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Citizens Bank staff will gather to reminisce

POSTED: January 11, 2009 1:00 a.m.

The Citizens Bank was a mainstay in Gainesville for more than eight decades. Before the banking landscape changed so dramatically, you had Citizens, First National and Gainesville National, then the savings and loan guys, Home Federal and First Federal. In recent years, banks grew like kudzu, and even in today's recession new ones are sprouting.

Bank South acquired Citizens in 1994, and today it is part of Bank of America.

Former employees of the old Citizens Bank are planning a reunion 2-5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 31 at St. Paul United Methodist Church's fellowship hall on Washington Street in Gainesville. Pat Rail, who worked at the bank over four decades, is coordinating the event and wants former Citizens employees to call her at 770-536-5189.

The bank had just $4,670.19 in checking accounts and $751 in savings when it first opened June 2, 1913, in the building complex now anchored by Seabones Restaurant on the corner of Washington and Main downtown. It had sold 500 shares of stock at $100 a share to get started.

J.C. Pruitt was the first president, and original directors included H.H. Dean, J. Fletcher Carter, Dr. J.B. George, John E. Redwine, C.L. Newton, John M. Hulsey, J.N. Rogers, W.A. Roper and J.F. Pendergrass. John H. Hosch was among founders of the bank.

It later moved to the corner of Washington and Bradford next to the old Piedmont Drugs, where it remained until a new building was built between Spring and Washington streets in 1962, the present location of Bank of America.

John H. Hosch became president in 1932, and his family remained principals in the bank until its merger with Bank South. He was succeeded as president by Robert A. Brice in 1962, and Heyward C. Hosch Sr., John Hosch's son, succeeded him in 1965. Heyward Sr.'s son, Heyward Jr., became chairman of the board after his father died and later served as president. Other presidents included R.A. Brice, Pierce Hancock, Joe Chipman, Ed Williams, Bill Galardi and Roy Bennett.

Hosch Jr. recalls Brice, known as Bob, was opinionated and didn't like chickens. As a result, he said, the bank didn't get much poultry business. He also was reluctant to make loans on cars, he said.
Heyward Hosch Sr. became friends with Kentucky Fried Chicken founder Harland Sanders, whose daughter lived in Gainesville. A South Hall businessman wanted Hosch to bid up his abandoned service station at Blackshear Place during an auction. But Hosch did such a good job, he had to buy it himself. Later he sold it to Col. Sanders for a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet.

Stories like that might be retold at the Citizens Bank reunion. Pat Rail tells one on longtime banker Jim Tankersley. He was to repossess a car from a customer who defaulted on a loan.

"I ain't paying for it," the man told him, explaining his ex-wife had the car. George Hutchins drove Tankersley to the house of the very large woman, who met Tankersley on her porch pointing a gun between his eyes.

Tankersley ran back to the car, and Hutchins backed away from the house, asking him what kind of gun the woman had. "I don't know, but the barrel looked like a stovepipe to me," Tankersley replied.
The police retrieved the car the next day.

While the bank had many glorious days, it did hit a bump in 1988. Five long-time directors lost their seats on the board, and four of them tried to get themselves re-elected. The dispute simmered a few weeks before a compromise returned two of the directors.

Sybil Ledbetter was the first female director of a bank in Hall County, serving from 1960 until 1981, when she retired. She had become a banking officer with Citizens in 1940.

Pat Rail worked almost 40 years at the bank, starting out when it was on the Washington-Bradford corner downtown. Pierce Hancock left a job at a grocery fish department at age 19 to become a filing clerk, one of a half dozen employees at Citizens Bank in 1941. He worked as a loan officer, cashier, assistant vice president and retired as president in 1987.

Over the years, Citizens Bank had branches on Green Street, in Washington Square, Oakwood and Flowery Branch, and in two supermarkets.

NationsBank acquired the bank from Bank South, and it later merged with Bank of America.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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