GREEN RIDGE — Simmons First National Bank in Green Ridge is slated to close by the end of June, causing much concern and frustration among the small community’s residents and business owners. The bank, in one form or another, has been in business and served the community since the 1890s.
Mayor Ronnie Ollison said from his home down the street from Simmons First that he hated to see the bank close.
“It’s going to make it rough on this little town, it’s going to dry up and blow away one of these days,” he noted. “This is just one of the steps to get there.
“I’ve lived here all my life, and back during the (Great) Depression there was only three banks that stayed open in Pettis County,” he added. “One of them was the Farmer’s Merchant Bank which is now Simmons Bank. That’s the story I’ve always heard growing up.”
He added that he understood, from a business viewpoint, if the bank branch doesn’t lend money in Green Ridge, it can’t survive.
“If they don’t have a loan officer, there’s no way for this branch to make money,” he said.
He added that Simmons First has offered no reasons for the closure.
“If the city hadn’t had a lock box down there we wouldn’t even have known that,” Ollison said. “They sent letters out to people who had lock boxes. That way you had time to move it to Sedalia …”
Simmons First National Bank Director of Communications Rex Nelson said, by phone, that the decision to close the bank, located at 205 N. Main St., was based on how the company assesses their branches. The bank at its present location was built in 1968.
“All banks across the country are heading to assess their banks,” he said. “We see customers moving more and more to electronic channels to do their banking, so we’re no different. We have to continually evaluate our branch networks to determine which locations will meet the greatest needs of our customers.”
Nelson said the decision to close the bank was difficult.
“These are decisions that certainly aren’t taken lightly,” he added. “We evaluate all of our branches on a continual basis. Those decision are never made lightly.”
The residents of Green Ridge do not agree with Nelson. Many of them plan to speak to state Sen. Mike Parson, state Rep. Wanda Brown, U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler and others. Many residents plan to do their business with another bank.
Green Ridge residents are saying the closure will cause business owners, the city and the school district undue hardship. They will now have to drive either to Sedalia or Windsor with their bank bags and other banking needs, not to mention the safety issues of carrying cash deposits a long distance.
Former Green Ridge Mayor and current Green Ridge Community Fire Department Chief Allan Rohrbach said Thursday he received a letter dated March 29 announcing the closing. The letter said comments could be sent to a Dallas, Texas, address. When Rohrbach and several other local residents sent letters asking the bank to reconsider their decision the Comptroller of the Currency, Director Southern District Licensing, said they had no idea why they were receiving the letters.
Rohrbach and several other concerned residents met at the Green Ridge City Park on Thursday to speak to the Democrat.
“I think the move by Simmons First is going to cripple our little community, if people have to drive to Sedalia to do their banking,” he said. “Rest assured, that if I have to drive there, it won’t be at Simmons First.
“I think it’s kind of dirty the way they did it,” he added. “It’s one of those things, the community can’t hardly survive without a local bank of some type or other. Quite frankly, Simmons First has not been very good to the community or the people.”
Rohrbach added that it is his hope that Simmons First would sell the facility to someone interested in placing another bank in its place. He said several people were planning to approach Parson, Brown, Hartzler and state Rep. Denny Hoskins.
“It’s going to make it difficult for the local Casey’s store, the post office and the school and the City of Green Ridge and the Green Ridge Fire Department,” he noted.
Three representatives of the Green Ridge R-VII School District were at the City Park to voice their concerns.
“We’re very disappointed to see it closing,” School Superintendent Cara Easter said. “It’s something that we use every day as a school district. We make daily deposits, we’ve worked with the bank as long as I can remember …
“It’s very, very disappointing from the patron perspective of it, but also it’s sad as a community member,” she added. “I think it’s been around for close to a century. There’s been a lot of discussion about it since we found out.”
Easter noted there are many more businesses in the area that use the bank then people realize.
“Besides farming, we have independent seed dealers, we’ve got Casey’s, we’ve got the post office and City Hall,” Easter said. “There’s a lot of banking that actually happens through this branch. It’s really going to cause a hardship, I think.”
She added that the school district will have to drive 20 miles round trip, every day, to make deposits.
“We’ve really had a good set up with Simmons, and we’d like to keep that,” Easter added. “With the bank branch closing here, that may change a lot of things.”
She did say the school district plans to stay with Simmons First and “weather the change.”
Green Ridge School District had a board meeting Wednesday evening where members discussed the possibility of approaching local senators and representatives to ask for help with the situation.
“I just know that it’s a nice convenience for the community,” Green Ridge Elementary School Principal Rachel Hammers said. “I know as the school district, not only do we use it as a district, but the the teacher organization that we have, the CTA, uses it. We can make deposits, we can get change, we don’t have to drive to Sedalia, Windsor or La Monte.
“I know (manager) Lendall (Hilt) at Casey’s depends on it a lot for change, because he gets a lot of business,” she added.
“Casey’s is probably the center point of the community,” Easter added. “It’s unfortunate for him because they don’t have as many employees to be able to transport (deposits) … it is more of a hardship on them.”
Green Ridge High School Principal Rodney Edington said he was concerned about the “safety factor” of taking deposits over the road.
“It’s going to cost us an hour’s worth of time for one of our employees to go to town and back, just to drop off money,” he said. “Then there’s the safety factor. You don’t want one person taking money that far … The school and Casey’s have a safety factor transporting (deposits) 15 miles to the nearest bank.”
For Green Ridge’s elderly population, traveling to Sedalia or Windsor for banking is a major inconvenience. Mary Lou Richardson, 87, has lived in Green Ridge since 1933. She has banked there all her life.
“I’m going to change banks,” Richardson said Thursday. “I bank here, and I bank in Sedalia both, but this is handy for me. I’m not happy … if they are going to close this one, it’s going to make a hardship on a lot of people who work.”
Janet Cox, who has lived in Green Ridge 31 years, isn’t happy about the closing either.
“I don’t like it,” she said. “It’s just going to be so unhandy. My family, on my mother’s side, has all banked here.”
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss; photos by Faith Bemiss | Democrat