The Peoples Bank

The Peoples Bank celebrated its 100-year anniversary on Friday, June 12 with the planting of a commemorative tree at its Upper Gilchrist Road branch location. From left to right: Claude Gates, chairman of the board; Joan Jones, president of Peoples Bancshares of Gambier; Alicia Freeman, president and CEO; and Dustin Buckingham, vice chairman of the board.

MOUNT VERNON – Knox County’s only locally owned and operated bank celebrated its 100-year anniversary this month.

The Peoples Bank, which employs 30 people across three locations in Knox County, celebrated 100 years in business on Friday by planting a commemorative tree in front of its Upper Gilchrist Road branch location. The tree, bordered by a stone announcing the occasion, is meant to symbolize the bank’s deep roots in the community, President and CEO Alicia Freeman said.

“It’s very rare to have a business in today’s world last 100 years. We’re very excited to see this come. We’ve been looking forward to it for years,” Freeman said Friday. “But it’s amazing – our customer base is just amazing. The county’s been very supportive of us, our customers have been very supportive of us.”

The Peoples Bank first opened its doors in Gambier in 1920. It has since expanded to three locations, including two in Mount Vernon – one on Upper Gilchrist Road and one on Newark Road.

The company has grown substantially over the last two decades, Freeman said. When she began working there in 2004, it employed just 12 people. Now, it employs 30.

“The products and services that we offer now are based off of the same core values that we had years ago,” she noted.

Freeman said she is most proud of the bank’s ability to adapt over the last century. The bank went from using manual account ledgers to ATM cards, and then internet and smartphone banking. It recently launched a mobile app, which allows customers to check account balances, transfer funds, deposit checks and pay bills from their phone.

“When you look at where we are now, it’s just night-and-day different,” she said. “It’s pretty neat.”

While the technology has changed, Freeman said the bank’s customer-first focus has remained the same. She expects this core value to hold true for the next 100 years as well.

“First and foremost, we’re here for our customers,” Freeman said. “So that’s our biggest focus, is to make sure that our customers are still as happy, healthy and financially sound as we are.”

Although banking is quickly becoming more virtual – a trend that’s been accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic – Freeman said The Peoples Bank will continue to value personal relationships with its customers. Freeman believes this is what separates locally owned banks from the rest of the pack.

“We’re trying to reinforce our relationships with the customers in-house, not just online,” Freeman said. “We’ll certainly give them the avenues to do all of those things, to help themselves as much as they can, whether or not it’s in the bank with us. But we still want to know who they are.”

The Peoples Bank offers a variety of personal loans and banking accounts, including checking, savings, Certificates of Deposit (CDs) and individual retirement accounts (IRAs). Business checking accounts and loans are also available, including agricultural loans.

The bank has made the news on several occasions over the last century, according to its website. The original location (on Chase Avenue in Gambier) was robbed by members of the notorious “Dillinger Gang” in 1933; while the gang never made it to the vault, $714 were stolen. The bank has also served many soon-to-be-famous Kenyon College students over the years, its website says, including actor Paul Newman.

The bank sold its original Gambier location to Kenyon College in 1998 and built its current branch on Wiggin Street. The company did this to “meet modern banking needs,” its website states. The old bank building currently serves as Kenyon College's Office of Human Resources.

The Peoples Bank opened its Upper Gilchrist Road branch in 2001, and it has since grown to over $15 million in deposits. The bank opened its second Mount Vernon location on Newark Road in 2013.

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Staff Reporter

Grant is a 2018 graduate of Ohio Northern University, where he studied journalism and played basketball. He likes coffee, books and minor league baseball. He loves telling stories and has a passion for local news.