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Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014

Oldest family-owned bank in Iowa marks centennial event

Thursday, December 13, 2001

From weathering the Great Depression and the 1980s Farm Crisis to entering the modern age with its own interactive web site, Citizens First National Bank is preparing to celebrate a 100th anniversary.

The milestone is Feb. 1, 2002, but planners are hoping to tie special promotions and celebrations for 100 days around the official anniversary date.

The bank is now operated by the fourth generation of the Schaller family, and is believed to be the oldest family-owned bank in the state. "I haven't found anyone older," said Dana Davis, Citizens employee who has been researching for the 100th anniversary.

The bank was started in 1902 by Fred Schaller and his son George. It was called Citizens Bank then. Since then the bank has maintained a local focus.

Davis started her research about six months ago, and it has been a learning experience for her. "I enjoy history, so to see these artifacts preserved by the family is really fascinating," she said. "It's interesting to me to see what the bank was founded on, and where it has gone since it opened."

The community of Storm Lake and Buena Vista County most likely would not be what it is today if it were not for the Schaller family and Citizens First National Bank. And, for every gift to the county hospital and to then Buena Vista College for Schaller Chapel, there are countless others that go unreported.

Originally from eastern Iowa, Davis has been discovering much of Storm Lake's history on her own. "I was very pleased and surprised to see how much they have donated to the community for its growth," she said.

Davis has been busy collecting and gathering the information. Last weekend she and Marcia Schaller went through bundles of old and crumbling newspapers.

"It's important for the sixth generation to have this preserved for their future," Davis said.

"It's most interesting to go back in history and see how they came from eastern Iowa to Sac County, and how they were non-wealthy farmers for a long time," Davis said of Fred and Catherine Schaller's move around 1870.

"Catherine encouraged her son George to be all he could be," she said. "Her support was how the bank was founded.

"His mother wanted a good education so badly for George that they moved to town so he could continue school," she said.

One particularly interesting item Davis uncovered was a brief history of the Schaller family and of Storm Lake itself written by George Schaller, Sr.

"Some of his recollections on the history of the town was quite a find," she said. "It's filled with his thoughts on the history of the town and how they had started the bank for their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. It brings history to life."

Citizens Bank has always been conservative, looking out for its customers.

"The conservative nature has helped the bank to be strong during the Depression and the Farm Crisis," Davis said. "It has tried to protect the depositors' money."

Collecting all of the information is not only a part of Schaller history, it is part of Storm Lake's.

"It's amazing that the early Schallers from the late 1800s and early 1900s have seen so many changes over their lives, new inventions and changes in society," Davis said. "We often forget how hard they worked to form America."