First Federal Savings and Loan Association
opens Jan 3, 1966 at 301 E. Ninth Street in Rochester
You can’t talk about First Federal Savings Bank without talking about its founder and only president, Richard E. Belcher. Around Rochester, many locals simply refer to First Federal as “Dick’s Bank”.
It takes vision to start a financial institution in the back room of a neighborhood grocery store, but that was how Dick Belcher introduced First Federal Savings and Loan Association of Fulton County to Rochester, Indiana. On Jan. 3, 1966, he and one other employee greeted their very first customer ten minutes after the door opened.
Dick Belcher closes the first mortgage loan
with Mr. and Mrs. John Waltz in February 1966.
First Federal was founded to fulfill a public need. In the early 1960s, Rochester’s area banks did not offer mortgage loans. To fulfill that need, Dick and his college roommate from Purdue University, Joseph Hasler, formed the idea in 1964 of founding a thrift bank. After obtaining the charter, they and the directors were ready to open the door on the first business day of 1966 in a room warmed by a one lung furnace. By the end of the first year, First Federal had $1 million in savings deposits.
In addition to Dick, the founding directors were Dean K. Stinson, physician; Jay Heyde, oil company owner; Jesse Brown, local attorney; Garland “Bat” Masterson, grain dealer; John Howkinson, high school industrial arts teacher, and Joseph Hasler, manufacturer of corn products.
Providing quality customer service has been First Federal’s focus from the beginning. “It has been said that to survive as a small community bank today, one must have a niche in the market,” Dick said. “Mortgage banking is and has been the niche that has worked well for us.” Customers could expect personalized service from the start. Dick took loan applications and held loan closings in places as diverse as kitchens, offices, across the hoods of pick-up trucks and even in a bowling alley. Loan servicing was done in the bank, where Dick and his growing staff could be found to answer customer’s questions whenever the need arose.
The Squirrel Club for young savers enjoys a movie at the Times Theatre in Rochester in the 1970s.
As deposits grew, the need to provide the best service possible led to the introduction of the area’s very first, homemade drive-up window. By the end of 1972, First Federal had assets of more than $7 million. Two years later, total assets came to more than $18 million. First Federal became the first thrift in Indiana to convert from a mutual association to stock by issuing 130,000 shares in 1977. The name was changed to First Federal Savings Bank in 1984 to better reflect the function of the bank.
As First Federal’s branch offices throughout northern Indiana were opened, loan originators and loan servicers provided the same localized service to their communities. Branch offices were opened in Winamac in 1973 and in Bremen in 1974. In 1976, the main branch was moved into the newly constructed facility next to the original grocery store, which was then demolished. The Plymouth branch opened in 1979. A branch in Elkhart began as a mortgage origination office in 1989 and became a full service office in 1998. That year also saw the opening of a mortgage origination office in Mishawaka. That office in turn became not only a full service branch in 2008, but also Indiana’s first bank facility built to achieve Silver Certification for meeting the U.S. Green Building Council’s requirements for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).
Through good economic times and bad, the bank adjusted to meet the conditions of the time. “We recall prime in the 1980s up to 20%, which caused us to have inverted yield curves,” Dick said. “That meant that we lost money every day except Sundays, living out of our reserves. Some policies that we put in place at that time because of necessity we still use. We became a better bank because of those adversities. We learned early on that luck happens when preparation and opportunity meet.”
In January 1991, First Federal was able to report a record net income of $861,600 for 1990, up from $286,195 the year before. Dick attributed the bank’s record performance to a robust local economy, which enabled the bank to record a record $37 million in first mortgage home loans in its market area. For 1992, First Federal’s high return on assets out-performed every commercial and savings bank in Indiana, including those of over $1 billion in assets. When industry analysts considered a one percent ROA a good return, First Federal’s ROA for 1992 was 2.19 percent. The bank earned the same state ranking the following year. When asked about the bank’s achievement, Dick said, “All our staff’s hard work for the past finally is coming together and the success that we have had is because we concentrate in our niche of home mortgage lending.”
In 1997, Dick was named Northern Indiana Entrepreneur of the Year in the financial services category. The awards program was sponsored nationally by Ernst and Young, USA Today and the Nasdaq Stock Market.
Year after year, the bank continued to show healthy profits. Even during the economic crisis of 2008, when other banks accepted bail-out money from the federal government, First Federal declined the funds because of its healthy balance sheet and its conservative loan policy, and still showed a profit for the year.
From 2005 through 2008, First Federal Savings Bank achieved Freddie Mac’s Tier One Platinum performance ranking for excellence in investor reporting and default management. It is the government agency’s highest rating.
Service to their customers and to their communities is part of the bank’s culture. In addition to financial donations to various local organizations and charities, several bank employees actively participate in projects such as the Monroe Circle Financial Literacy Program for children and adults in the South Bend/Mishawaka area. In 2010, First Federal Savings Bank was honored by the Indiana Bar Foundation. The Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA) program offers access to the justice system for low-income people, based on interest accrued from these accounts. First Federal stood out as paying a fixed rate of 6% for six years, far above the next highest IOLTA rate of 2.02%. The report in the Bar Foundations’ 2009 Annual Report said, “First Federal is an institution exemplar of stewardship, signaling nothing short of excellence in generosity.”
Entertaining the public is also counted as service to the community. In Rochester, First Federal hosted four free concerts by the Purdue University Varsity Glee Club over the years. In addition, Dick’s weekly half-hour radio show on local station WROI, WROIFM.com, features guest speakers, announcements of local events and sports, as well as bank news.
Dick often refers to the staff as the “First Federal Family”, and the relaxed working atmosphere is behind First Federal’s success. The bank offers its employees health insurance, health savings accounts and 401(k) plans. Profit-sharing is an added bonus when the bank’s quarterly performance is well above the peer-group average.
Each First Federal branch celebrates Customer Appreciation Day each summer. A jazz group, with loan originator Tim Hershberger playing trombone, performed at the September 2012 event in Elkhart.
“Our staff through the years has helped make First Federal the fine bank it is today,” Dick said. “Our mission statement says it very well: First Federal’s mission is to serve our customers with the newest, competitively priced products delivered to them with state-of-the-art technology; to provide to all First Federal Family members a favorable working environment with reasonable compensation and benefits; and to treat all customers and First Federal Family members in the manner that all would like to be treated.”
“We don’t want to be the biggest bank,” he said, “just the best.”
- Message from the President
Message from Dick Belcher
First Federal Savings Bank welcomes 2016 by celebrating a milestone anniversary - our 50th.
On January 3, 1966, we opened for business as a savings and loan association in Rochester, Indiana. Our business goal was to fulfill a need in the community for mortgage lending with local loan servicing. Our office was in the back room of a small neighborhood grocery store. We had two employees, including myself, and we wrote our first mortgage loan during that first month.
Since then, mortgage lending and local loan servicing has been the focus of our business, and during our first 50 years, we have become one of northern Indiana's leading mortgage lenders. Today, our customers can count on our staff of 150 members to help them with their mortgage needs and deposit accounts.
It wasn't long before we outgrew our little shop in that grocery store. In the mid-1970s, we changed from being a savings and loan association to become a bank. We built a three-story brick building next door to our original shop, which was torn down. Branch offices were established in Winamac, Bremen, Plymouth and Elkhart. Our sixth office in Mishawaka was LEED-certified, the first energy-efficient branch bank of its kind in Indiana. In Rochester, we eventually out-grew our building again, so we expanded into a three-story LEED-certified addition in 2014. We've come full circle, because the new addition now covers the same ground as our original shop.
I have been First Federal's president for 50 years. It's time to turn that responsibility over to our new president, Evan Gottschalk. Evan has been our Vice President of Operations for a number of years. He was born and raised in Rochester, where he now shares his home with wife Emily and their four young children. Evan is a valued member of our community and of the First Federal family. Under his leadership, First Federal will continue to hold the same values we've practiced for the past 50 years.
As for myself, I am still very much a part of First Federal and will continue in my role as Chairman of the Board and CEO. In a way, First Federal is as much a member of my own family as my children.
Even with all of our changes over the years, some things won't change. We will still strive to keep the hometown touch in our service to our customers. I think our Mission Statement says it best:
First Federal's mission is to serve our customers with the newest, competitively priced products delivered to them with state-of-the-art technology; to provide to all First Federal Family members a favorable working environment with reasonable compensation and benefits; to treat all customers and First Federal Family members in the manner that all would like to be treated.
- Community Involvement
We were given the opportunity to attend the 2015 Fulton County College & Career Fair. Over 600 local high school students were able to network with different businesses around Fulton County. First Federal Savings Bank had a wonderful time talking with the students and informing them of careers in the banking industry.
- Mission Statement
First Federal’s mission is to serve our customers with the newest, competitively priced products delivered to them with state-of-the-art technology; to provide to all First Federal Family members a favorable working environment with reasonable compensation and benefits; to treat all customers and First Federal Family members in the manner that all would like to be treated.