors. One of these is Neighbors Helping Neighbors, now in its tenth year of collecting donations for local food pantries.
This year Joe and the branch managers visited all the six donees. “Each agency was very different in its operation, in its population of recipients, its number of volunteers, and its funding, yet each was such an emotional place to visit,” he said. “It's gratifying to be activily engaged with good programs like these that are quietly going about their missions around the area.”
Other events on the bank's calendar last year were Webster's Winter Wonderland, a coin appraisal workshop, a customer appreciation day, and a community document shredding day.
Joe, who has been Hometown Bank's public relations voice for 17 years, noted that the bank actively encourages its employees to volunteer in their communities as well, and recognized 50 of them for their service at the bank’s recent holiday gathering. You'll see Hometown Bank employees volunteering at such diverse events as the United Way Day of Caring, Oxford and Webster Cash Mobs and local food pantries.
The 125th anniversary celebration during 2014 year will be sparked with a very special year-long tribute to Hometown heroes, in the full spirit of community. Each month the bank will recognize an Everyday Hometown Hero, a local resident who makes his/her community a better place to live.
Beginning this month, Hometown Bank will solicit nominees from the public to identify these unsung heroes, individuals who are recognized by their community as indispensable because of the contributions they have made and continue to make. Each month's winner will receive a $100 gift card and Hometown Bank will send a check for $100 to the charity of their choice. In December, one of the monthly winners will be named Everyday Hometown Hero of the Year and receive $500. All the details of the program and nomination forms will be available online at the bank's website and in the branches.
Not lost in all the community activity is the bank's main function, says Joe, which is to give its personal and business customers alike the best customer service it can, with products ranging from its popular Totally-Free NOW Checking account to a full range of personal and business banking products and services, including statement and passbook savings accounts, certificates of deposit (CDs), residential and commercial mortgages, home equity loans, small business and construction loans and commercial lines of credit.
Hometown Bank's main office is at 31 Sutton Ave, Oxford, 508-987-1200; www.hometowncoop.com.