Al Heierman: A Lifetime in Banking at Leesburg

by Jo Ann Vrabel, Feature Writer

In January, 1961, Albert E. Heierman of Leesburg became president of the Peoples State Bank, Leesburg.

Succeeding former inactive president Ralph Brubaker, Heierman was previously head cashier in the town's bank since 1939.

When Heierman moved to Leesburg and joined the bank in 1939, the establishment consisted of a small, rectangular red brick building on Van Buren Street had footings of approximately $243,000; and employed only two persons besides Heierman.

In 1974, the bank, now located on State Rd. 15 in Leesburg is a white circular structure with columns and an abstract three-legged sculpture planted in front of the building. Inside, 21 employees cashier, keep books and process checks, trusts and bonds. Now the bank is worth approximately $18,979,765.11.

Working with directors or holders of large sums of money in the establishment, Heierman has nurtured the bank, creating the successful business it is today.

Personal Touch
Heierman believes the favorable outcome of the Leesburg banking venture is largely a result of the bank's "personal touch" policy.

"We have capitalized on the 'friendly bank' idea," explained Heierman. "We have operated on the fact that we are a full service bank. That is, we will go one step further to make sure people are taken care of. We try to be personal with people and to know all our customers."

Bolstering his belief in the personal touch philosophy are testimonials and compliments from summer residents vacationing along lakes near Leesburg.

"A lot of lake people maintain their accounts here year 'round simply because we know who they are when they come to the bank," states Heierman.

Support for 4-H
First, for years, the Peoples State Bank has supported the annual 4-H livestock sale that occurs during the Kosciusko County Fair week. Twice the bank has purchased the grand champion steer and for the past six years it has paid for photographs of every 4-H youngster who offers his animal for sale.

"We've supported the 4-H auction because we agree with the program and also we gain many accounts by purchasing animals at the sale," states Heierman.

Another personal touch policy that the bank sponsors is an arrowhead collection. Peppered against walls throughout the Leesburg moneyhouse are Indian relics. These ancient stone pieces were found in the Plain Township and Kosciusko County area and are remnants of the Indian civilization that once thrived here.

Future Historical Displays
The bank is buying and gathering as many local arrowheads and Indian carvings as possible and will eventually donate the collection to the Kosciusko County Historical Society, Heierman says.

The third manifestation of the friendly bank idea is President Heierman himself. Walking into the curved, light colored bank lobby, shiny white counters decked with black beckon the customer. Opposite the counters, across the room and to the customer's back, bright glass picture windows semi-circle the waiting room.

To the right of the entry-way, a portrait of Heierman, painted in mild greys and browns, subtly smile above a tall green growing plant in rose-red pot, accompanied by a collection of rocks encased in glass. The portrait created from memory by Dean Miner, of Warsaw, was presented to Heierman on Aug. 1, 1964, by bank employees "in grateful recognition of 25 years of leadership and service."

Never Too Busy
If Heierman has the occasion to walk through this lobby when it's humming with customers, he is never too busy to say hello to an elderly lady waiting to transact business or to offer a hearty handshake to a farmer entering the building.

The bank's décor, the portrait presented by employees; and the cordially greeted patrons are reflections of Heierman's personality and his successful "friendly business" philosophy.

Heierman was born in a log cabin near Perham, Minn., on Aug. 7, 1903. The son of Henry H. and Anna (Eiswald) Heierman, the Leesburg bank president lived his first four years on a Minnesota farm which his father and grandfather, Moritz Heierman, were homesteading.

But the homestead proved to be an unprofitable attempt to make a living and in approximately 1907, the Heiermans moved to South Bend, Indiana.

In South Bend, Heierman's father, Henry, procured a job repairing and refinishing wood in the Singer Manufacturing Company.

German Immigrants
Both Henry and Anna Heierman were immigrants from Dusseldorf, Germany, a manufacturing center in Europe. Bank President Heierman can speak German fluently.

After graduating from South Bend High School, the young Heierman decided to become a civil engineer and enrolled in Notre Dame University. But after attending college one year, Heierman terminated his studies because there were six children in his family and there was not enough money to pay university expenses.

Out of school and out of work, young Heierman began looking for a job. His cousin who was an employee of American Trust Company in South Bend suggested Heierman apply for work in the bank because, he said, "you have the personality for banking."

So Heierman did apply for a position and began working for the American Trust Company under the title "general employee" in the bookkeeping department. His starting wage was $55 per month.

During the 10 years he worked for the trust company, Heierman was elevated from bookkeeping to teller position in which he changed silver pieces (worth $25; $20; $10; $5 and $2.50) for customers. He later became head teller and personnel manager for the trust company which was forced to close June 13, 1931, then reopened again in July 1935.

Also while he was employed with this company, he was united in marriage to Betty Hittig, on August 15, 1923.

Desiring to increase his banking knowledge, in 1936 Heierman accepted a position with the Albert McGann Company, South Bend selling stocks and bonds. He was employed by the McGann Company for three years.

"Selling bonds was a thankless job," remembers Heierman, "I would not have it (the job) again."

Explaining his feelings about selling bonds during those three years, Heierman says he discovered he could not conscientiously sell stock that he himself would not buy. When he witnessed persons, such as widows losing money from their stock, he felt sorry.

However, selling bonds to business corporations was interesting to Heierman because, "businesses are different from widows: businesses are responsible for being alert to bonds both profitable and unprofitable."

Accepts Bank Post
After learning stock and bond sales, Heierman was offered the head cashier position of the Leesburg bank. Ralph Brubaker, of Leesburg offered Heierman the position in 1939 and Heierman accepted.

Moving to Leesburg in 1939, Heierman began working in the tiny Van Buren St. bank of which he would later become president.

Being head cashier in the small moneyhouse was work: Heierman duties not often included working and supervising the jobs of the other two employees (Fred Ervin, assistant cashier, and Eva Hall, bookkeeper), but the head cashier's tasks in those days also comprised firing the furnace and sweeping the floors, Heierman recalls.

Gradually the small bank began to expand. As the business grew, Heierman hired more and more employees, including current head cashier, Wayne Teeple, in 1947.

Heierman adds there is very low employee turnover in the bank because, "We give the help all the employee benefits the law allows, such as pensions and health insurance."

President In '61
In 1953, the 50th anniversary of the bank, the face of the Peoples State Bank, on Van Buren Street was changed and remodeled. In 1961, Heierman was named president. And in 1963, plans were made to build a new Leesburg moneyhouse which was constructed in the town along State Rd. 15. The new, stark-round bank opened Aug. 5, 1965.

Upon first glance, the new bank is striking because of the three-legged modern sculpture standing in the front lawn of the building and because the bank proper is a white circle.

The sculpture, created by Jack Cartlidge, of Sarasota, Fla., is made of welded steel. Cartlidge's description of the piece is: "this … was not the result of a preconceived blueprint… but rather the result of a growing process like a tree upon which impinge a thousand variables - light, shadow, nutrient and water. However, it is not a steel tree but rather to give steel sheet the opportunity to grow into an organic, basically honest expression of the inherent qualities of steel."

Though the architect of the bank, Oris Esch, of Fort Wayne, designed the building in a circle, Heierman chose the columns and interior colors. "I like round columns," states Heierman, "because I have seen them in Europe, Pisa and they are beautiful."

Reminiscent of Europe
The tiny pine trees which line the south side of the bank lot were also Heierman's idea because they are, again, reminiscent of the aesthetically pleasing structures and landscapes of Europe.

Heierman explains he chose the white-beige wall colors and drapes inside the bank because, "I wanted the rooms to be very light and airy: it makes the inside more pleasing and uplifting," he says. "This round bank has been very functional," contends Heierman.

A quick inspection of the circular building proves the layout is practical. On the main floor of the bank, the lobby is situated in the north one-half of the outer circle of the building. The southern one-half of the circle comprises offices for bank officials and secretaries and two drive-up windows. Employees never have to cross the lobby while working.

In the center circle of the main floor there are two small rooms. One contains more than 734 lock boxes. The other room guards loan files and the currency safe with silver supply in 18-inch steel reinforced walls. The currency safe, made by Victor Safe and Lock Company, Cincinnati Ohio has been used by the Leesburg bank since 1903, when bank officials purchased it used in the early 20th century.

The downstairs of the bank contains the bookkeeping department where checks are sorted and recorded with computers; maintenance rooms; the directors' parlor complete with long heavy table; the auditing department; a supply room; an employee lounge; and a room filled with escrow, mortgage and trust files. Heierman adds the bank also owns another storage building in the town.

Operating with the bank's full customer service policy, the establishment is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. except on Wednesdays, when the building is closed. However the two drive-up windows are open six days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. including Saturdays.

Besides Heierman, other bank officials include Teeple and Vice President James Heierman, Heierman's son. Directors of the bank are Brubaker, Teeple, both Heiermans, Ray Ferverda and Fred Anglin.

Coping with Inflation
Seated in his light office with rust-colored wood desk, turquoise covered wood chairs and a hanging oil painting of water, sky, trees and birds, Heierman compares today's precarious economy with the financial situation of the '30's depression. He offers advice for coping with the high inflation of the '70s.

"I still have faith that we (the economy) are not going through the ringer like we did Oct. 29, 1929," states Heierman.

According to the bank president, there are several differences between today's economy and finances of the '30's including hysteria; unemployment; real estate costs; and interest.

"On Oct. 29, 1929 with the stock market crash, people became hysterical and lost confidence in the banks. Today, the public is not too concerned," he explains.

"Also today we have economical stopgaps which we didn't have back in the '30's. For example, today the bank is insured with FDIC insurance. That means that everyone's bank account is insured up to $20,000. We didn't have that in the depression and when people started runs on the banks, the banks simply ran out of money and had to close their doors."

Another Stopgap
Heierman adds that social security is another stopgap to Depression.

Enumerating three other differences between the Depression days and now, Heierman points out that unemployment in the '30's was down by 25 percent. At present, it is 5.8 per cent he says.

"Also, there was no inflation in the 1930's like we have now," states Heierman. "Real estate in the '30's depreciated by 50 per cent and Dow Jones averages went down to 200. For people who had money to invest in land and stocks, the Depression offered tremendous buys. Today, real estate is very expensive and the Dow Jones average is in the 600's.

Though the bank president does not foresee a depression, he admits these are economically precarious times for this country.

"Food costs are up now 20 to 25 per cent and the government is trying desperately to correct price rises," observes Heierman. "I still feel we can come out of this (inflation) but we'll have to have a slowing off in buying and selling. That's for sure.

Need Controls
"I believe we need government controls on wages and food," he says. "The government will have to freeze prices and wages to slow down people from buying. We'll probably have a little more unemployment before the economy is stabilized."

Heierman adds the banks are also beginning to "brake." During a brief two hours one Tuesday morning, Heierman received phone calls from stock and bond salesmen from whom he refused to purchase and reminded them that "money is hard to come by."

"All banks are holding back," explains Heierman. "Banks are not loaning presently, which is one way to curb spending; Money is too expensive; the interest rates are going to have to come down. People nowadays want money and there isn't enough, so interest is high," he notes.

And how is a person to cope successfully in this inflationary period? "We need to live a little more economically," answers Heierman. "We must watch our spending a little closer."

Too Much Credit
"Today people buy too much on credit," contends Heierman. To prove his assertion that credit buying can be damaging, Heierman tells the story of a woman who came to the bank asking Heierman to consolidate her debts. When he calculated her monthly payments, it was discovered that she actually owed more money than she was earning. One item for which she owed was a $1,300 combination stereo and color television. "Why did you buy this $1,300 set?" queried Heierman, to which the debtor replied, "Credit buying sounded so easy.

"People want beautiful things but they don't figure what the interest and payments will cost them." Observes Heierman. "I think people should budget and live within their means. Ninety percent of the people don't know what things are costing them, especially the interest they're paying. Too many people live hand to mouth and don't save when they have a lush period; if they make more, they usually spend it instead of saving it.

"Everyone needs to live a little more economically," suggests Heierman. "If that means eating hamburger instead of steak, then I say eat hamburger. In the 1930's when wages were cut in half, I ate a lot of hamburger and I lived, I lived!"

Besides possessing insightful knowledge about banking and the propensity of American's spending, Heierman is a traveler and an avid student of persons and life-styles of different countries.

Travels Abroad
During his lifetime, he has journeyed through the southern countries of Europe, Greece, Sardinia, Crete, Italy and Spain. He has visited France, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands. Other lands toured by him include Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Columbia, the Fiji Islands, Bora Bora and Tahiti.

Heierman states the main reason for his travels is a desire "to see how people live in the rest of the world."

To catch a more accurate glimpse of the foreign cultures he visits, Heierman says he tries to avoid tourist hangouts. Several times he and his wife have taken less expensive freighter cruises which he believes enhance experiences of the trips.

Heierman offers two prime observations from his travels. "When American people are traveling, they often like to lord it over residents in foreign countries. But I've found that foreign people are interesting and they want to help you if you'll just be decent with them," notes Heierman.

Faith in People
The bank president's faith in persons is exemplified by an anecdote which he tells. In the early 1960's he and his wife went to Cadic, Spain. In that city, they met a small Spanish boy who followed them around the town.

"You know how we Americans are; how we travel," describes Heierman. Well, I had a camera and a pair of binoculars and the little Spanish boy wanted to carry my binoculars. The travel agencies always say never let kids carry binoculars because they'll run away and not give them back. But I let the little boy carry mine. We wandered around the town on cobblestone streets and the boy was our guide."

Heierman adds, at the end of the day, the child handed him his binoculars and Heierman, in turn, rewarded the boy for an enjoyable tour of the city.

Heierman says there are extremes of wealth and poverty in many countries that he has visited, adding that even persons in Europe cannot usually afford to travel. "They (residents of Europe) usually just make enough to live," he states.

Photo Hobby
Besides exploring different cultures, Heierman enjoys a photography hobby. He has snapped approximately 10,000 slides during his life and two of his seven grandchildren are also skilled photographers, he reports. Heierman's two sons are Albert Heierman, Jr., head of the research department for Mead Paper Company, Chillicothe, Ohio and James Heierman, vice president of the bank in Leesburg.

In 1903, a tiny bank in Leesburg Indiana was founded by Joel Hall, Frank Bortz and Joe A. Irvine. That same year, Heierman was born in a Minnesota log cabin. In 1939, Heierman moved to Leesburg to help build up the town's small bank worth $200,000. Today he is the president of that same bank which now has footings of more than $18 million.

Well traveled, an avid student of people and with a friendly bank logo, Heierman has found success.

Warsaw Times Union Spotlight October 26 - Nov. 2, 1974