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Waynesboro National Bank: Generations Of Leadership At Century-Old Bank

The First National Bank of Waynesboro, Georgia, has witnessed many decades of change since it was chartered in1905. But one thing remains the same at the bank—the name Palmer.

The first president of First National was Palmer L. Corker. His 19-year old cousin, Jesse Campbell Palmer, was assistant cashier. Young Jesse rose to head cashier and was elected president by the board of directors in 1930.

His son, Jesse C. Palmer II, became president in 1959. His grandson, Jesse C. Palmer III, has now served as president for nearly a third of a century.

The first Jesse C. Palmer, according to family lore, was frugal and farsighted. He worked his way through college by cleaning and pressing laundry for classmates. During the Great Depression, he did his part by retrieving fallen pecans from the courthouse grounds, selling them for a few dollars, and donating the proceeds to the county government. He very publicly demonstrated his confidence in his bank by buying up its shares from those selling out.

A family story goes that if a neighbor came in for a loan, the first Jesse turned off his hearing aid if he thought his friend was taking on too much to handle.

Growing up, the Palmer boys cut the grass and did janitorial work around the bank. One much-dreaded task was "rolling up" thousands of loose coins. They rose through the ranks, beginning their banking careers while still in high school, serving as tellers and bookkeepers, and then returning after college to collecting bad loans, and then serving as loan officers, vice president, and then president.

The sons learned banking by watching their fathers participate in the life of the town—talking to customers at football games, grocery stores, restaurants and church.

Under Palmers I, II, and III, the bank grew from $892 thousand in assets in 1930 to $117 million as of the first quarter of 2013. Avoiding the subprime crisis, the bank has had only two foreclosures in 30 years, and is well-regarded by OCC examiners.

Today the president's office is down the hall from his son Jesse C. Palmer IV, a vice president. Daughter Nan Palmer Lynch runs marketing. A baby boy arrived two years ago—Jesse C. Palmer V.

By the way, the OCC regulator responsible for the Waynesboro bank is named Joel Palmer. No relation.